Movie

Movie: The Earth Is Blue as an Orange

Stream it on the Criterion Channel.

Early in this documentary from Ukraine, a family in the war-torn region of Donbas sets up a makeshift studio in their living room to shoot some scenes for a film. Against a wall draped with black cloth, each family member — the single mother, Anna, her two teenage daughters, and two little boys — takes turns speaking to the camera. When one of the boys slams the clapperboard to start a new scene, we hear, instead of the clap, the sound of a bomb: The screen cuts to Anna and her sons crouched in their basement as a neighbor’s house is shelled by Russian forces. Is this reality? Or another scene from the movie-within-the-movie?

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“The Earth Is Blue as an Orange” dwells in this ambiguity, balancing gently between hope and harsh truths. The director, Iryna Tsilyk, mentored Anna’s older daughter, Myroslava, in a youth film workshop, inspiring the enterprising teenager to become a cinematographer and make a short film about her household’s experiences of the war. The family members throw themselves into this project, as cinema becomes their means of exercising (or feigning to exercise, for sanity’s sake) control over circumstances that render them helpless. As Tsilyk captures their everyday moments and filmmaking adventures, she crafts a bracing portrait of a family fighting to preserve the ordinary joys of life — dreams, ambitions, creative pursuits — in extraordinary times.

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This Mexican thriller from the writer-director Andrés Clariond Rangel ensnares its three characters in the best kind of love triangle: a queer one, where every leg is charged with sexual possibility. As the film opens, Manuel (José Pescina) and Lupe (Paulina Gaitán), a handsome young middle-class couple, have just received news that their attempts to conceive have failed yet again — and the reason is Manuel’s infertility. A sperm donor is the only way Lupe can carry a biological child of her own, but Manuel struggles with the idea of fathering what he perceives as another man’s child. Enter Ruben (Jorge A. Jiménez), Manuel’s new subordinate at his factory job, whose rough, seemingly guileless charms exert an irresistible sway on both Manuel and Lupe.

“Territorio” is a taut, taciturn drama where little is said out loud, but much transpires in gazes heavy with longing and menace. Manuel’s motives with Ruben are never quite clear, and on a drunken night with Lupe, their transactional arrangement turns into something far messier. I won’t give away this delicious twist, but it’s a testament to the film’s keen understanding of desire as something powerful yet slippery, eluding us even as it brings out our truest selves.

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A welcome contrast to the dozens of films about repressed young women and their sexual awakenings, Leyla Bouzid’s dreamy drama charts the coming of age of an inhibited young man in Paris, whose small world blooms as he falls for a headstrong classmate. The Algerian-born Ahmed (Sami Outalbali), a freshman at the Sorbonne, is instantly enamored by the Tunisian immigrant Farah (Zbeida Belhajamor) when they meet on the first day of class. They’re both taking a course on medieval Arab poetry, and the erotic content of the poems, with their frank visions of intoxication and lovemaking, envelop Ahmed in a reverie of desire. In close-ups, Bouzid captures how these verses electrify Ahmed’s everyday life: When he looks at Farah, his eyes seem to caress her, and any stray touch between them threatens to explode with sexual tension.

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Ahmed’s encounter with the poetry and with the brazen Farah is as much a history lesson for him as it is a confrontation with his impulses. Grappling with narrow but deep-set ideas about propriety and masculinity, he discovers that there’s a lot more to his culture than he ever knew and that there are multiple ways to be Arab. Bouzid’s strength is that she makes this point without any moralistic judgments. Instead, laced with excerpts from 15th-century books like “The Perfumed Garden of Sensual Delight” (which speaks sweetly of kisses between the vulva and penis, among other themes), the film unfolds as a heady haze of lust and literature.

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