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Traditional ideas about male virility and a woman’s place in the home are challenged in Jafar Panahi’s simply shot, pleasing film, his fourth since being banned from directing by Iranian authorities. Revolving around a man who drives to a mountain village with a famous actress to investigate a girl’s suicide, the movie is defiantly modern in its liberating message about freedom of choice, harking back to great cinema verite works like Abbas Kiarostami’s The Wind Will Carry Us. — DEBORAH YOUNG
Ash Is Purest White
Chinese director Jia Zhang-ke was never going to make a conventional jianghu underworld movie, and even if genre elements and hard-edged character details are woven into this textured, unhurried drama, it's of a piece with the auteur's contemplative body of work. Spanning 17 years, the film provides a transfixing lead role for Jia's wife and muse, Zhao Tao, as a woman from a coal-mining town in love with a local mobster (Liao Fan), their relationship unfolding against the backdrop of a changing China. — DAVID ROONEY
Birds of Passage
Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra's Colombian crime epic is like an indigenous Godfather, revealing the slow and steady destruction of a close-knit native family that gets caught up in the international drug trade in the '70s. Both ethnographic chronicle and thriller, this is a superbly crafted, patiently paced film from the team behind 2016 foreign-language Oscar nominee Embrace of the Serpent. — JORDAN MINTZER
A true story told in a boisterously exaggerated way, this is Spike Lee's most entertaining film in a while. Telling the tale of a rookie Colorado cop (John David Washington) who teams up with a Jewish colleague (Adam Driver) to infiltrate the local KKK chapter, the director takes the shenanigans to cartoonish levels of humor at times — but also has a full barrel of ammo, and uses it. — TODD MCCARTHY
This gripping thriller, adapted by Danish-Iranian director Ali Abbassi from a novella by Let the Right One In creator John Ajvide Lindqvist, blends supernatural folklore with contemporary social realism in a parable about fear of the other. While the premise — an attraction between two Swedish outcasts with facial deformities — shares DNA with the superfreak allegories of the X-Men series, the naturalistic presentation has more in common with the downbeat grit of Nordic noir. — STEPHEN DALTON
Daringly heating his mysterious tale on a low boil across two and a half hours, South Korean director Lee Chang-dong establishes and sustains an almost trancelike state. This is a beautifully crafted film loaded with glancing insights into a love triangle formed by an aspiring writer, a rich hotshot and the charismatic girl they both desire. The movie is rife with subtle perceptions about class privilege, family legacies, creative confidence, self-invention, sexual jealousy, justice and revenge. — T.M.
The latest from French enfant terrible Gaspar Noe might just as easily have been called Gaspar's Inferno, so intensely does it portray a dance troupe's drug-induced descent into agony. Pairing his boundary-pushing sex-and-drugs fixation with a vital presentation of exuberant choreography, Noe has made a film that's seductive in its rhythms and bold in its visualization of his young subjects' sometimes beautiful, other times brutal somatic expressiveness. It's the work of someone ready to startle and impress again. — T.M.
The new film from Pawel Pawlikowski (2015 foreign-language Oscar winner Ida) is a bittersweet and lovely ballad of lovers who can't stand to stay apart but also can't stand each other. Achingly romantic, though wryly realistic about the destructive power of eros, the drama spans from the '40s to the '60s, tracking the tempestuous relationship between pianist Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and singer Zula (Joanna Kulig) as they shuttle back and forth across the Iron Curtain, from Warsaw to Paris and beyond. — LESLIE FELPERIN
Chinese documentarian Wang Bing’s eight-hour-plus opus is his most explosive outing yet. Charting the origins, operations and outcomes of a Chinese labor camp in the late 1950s/early 1960s, the film offers affecting and harrowing accounts from survivors. It’s also a fiery j’accuse against the persecution unleashed during the Chinese Communist Party’s “Anti-Rightist Campaign” more than five decades ago, and the way the party chose to whitewash the catastrophe rather than learn from its mistakes. — CLARENCE TSUI
Directed by the Portuguese Gabriel Abrantes and the U.S.-born Daniel Schmidt, here is a movie that takes you completely by surprise. Following the out-there adventures of a sweet but dimwitted Portuguese soccer star (modeled on Cristiano Ronaldo), the film — which features a woman posing as a teenage boy, African refugees, right-wing extremists, nuns, evil sisters and long-haired lapdogs — is nuts in the best way, imagined, assembled and played with wacky panache. — BOYD VAN HOEIJ
The latest from Gomorrah director Matteo Garrone is an intense viewing experience that will have audiences gripping their armrests with its frighteningly real portrayal of a kindly dog groomer drawn into the criminal world by a demonic, half-crazed brute. Set in the Camorra-ridden hinterlands around Naples, the various threads running through the Italian filmmaker’s work are poured into a boiling cauldron of poverty, ignorance and self-interest. — D.Y.
