‘El Robo del Siglo’
Stream it on HBO Max.
In January 2006, a gang of thieves in Argentina pulled off a bank robbery of such astonishing scale and technical precision that it was dubbed “the heist of the century”. Full of intrigue, spectacle and over-the-top personalities, their story is made for cinema, and Ariel Winograd’s sleek feature – co-written with heist mastermind himself, Fernando Araujo – treats it to the max.
Winograd’s secret weapons, so to speak, are the characters, who are drawn and acted with endearing quirkiness. Fernando (Diego Peretti) is a bored genius who effortlessly draws from sources as varied as geometry, Brechtian social theory and hip-hop in his criminal machinations. Struck with inspiration while walking past a branch of Banco Río in Buenos Aires, he quickly assembles a motley crew of delinquents, including a grizzled, blue-eyed professional thief, Mario (Guillermo Francella).
As with most heist thrillers, the intricate planning and execution is exhilarating to watch, all the more so given our knowledge of the actual basis of the story. But Winograd, like his characters, is attentive not only to the mechanics of crime but also to its aesthetics. Interspersed with scenes from Fernando’s philosophical therapy sessions and Mario’s hokey acting classes, which imagine the heist as a painstaking work of art – much like the scam of cinema itself.
A Greek god, a severed penis and a stifling military occupation: Tarzan and Arab Nasser’s Palestinian drama weaves freewheeling fantasy and gritty realism into a potent political mix. The film begins as a sweet story of old-age romance: a grumpy fisherman, Issa (a superbly tongue-in-cheek Salim Daw), decides it’s finally time for him to get married. He has his eyes set on Siham (Hiam Abbas, of “Succession”), a beautiful widow who works in a nearby tailor shop. In a dreary, blue-gray Gaza where daily life revolves around Israeli checkpoints, power cuts and airstrikes, Issa timidly tries to move, while his sister, who disapproves of Siham’s divorced daughter, tries to squeeze him in. with other women.
This chaste romantic-comedy premise takes a steamy turn when, on one of his fishing trips, Issa carries from the depths of the sea a statue of Apollo with a prominent phallus. High jinks ensue as the police confiscate the statue and lock Issa in jail (where, in the film’s funniest gag, he has a wet dream), but the Nassers maintain a subdued tone of realism throughout, shading each scene with sociopolitical details about life in Gaza. What emerges is a portrait of a place where the absurd has become normal and where the ordinary joys of life – love, companionship, professional contentment – are extraordinary.
Stream it on Ovid.
A comedy about smells may not look inviting, but Grégory Magne’s “Parfums” is a breath of fragrant air – a film that livens up romantic comedy formulas with inspired olfactory twists. Guillaume (Grégory Montel) is a seedy chauffeur tasked with driving around a reclusive perfume designer, Anne (Emmanuelle Devos). Anne has a very sensitive nose and an air of entitlement that masks deep insecurity; Guillaume is charming but impulsive, a man-child desperately trying to be a good father. Their initial bickering sets us up for a “opposites attract” arc, but refreshingly, “Perfumes” is more about friendship than love (although it’s still heart-pounding romantic).
Building a film around perfumes is tricky; the audiovisual medium cannot go so far as to tell how the smell of freshly mown grass awakens childhood memories for Guillaume, or how a failure of his nasal abilities destroys Anne. Yet “Parfums” succeeds by broadening its central (sensual?) vanity to a more universal meditation on our sensory openness to life. Over the course of the film, Guillaume learns to pay attention to what really moves him, and Anne to see the world with her eyes and ears as well as with her nose. The result is not so much a feel-good movie as aAfter film, the one that asks us to be brave enough to give free rein to our emotions.
‘Fabian: Going to the Dogs’
Stream it on Mubi.
In the latest drama from prolific German filmmaker Dominik Graf, history comes to life propulsively: in the film’s opening shot, the camera winds its way through a modern U-Bahn station, then emerges into 1930s Berlin, as if to emphasize the proximity of the past. and present. Adapted from a 1931 novel by Erich Kästner, “Fabian: Going to the Dogs” follows Fabian (Tom Schilling), an aspiring young novelist, as he navigates a dissolute city deeply scarred by World War I and charged with the terror of the horrors yet to come. His paths cross a myriad of Weimar-era characters – primarily his friend Labude, a leftist academic suffering from political disillusionment, and a lover, Cornelia, who dreams of being a movie star. Graf tells his sprawling story in jagged fragments that blend styles, angles, and varying fictional and archival materials, reminding us that the past rarely unfolds in the neat, moralistic narratives we impose on it in retrospect. As the characters find themselves entangled in personal and political drama (often struggling to distinguish between the two), the film forces us to consider our own agency in the flow of the story.
Stream it on Netflix.
Harshavardhan Kulkarni’s “Badhaai Do” is the rarest thing in mainstream Indian cinema: a film that unleashes the full force of Bollywood entertainment – song and dance, family comedy, swooning melodrama – in the service of an invigorating message about LGBTQ rights. Gay sex was only decriminalized in India in 2018; gay marriage still awaits legalization, as does the right of gay citizens to adopt children.
“Badhaai Do” weaves these pressing issues into an exuberant story about two locked-up 30-somethings. Shardul (Rajkummar Rao) is a reluctant cop with a penchant for bodybuilding (“Have you watched ‘RoboCop?’ Well, I’m HomoCop!”); Sumi (Bhumi Pednekar) is a gym instructor who spends her free time swiping on lesbian dating apps. To appease their stubborn families, the two decide to get married, live together in a roommate, and pursue their true romantic desires in private. But the complications also continue after marriage, as they struggle to find love while maintaining an elaborate facade.
A poignant buddy comedy at its core, “Badhaai Do” balances a commitment to both realism and optimism. Even as the film details the social and bureaucratic challenges that restrict the daily lives of queer Indians, it demonstrates that a kinder, fairer world is within reach. A climactic scene takes place during a Pride Parade: a vibrant and explosive vision that underlines that the demand for equality is often, quite simply, a demand for joy.