Streaming Surprises, Volume 23

Our “Streaming Surprises” series calls attention to good movies new and old that our board members are watching. Titles are available from various streaming services.

“Cold War” (2018)
Like filmmaker Paweł Pawlikowski’s Oscar-winning drama “Ida,” “Cold War” is presented in stunning black & white. The dialogue is sparse, but the cinematography and the subtlety of the acting more than fill in. “Cold War” begins in post-World War II Poland, 1949, as musician Wiktor and choreographer Irena, accompanied by Communist party apparatchik Kaczmarek, set off through the frozen winter to record music of “the people.” The trio invites talented young people to a somewhat dilapidated villa to audition for an ensemble of singers, dancers and musicians who will tour the country to celebrate “music born in the fields.” One performer stands out—the blonde, beautiful and ambitious Zula, who captures Wiktor’s interest. After two years the group is touring Europe to packed houses. It’s not long before the Soviets exert their influence on the group, inserting Stalinist propaganda into the act. A disillusioned Wiktor, wanting to pursue his passion for jazz, defects to Paris, hoping Zula will accompany him. However, she fails to meet him at the border. The film follows the star-crossed lovers through 15 years. Pawlikowski loosely based Wiktor and Zula’s relationship on the tumultuous relationship of his parents, with a pattern of marriage, betrayal, divorce, marriage again, divorce again. The film’s title derives more from the war waging in the hearts of Wiktor and Zula than from East-vs.-West geopolitical struggles.
Submitted by Linda Knight. Streaming on Amazon Prime.

“Disobedience” (2017)
In “Disobedience,” three best friends raised in a Jewish Orthodox community now find themselves embroiled in a love triangle fraught with forbidden desire. Ronit (Rachel Weisz) returns to London for the funeral of her estranged father, the local rabbi who died while delivering a sermon about the sanctity of angels and the desires of the beast. Her childhood friends, Dovid (Alessandro Nivola) and Esti (Rachel McAdams) are now married, and like everyone in the community treat Ronit was a coolness that is almost cruel. It quickly becomes evident that Ronit and Esti share a deep emotional bond, but the taboo of same-sex love would wreak havoc on the lives of the two women and Dovid. Director Sebastián Lelio—whose transgender romance, “A Fantastic Woman,” won the 2018 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film—worked with both actresses to deftly choreograph the film’s erotic sex scene (sans nudity). Esti eventually shares the truth of her feelings for Ronit with her husband, and this hauntingly beautiful sequence is juxtaposed with Dovid’s disgust. The characters in this powerful film often say to one another, “May you live a long life,” but the more important question seems to become, What sort of life will Ronit and Esti choose to live?
Submitted by Cindy Peters Duzi. Streaming on Amazon Prime.

“Minding the Gap” (2018)
Minutes into “Minding the Gap,” I was impressed with the camera work by the very young cinematographer and first-time director Bing Liu. The opening introduces a likeable group of friends whose life is skating. These are Liu’s friends he has grown up with, all the while accumulating what must be endless footage of their skating tricks, falls, and between those, a lot of moments of vulnerability. Liu’s friends Keire and Zack grew up in volatile homes and skateboarding was their escape. Now the days of skating all day with friends quickly fade. and suddenly the days are instead spent by working jobs like washing dishes or roofing, seeking GEDs, and facing relationship drama. Zack, now a father himself and scared, is spiraling with alcoholism and abusive behavior. Keire is working hard on his education and his job, but he has unresolved issues with his abusive dad. Liu turns the camera on himself and his mother as they sit down for a very difficult conversation. The film earned an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature.
Submitted by Justus Bier-Stanberry. Available on Hulu.