(Welcome to Pop Culture Imports, a column that compiles the best foreign movies and TV streaming right now.)
After last week‘s Neon Genesis Evangelion-themed column, we’re back with our regular edition of Pop Culture Imports and the best foreign-language movies and TV shows streaming now. That includes the Cannes darling and absurdist Icelandic dramedy Woman at War, the return of the beloved fantasy K-drama Goblin to a (legal) streaming platform, the award-winning French inspirational biopic The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and the new seasons of Netflix originals Aggretsuko and Dark.
Fire up those subtitles (or in the case of Dark, those clunky English dubs) and let’s get streaming.
Best Foreign Movies and TV Streaming Now
Woman at War – Hulu
Country: Iceland, Ukraine
Genre: Whimsical comedy-drama
Director: Benedikt Erlingsson
Cast: Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir, Jóhann Sigurðarson, Juan Camillo Roman Estrada, Jörundur Ragnarsson.
A droll Icelandic dramedy that is as affecting as it is absurd, Woman at War made a splash when it premiered at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival where it earned raves and international attention — already an English-language remake starring Jodie Foster is in the works. But this thoughtful and artfully shot fable of a middle-aged environmental activist waging a one-woman war against the local aluminium industry is worth seeing in its original Icelandic glory. And truly, only Iceland could produce this strange vision of mid-life soul-searching filled with fourth-wall-breaking live bands and ominous Ukrainian a cappella groups who follow our protagonist Halla (a sensational Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir) throughout the movie to both humorous and unsettling effect. Halla is a well-liked, single choir director in her early fifties who moonlights as an eco-terrorist in her spare time. But when she decides to ramp up her efforts against the government’s evil ecological plans, the country takes notice and begins a nationwide manhunt for the dangerous extremists responsible for the sabotage, which puts a damper on Halla’s plans to adopt a sweet Ukrainian girl. Benedikt Erlingsson tackles heavy topics with a light touch in this pitch-black comedy that is a hilarious and heartfelt delight.
Watch This If You Like: Fargo, Moonrise Kingdom, Hot Fuzz, ladies saving the world with their archery skills.
Goblin – Viki
Country: South Korea
Genre: Fantasy K-drama series
Creators: Kim Eun-sook, Lee Eung-bok
Cast: Gong Yoo, Kim Go-eun, Lee Dong-wook, Yoo In-na, Yook Sung-jae.
After Dramafever suddenly shuttered last year, fans of one of the most beloved K-dramas in the world were left without the means to rewatch Goblin for the 5th time. But K-drama service Viki comes to the rescue, with the entire 2017 fantasy-romance sensation available to stream. A drama of epic ambition and scale, Goblin follows a 900-year-old “Goblin” (a dreamy Gong Yoo) who was cursed with immortality as punishment for the thousands he killed on the battlefield as the revered general of a paranoid king. Now spending his days acting as a guardian angel to humans who cross his path, the Goblin searches for the prophesied “goblin’s bride” who can break his curse, who arrives in the form of the bubbly orphan who can see ghosts, Ji Eun Tak (Kim Go-Eun). The series swerves between romance, drama, action, and comedy, the latter of which is mostly supplied by the Grim Reaper (Lee Dong Wook), whose becomes unwitting roommates with the Goblin after attempting to take Ji Eun Tak’s life. Part buddy-comedy, part medieval action series, part tragic sweeping romance, Goblin is one-of-a-kind drama full of disarming humor and really gorgeous shots of Korea in the wintertime. Surprisingly for a show that is so centrally a romance, Goblin asks some interesting questions about the afterlife, destiny, and faith.
Watch This If You Like: Being Human, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Beauty and the Beast, long-legged men modeling the latest Korean winter fashion apparel, crying.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly – Hulu
Genre: Biographical drama
Director: Julian Schnabel
Cast: Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Seigner, Marie-Josée Croze, Anne Consigny, Max von Sydow.
Frequently listed as one of the best movies of the 21st century, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is the tragic inspirational biopic that manages to break past the limits of the genre and deliver a powerful and poignant reflection on what it means to be alive. Based on the memoir by journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly chronicles Bauby’s (Mathieu Amalric) life after he suffers a massive stroke that leaves him imprisoned within his own body, with only his left eye able to function. Extremely confined to Bauby’s perspective, the film dramatically expands as Bauby’s imagination begins to take form and we are taken on a breathtaking, visually stunning journey through his memories and his fantasies of beaches, mountains, the Empress Eugénie, and an erotic feast with one of his transcriptionists. The real Bauby died just 10 days after his painstakingly-written memoir was released, but the legacy that he leaves behind and the film that captures it is honestly, heartbreakingly life-affirming.
Watch This If You Like: The Theory of Everything, Awakenings, your weepy inspirational biopic with a dose of French erotica.
Aggretsuko: Season 2 – Netflix
Genre: Anime series
Cast: Erica Mendez, Josh Petersdorf, Katelyn Gault, Ben Diskin, G.K. Bowes, Tara Platt.
Netflix’s cutest ode to female rage is back, and this time it’s taking on incels. Well, kind of. Aggretsuko returns with its second season about Retsuko, the mild-mannered office drone who vents her frustrations about her oppressive corporate life through death metal karaoke. But this unexpectedly insightful anime series based on a Sanrio mascot character only gets better, with the adorable red panda now fending off her nagging mother’s questions about marriage and a new passive-aggressive coworker who threatens complaints of harassments at every unearned slight. Its unique gimmick could seem tired, but Aggrestsuko manages to evolve even further with its second season, offering nuance and empathy to even its most reprehensible characters. It’s no longer a black-and-white analog to Retsuko’s bad office life (the piggish boss, the doe-eyed flirt), but a complex portrayal of adulthood and how everyone is struggling to figure it out.
Watch This If You Like: Office Space, Bojack Horseman, Hello Kitty, gossiping about that one guy at your office who you’re pretty sure is an incel.
Dark: Season 2 – Netflix
Genre: Sci-fi drama series
Creator: Baran bo Odar, Jantje Friese
Cast: Karoline Eichhorn, Louis Hofmann, Jördis Triebel.
Amid all the hoopla for Stranger Things 3, its weird, twisted German cousin Dark quietly returned with a second season of time travel paradoxes, murders, affairs, and accidental incest. The German-language sci-fi series co-created by Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese was a minor sensation when it debuted on Netflix in 2017 and returns with an even stronger and — dare I say — darker second season about the small German town of Winden and the four families who are all connected through some mysterious cosmic phenomenon. This puzzle box of a show just becomes more mystifying in Dark season 2, as the sprawling ensemble of characters continue to cross paths and intersect with little to no explanation and the show experiments with themes of fate and determinism. But that makes Dark even more of an entertaining show to untangle if just to figure out who is related to who.
Watch This If You Like: Stranger Things, Twin Peaks, True Detective, Westworld, mysterious things happening in mysterious small towns.
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