‘My Two Voices’
Stream it on the Criterion Channel.
The camera tilts up the glassy facade of a skyscraper and roves across a wall mural featuring voluptuous pinup models, while, on the soundtrack, a woman recalls her early experiences as an immigrant: ordering food in tentative English, taking the bus, learning to dress for winter. Lina Rodriguez’s intimate, inventive documentary ties together the aural testimonies of three women about the (often violent) journeys that brought them from various parts of Latin America to Canada, and the everyday struggles of living, working and raising a family in an unfamiliar world.
“My Two Voices” is an ethnography of sorts, but unlike most entries in the genre, this one focuses on sounds and sensations rather than faces. The images we see onscreen rarely illustrate the voice-over (or vice versa). Textured close-ups of nature, household objects and limbs make up most of the film, with distinct characters appearing only at the end, in a kind of revelation. This disjuncture of sound and visuals forces you to listen to the women with a rare attention — not just to their words, but all that is contained in their voices.
The title of the film comes from a phrase one of the women uses to describe the different personalities she embodies while speaking English and Spanish. Watching the film with English subtitles gives us a glimpse of that split experience of the world, and the extraordinary sensory alertness required to navigate it.
‘Passed by Censor’
Stream it on Tubi.
This slippery Turkish thriller revolves around an unusual protagonist: an aspiring novelist who works as a prison guard tasked with censoring letters received by inmates. In an opening rich with metaphor, we go from a session in which Zakir (Berkay Ates) and his fellow guards are told to read carefully for hidden messages in letters, to a creative-writing class where Zakir is taught the literary art of subtext and insinuation.
The lines soon begin to blur for our hero (played by Ates with a mix of guilelessness and cunning) when he finds inspiration for a story in a photo ensconced within a letter. Soon, he becomes obsessed with the beautiful and mysterious woman in the picture, the wife of an inmate who complains in her missives about her suffocating father-in-law and miserable home life.
“Passed By Censor” recalls the films of Hitchcock and Antonioni in a lower, more realist key. The director Serhat Karaaslan plays with reflections, searching looks and elliptical edits to conjure a sense of queasy intrigue that immerses us within Zakir’s increasing paranoia that the woman is being abused. Is he onto something, or is his imagination — and his saviorism — taking wild flight? There are no pat answers in “Passed by Censor” — only glossy, opaque surfaces that turn your gaze back at you.
Stream it on Netflix.
This Bengali-language period drama from India unfolds as a series of tableaux that are as exquisite as they are, at least at first, cryptic. In a decrepit mansion thick with dust and cobwebs, an 80-something lady (Lolita Chatterjee) answers a phone call. Elsewhere, seemingly in the same house, a middle-aged man and woman converse in a dimly lit bedroom about fixing a marriage for Jonaki, their 19-year-old daughter. As the film proceeds, these characters come together in beguilingly inexplicable ways: the older lady, it seems, is Jonaki, whom the couple refer to as a teenage girl. Her wrinkled, aged body is bathed by her mother, and she is chided like a child for her secret rendezvous with a handsome young man (Jim Sarbh).
This oneiric paradox reveals its logic in a conclusion I won’t spoil — in any case, the journey is the point in “Jonaki,” rather than the destination. Based on the director Aditya Vikram Sengupta’s own grandmother, this film is one of stunning images, with light and shadow carefully choreographed in an atmospheric Gothic set. Each frame is haunting and made strange by the anachronisms at play, conjuring a ghost story that trembles with the force of unfulfilled dreams and indelible memories.
Stream it on Tubi and Amazon.
The ghost in this Chilean slacker comedy is one of a kind, not least because of its playful gender fluidity. A line-drawn animation that squiggles constantly into different human shapes and figures (with mutating genitalia), the specter begins to appear in the apartment of Pablo (Juan Cano), an aspiring actor, when his roommate moves out and leaves him with an old cardigan, unclaimed plants and a dog. As Pablo tries to find a new tenant, get acting gigs, and move on from his recent breakup with a YouTube star, the ghost haunts his rooms, its mischief ranging from breaking mugs to having sex with him in a marvelously eroto-comic scene.
Largely comprising Pablo’s hangouts with his friends, “Phantom Project” is a charming and witty portrait of a small, queer community in Santiago, with a series of sitcom-like vignettes featuring a host of eccentric characters. The ghost emerges in Pablo and his friends’ lives as an amusement, a fantasy and also a sparkle of magic — a sign that there is enchantment even in a world of young artists who are both broke and heartbroken.
Stream it on Tubi and Amazon.
Slanted angles, a syncopated soundtrack and raw, in-your-face cinematography move this Vietnamese thriller at a ruthless pace through the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. Tran Thanh Huy’s film revolves around Rom (Tran Anh Khoa), a 14-year-old orphan who sells lottery tickets to the debt-ridden residents of a crumbling apartment complex being eyed by developers. Rom; his impoverished clients; his bookie, Mrs. Ghi; and Rom’s rival, another teenager named Phuc, are all part of the same ecosystem of desperation. Money passes fleetingly through their hands, promising an illusory escape from their hardships.
The premise may smack of poverty porn, but worry not: As abundant as “Rom” is in pathos and precarity, it’s far too slick and kinetic a movie to spend too much time navel-gazing or dwelling in pitiful sentiment. Huy assembles a coterie of distinctive characters and moves them through labyrinthine alleyways and cramped rooms like pieces in a kaleidoscope. The film is both a grittily realistic portrait of Vietnam’s underclass and a larger-than-life parable about the vicious spirals of capitalism.