I have a new favorite streaming service, and it’s called Kanopy.
Marrying the deep archive of Amazon Prime with the art-house sensibilities of the Criterion Channel, the streaming service offers an ever-growing trove of foreign, independent, classic and documentary titles, often fresh off the festival, theatrical and pay-per-view circuits.
The best part? It’s free for anyone with a valid library card. Just punch your information into the website and/or smartphone app one time, and you’re good to go. The hardest part? You can only access six titles a month, so choose wisely! Here is a look at the first five films I streamed on Kanopy.
Nocturama: French director Bertrand Bonello’s 2016 thriller is further proof that in the halls of cinematic justice, there is no such thing as a fail-safe plot. The audacious structure follows a group of eight motley young revolutionaries plotting a multipronged spectacle of domestic terrorism. For at least 15 minutes, no dialogue is exchanged, as we bear witness to their separate comings and goings amid the whir of Parisian city life, each of them a separate jigsaw in a fractured puzzle. When the deeds are done — and the bullets are fired, the bombs detonate in government buildings, and public monuments light up in flames — the fugitives hide out overnight in a luxury department store until the smoke clears, sampling its inventory and living like the aristos whose imperialist decadence they attacked just hours before. Dry wit punctuates this bold commentary on materialism and faux-populism, shot through with Bonello’s expectedly stylish lens. As guilt festers among its increasingly reckless radicals, the director juggles chronologies and replays scenes from shifting perspectives, cutting together this provocative structuralist exercise in the manner of Christopher Nolan’s stopwatch precision — until the various moving parts move no more.
Silent Souls: Aleksey Fedorchenko’s 2011 feature, an international breakthrough for the Russian director, is a beautifully paint-dry-paced mélange of memory and myth, ritual and sacrifice that was doubtless influenced by slow-cinema countryman Andrei Tarkovsky. The narrator of the film, which is adapted from a 2008 Russian novella, is Aist, a factory worker and middle-aged bachelor with few family ties, and a descendant of the Volga region’s indigenous Meryan people. Aist endeavors to keep the last vestiges of Meryan traditions alike, along with his boss, Miron, whose wife has died and who must dispose of the body according to ancient Meryan ritual. The two men go about the somber instructions with matter-of-fact Soviet detachment, from fastidiously washing the body and bundling it for transport to purchasing lumber, dousing a makeshift pyre with vodka, and cremating the cadaver for a sea burial. Silent Souls is essentially an unhurried road movie across bleak terrain that disposes of the genre’s buddy conventions, drifting from the duo’s mostly wordless workaday mission to savor a few slow-burning but eccentric flashbacks from the characters’ pasts. The magical-realist climax, with its divine wink, derails the narrative in more ways than one, and has the potential to polarize: One viewer’s tragedy may be another’s ecstasy.
Trouble Every Day: I was little prepared when I clicked Play on this 2001 feature from Claire Denis, one of my few blind spots in her extraordinary filmography. The director’s uncompromising foray into cannibalistic horror is, at its languorous core, a psychopharmacological monster movie with a rich subtext of sexual politics for those willing to endure its surface sickness. Drug industry representative Shane Brown (Vincent Gallo) and his new wife June (Tricia Vessey) are honeymooning in Paris, though for Shane, the sojourn is twofold: He’s there to reconnect with a former colleague and neuroscientist, Dr. Léo Sémeneau (Alex Descas), whose career was discredited after the publication of a controversial paper that involved illegal testing on humans. Léo lives with his feral wife Coré, ostensibly a casualty of said experimentation, whom he keeps imprisoned in their loft, lest she escape with a hunger for human flesh. Denis’ plot is fundamentally outrageous and hard to accept on its face, but her direction is the star here. In forging unspoken connections between Shane and Léo, as protectors of dark secrets, and conversely between Shane and Coré, as clandestine disease carriers, Denis both satisfies and subverts audience expectations of the predators and victims of sexual violence. What’s perhaps most provocative about Trouble Every Day is the genuine beauty and sensuality of Denis’ approach. She lures her audience into a libidinous lull, and films the movie’s murders as extensions of rough play. This is a tough viewing even for casual admirers of the so-called New French Extremity movement, so buckle up.
Rock ‘n’ Roll High School: This Roger Corman-produced 1979 youth-in-rebellion musical is a postmodern riff on Reefer Madness. This time it’s not the herb — although its presence is acknowledged here too — but the sound of two chords, amplifiers and snotty vocals that transforms otherwise somnambulant students into crazed chaos agents flying Frisbees in the hallways and toppling framed pictures of their school’s exasperated namesake at Vince Lombardi High. There is little sophistication in co-writer/director Allan Arkush’s amiable and familiar approach, but a good portion of the jokes hold up. As absurd as it sounds to discuss the mise-en-scène in a teen rock comedy, visual gags clutter the frame, many with the humility not to call attention to themselves. If the pace doesn’t match the relentlessness of spoofs like Airplane, this likely had an influence on pictures like Penelope Spheeris’ similarly loopy Wayne’s World. The story, arbitrary though it may be, involves the school’s resident rocker, Riff Randall (P.J. Soles), clashing with the school’s new puritanical principal (Mary Woronov), and ultimately enlisting the Ramones, who are in town for a gig, to teach her a lesson in true music appreciation. For half the film, the Ramones’ music appears in basically de-fanged form, stripped of its threatening speed and energy, although a five-song concert set late in the movie, seemingly filmed live, restores it.
Kinetta: The primary influence on Kinetta, the first film in which Greek enfant terrible Yorgos Lanthimos received solo directorial credit, may lie outside the world of cinema. More than anything else, it conjures Andy Warhol’s Death and Disaster series: Both explore our perverse fascination with carnage and crime scenes by calling attention to the Brechtian artifice of their re-creation. The film’s three central characters share a hobby around an idyllic seaside town. A plainclothes cop (Costas Xikominos) with a passion for performative violence enlists a sullen photographer (Aris Servetalis) and his chambermaid girlfriend (Evangelina Randou) to film the latter in various compromised positions — unconscious on a beach, clothes tattered, having just performed a choreographed re-enactment of a losing battle with a pursuer, usually played by the perverse cop. Eventually, she starts to suffer real wounds from the fake conflicts, as the tether between reality and art begins to fray. Though completed in 2005, Kinetta was not released in the U.S. until 2019, well after Lanthimos’ English-language success with The Lobster, and it’s easy to see why it took so long. It’s a raw exercise, in terms of both the filmmaker’s maturity and the rough-hewn formalism; sometimes the handheld camera convulses like a seasick mariner, and in its quietest moments, the soundtrack crackles like old vinyl. Kinetta succeeds in deconstructing the titillations of action cinema by presenting them as stagey modern dances, but its inscrutable austerity and dogged absence of character psychology (even character names) render it, at best, a gnomic intellectual exercise. In short, I don’t think I liked it very much, but I’m not sure it’s intended to be liked.