2 Movies Like Small Country: An African Childhood (2020)

Staff & contributors

Chasing the feel of watching Small Country: An African Childhood ? Here are the movies we recommend you watch right after.

More than a decade before she made Toni Erdmann, German filmmaker Maren Ade turned her eye on a small-town school, a socially awkward teacher, and the inarticulate in between. Even with her debut, Ade showcased a talent for spotting the hidden comic potential of situations that can be wounding, turning vulnerabilities into power through comedy. The Forest For the Trees is a dilemma-film, in the ways in which it both invites and rejects identification with Melanie. A frighteningly optimistic person, she misreads most if not all social cues and finds herself in embarrassing situations. Even more, her devotion to making it all work, after moving away from the big city for said teaching job, is something a lot of viewers can recognize and support, but her borderline unlikeability is sometimes too hard to ignore. However, a majestic finale crowns the film with a scene that is worth rewatching again and again, like a dream you wish to appropriate for yourself.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Daniela Holtz, Eva Löbau, Heinz Röser-Dümmig, Ilona Schulz, Jan Neumann, Monika Hirschle, Robert Schupp

Director: Maren Ade

The poetic title of this debut feature from Chilean filmmaker Francisca Alegría does not tell a lie: a cow does indeed sing. More than one, in fact, because the film uses an entire herd — plus a flock of birds and a school of fish — as a kind of Greek chorus to comment on human mistreatment of animals and the wider environment. The Cow Who Sang never approaches sanctimonious territory, gently weaving from these ideas an expansive and evenly empathetic worldview. The magical realism that allows the animals to speak is the same device that brings the long-dead Magdalena (Mia Maestro) back to life — and, as her family’s fraught history is gradually revealed, it’s movingly suggested that the objectification that the cows and the local polluted river are subjected to is part of the same culture of devaluation that marred the lives of Magdalena and her female descendants. If there’s one complaint to be had, it’s that the relatively short runtime limits the film's ability to really expound on its many threads — the bond Magdalena instinctively forges with her trans granddaughter, for example. Ultimately, though, its symbolic storytelling and emotionally articulate cast allow The Cow Who Sang to communicate much of its sweeping philosophy to profound effect.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alfredo Castro, Camilo Arancibia, Enzo Ferrada, Fernanda Urrejola, Leonor Varela, Luis Dubó, Marcial Tagle, Mía Maestro

Director: Francisca Alegría