Knife + Heart
Set in the French gay porn industry in 1979, Yann Gonzalez’s second feature is a trashy vintage delight steeped in the aesthetics of Brian de Palma and Italian giallo flicks. Starring Vanessa Paradis as a smut producer whose actors are being killed off by a masked madman, the movie impressively combines glitter, gore and campy comedy while revealing the darker side of stunted homoerotic desire. — JORDAN MINTZER
Long Day's Journey Into Night
In this mesmerizing cinematic feat by 28-year-old Chinese auteur Bi Gan, dreams, memory and an unsolved murder are all part of a forlorn film noir with echoes of Wong Kar Wai. If the first half captivates with its elusive narrative of doomed lovers, the second part, which was shot in 3D in one continuous 50-minute take, is an immersive, jaw-dropping plunge into melancholy and movie magic. — J.M.
Brazilian writer-director Beatriz Seigner presents a family caught between countries, and between life and death, in this eerie drama set in the marshy Amazonian region where the borders between Brazil, Colombia and Peru rub against each other. The film bewitches by degrees, softening up the viewer with entrancing visuals to ensure the last-act emotional sucker punch lands with maximum force. — L.F.
Lead Felix Maritaud deservedly picked up a Critics’ Week prize for his riveting, raw performance as a homeless 22-year-old gay male Strasbourg prostitute, entirely divorced from social norms and material needs, in writer-director Camille Vidal-Naquet’s transfixing debut, an uncompromising queer character study that tips its hat to Agnes Varda’s seminal Vagabond. Played with startling emotional nakedness and complete physical surrender, the protagonist subjects himself to increasingly harrowing hurts and humiliations, yet never lets go of his capacity to give or receive love. — D.R.
In his typically subtle and tender new offering, Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda contrasts the frigidity of traditional society with the warmth and happiness of a lower-class family in which money is tight and all methods of obtaining it are permissible. A thoughtful addition to parables about happy and unhappy clans, the film is studded with memorable characters and believable performances. — D.Y.
Sensuality and mortality commingle defiantly in the radiant and wrenching new film from French writer-director Christophe Honore — his best yet. Tracing the intertwining lives of a 35-year-old gay writer with AIDS and a 22-year-old student in the heat of his queer awakening, it's a vibrant, novelistic tale of sex and death, desire and disease, love and friendship. Set in 1993, the movie is also a period-specific examination of gay male identity, or identities, luminously acted by leads Pierre Deladonchamps and Vincent Lacoste. — JON FROSCH
The Spy Gone North
A South Korean spy is sent to uncover the nuclear secrets of North Korea in this stylish, topical, blood-poundingly entertaining political thriller. A lavish production directed by respected filmmaker Yoon Jong-bin (The Unforgiven), this is the type of riveting picture Asian cinema is so good at making — both supremely exciting and character-driven. — D.Y.
Kevin Macdonald’s haunting, richly contextualized documentary portrait celebrates the pop supernova who became a one-woman hit factory in the 1980s and ‘90s. But it delves more deeply into the troubled persona behind the prodigiously talented star, bedeviled by issues of image and identity, sexuality and childhood trauma that became more combustible under the pressures of a bad marriage, a drug habit and a stinging betrayal by the father she idolized. An American tragedy, explored with sensitivity and probing complexity. — D.R.
Woman at War
Icelandic auteur Benedikt Erlingsson's second feature (following Of Horses and Men) is a very skillfully crafted and surreally told story of an ecological "terrorist" who sabotages her country's power grid in order to preserve its breathtaking landscapes. With emotional depth, exquisite visuals and sharp, timely political undertones, the movie starts off on rather playful footing but gradually builds into something more thrilling, and moving, as our heroine goes on the run. — J.M.
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