Ando Sakura, Sasaki Miyu, Jyo Kairi, Lily Franky, Matsuoka Mayu and Kiki Kilin in SHOPLIFTERS, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

THREE FOREIGN FILMS

I tend toward the quieter films; you’ll never see me in line for the latest big buzz movie. And I found these three foreign films to be just what I needed this season: “Shoplifters,” “Cold War” and “Becoming Astrid.”

SHOPLIFTERS

This beautiful movie from Japan won the highest award, the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and has been nominated for the Golden Globe, Critics Choice and Spirit Awards and is also an LA Film Critics winner. You’ll have about a week more to see it at Laemmle’s Royal in West LA.

“Shoplifters,” directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda, reconsiders the meaning of family, a recurring theme for this director. A husband and wife live with their two kids and a grandmother in a squalid, cramped home, and to make ends meet, they shoplift. But only for necessities; they’re not “criminals,” they just need to supplement their meagre income. The father works as a day laborer until he has an accident; the mother is a launderer until she’s caught taking leftover items from the clothes she cleans.

The kids have all been well trained in the art of shoplifting, and communicate their distracting tactics non-verbally, using eyes and hand signals as they commit these petty thefts. The grandmother, whose pension the family relies on, is supplemented by her passive blackmail of the family whose mother “stole” her husband and started a new family, leaving her behind.

The couple discover a young child, Juri, shivering and crying forlornly on a balcony. They offer her food and bring her into their home. Juri soon learns their family business. Her real parents not only don’t want her, they don’t report her missing, until two months later when news reports surface that she is missing.

This family, however, has bonded fully and integrated Juri into their lives. It’s not “kidnapping,” says the mother, because they’re not asking for ransom. As the film begins to wind down, we discover other secrets about this “family.” The son isn’t really their son; the daughter really isn’t their daughter, and when the grandmother dies, they bury her themselves in the dirt floor of their home.

As the secrets are revealed and the plot takes a surprising turn, what we’re left with is a feeling for people who really care about one another, even without blood ties. And we care about them, too.  Go see it while you still have the chance. Get tickets here: https://www.laemmle.com/films/44505

COLD WAR

Talk about a doomed passionate romance! Polish foreign film Oscar-winning director Pawel Pawlikowski is back with Poland’s 2018 Academy Award entry, “Cold War.” It’s also at Laemmle’s Royal Theatre, opening on December 21.

No, it’s not a political screed about Russians versus Americans but it does exemplify the cultural divide between communism and western values, played out in the form of a volatile romance spanning decades. The characters, with conflicting desires, meet in post-war ravaged Poland, as the Iron Curtain falls and the chill of Soviet era obedience begins.

A musician on the hunt for talented locals falls hard for a young singer, who is recruited to share the cultural values of the heartland through folk song and dance. Over time, native peasant culture will be converted into state sponsored propaganda spectacles, and the woman (Zula) is happy star in those shows. The man (Wictor), a composer and musician, however, does not want to see his purist vision corrupted by Communist party apparatchiks and manages to escape to Paris, where he pursues a life of freedom to indulge in jazz, drink and romance. But he never once forgets that his true love is Zula.

It is loosely based on the story of Pawlikowski’s own parents; it alternates between black and white and full color, which says a lot about the circumstances of the film. Theirs is a back and forth trial of leavings and comings as they try work out how to stay together over time.

It’s a film that resonated with me weeks after seeing it. I hope you’ll take the opportunity to do so while it’s in town. Tickets are available now. https://www.laemmle.com/films/?title=Cold%20War&sort=title&limit=40

BECOMING ASTRID

Sadly, this one has come and gone from LA theatres but come March 2019, you can get it via video on demand. I have never read the beloved Pippi Longstocking children’s books, but the author of those books, Astrid Lindgren, is the subject of an absolutely absorbing period piece “Becoming Astrid.”

Well ahead of her time, she was a freethinking Swedish farm girl, and a talented writer.  She gets a newspaper job and gets entangled with and impregnated by the editor, which in 1920s Sweden was scandalous. She works as a secretary to help pay for trips to Denmark, where her boy is being raised, to prevent scandal from tainting the father.

She eventually brings her son home, reconciling with her family who help her raise him. In 1932 she marries her new employer, with whom she had a daughter. It was for this daughter that the Pippi Longstocking stories were created.

“Becoming Astrid” demonstrates the resilience of an independent woman at a time in a conservative culture when women’s roles were constrained. It will be worth your while to seek it out once it’s on video on demand.

Sarah A. Spitz is an award-winning public radio producer, now retired from KCRW, where she also produced arts stories for NPR. She writes features and reviews for various print and online publications.

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