‘So Long, My Son’
The scenes that open this ravishing drama by Wang Xiaoshuai feel like pieces of a cryptic puzzle, gesturing evocatively at a whole that remains out of view. A pair of boys play beside a lake, a death is seen from a distance, and years later, in some other place, a grieving couple struggle to raise a wayward son. Slowly, these fragments swirl together into a decades-spanning epic about two couples in China, brought together in the 1980s by their factory jobs and then torn apart by a series of losses, including those inflicted by the country’s one-child policy.
With its nonlinear stitching, the movie demands patience, and rewards it handsomely. Each scene trembles with emotion, conjured at the precise intersection of performance, cinematography and carefully rendered political context. In one sequence, the central couple, Liyun (Yong Mei) and Yaojun (Wang Jingchun), receive news of layoffs in a companywide meeting. As the crowd of workers erupts in rage, the camera settles on Liyun’s face, streaked by a single tear: a personal tragedy is etched in the canvas of a historical one. The two will suffer many more crises, but in relaying them non-chronologically, the film allows for plenty of grace and resilience, capturing life not as an arc but as a collection of moments — sometimes good, sometimes bad, always fleeting.
A Greek tragedy is reimagined as a bristling tale of rage against injustice in this French Canadian thriller from the director Sophie Deraspe. If the names of the movie’s characters seem out-of-place at first — the protagonist is Antigone (Nahéma Ricci), an Algerian immigrant and high school student in Montreal, and her siblings are Polynice, Étéocle, and Ismène — the epic dimensions of their lives become quickly apparent. They arrived in Quebec with their grandmother when Antigone was only three, having lost both their parents; the two brothers now provide for their meager household — through aboveboard as well as illicit means involving gangs.
When an incident of brazen police brutality kills Étéocle and sends Polynice to prison, Antigone takes it upon herself to free her brother through an audacious plan that puts her own life in danger. This modern twist on the Greek heroine’s self-sacrifice generates a number of timely ripples; social media becomes a key tool in Antigone’s battle against the state. Anchored in a riveting performance by Ricci, “Antigone” is a portrait of immigrant disenfranchisement, adolescent rage and familial duty that feels both eternal and strikingly contemporary.
‘Three of Us’
Along the western coast of India lies a breeze-swept stretch of land called the Konkan, dotted with trees and ancient forts, and boasting a unique language and cuisine. In 2014, the filmmaker Avinash Arun unfurled “Killa,” a gentle coming-of-age tale, in the meditative heart of Konkan, the area’s unhurried pace and natural beauty offering an ideal setting for the young protagonist’s newfound grief. In his new feature, “Three of Us,” Arun returns to the region to draw out his character’s internal battles — although this time, his focus is on a middle-aged couple confronting mortality.
When she discovers that she has dementia, Shailaja (Shefali Shah), who lives and works in Mumbai, decides that she wants to revisit the Konkan village where she spent formative years of her childhood. Her husband, Dipankar (Swanand Kirkire), goes along, bemused but supportive. There, in the long shadows of palm trees, Shailaja reconnects with Pradeep (Jaideep Ahlawat), a childhood friend who seems to unfasten something deep inside her.
The strength of “Three of Us” lies precisely in its reluctance to name or detail things. Instead, the film simply observes the three wonderful lead actors as they move about the beautiful landscape, dramas of yearning, sadness and joy all playing out in their gestures, evoking essential truths of life.
‘The Green Perfume’
French comedies don’t get much sillier — or more entertaining — than this caper by the director Nicolas Pariser, which tangles together a thespian accused of an onstage murder, a cartoonist running from her nagging mother and a host of international criminals and detectives. Vincent Lacoste plays the poor straight man, Martin, unwillingly caught up in these high jinks. An actor in the Comédie-Française, he is in the wings when a colleague drops dead during a climactic monologue. A parting whisper from the victim puts the target on Marin’s back, and he embarks on a journey across Europe evading both the cops and the killers, while Claire (Sandrine Kiberlain), the cartoonist, follows along, for no discernible reason other than to avoid dinner with her family. Not much of it makes sense, per se, but that’s kind of the point: “The Green Perfume” takes the tropes of convoluted crime thrillers and reimagines them with tongue-in-cheek irony.
In this Argentine comedy from Santiago Giralt, the life of a rich woman in her 60s, Norma (Mercedes Morán), begins to fall apart. One day, she comes home to find that her housekeeper has found a better job, and is leaving her. That snagged thread slowly unravels the whole fabric of Norma’s life, as she realizes the ways in which daily routines and comforts have numbed her to her discontents. Her marriage is stuck, her relationships with her mother and sister are broken and her panic attacks are debilitating.
Morán, who wrote the script with Giralt, brings a gentle, effortless authenticity to even the more trite or cutesy parts of the film — like Norma’s newfound weed habit, or her budding, sisterly friendship with a new neighbor, a red-haired therapist, who helps Norma loosen up. Her aging doldrums may be familiar, but Norma embodies a fullness — she’s spoiled, vulnerable, impulsive and deeply empathetic — that we rarely see in older women onscreen. This is a midlife-crisis movie that thrums with the energy and optimism of a coming-of-age film.