4 Movies Like Umberto D. (1952)

Staff & contributors

It’s hard to overstate just how lovely — and quietly radical — this largely improvised Canadian docudrama is. The scenario (seven elderly women and their tour bus driver are stranded in the Canadian wilderness for a few days) is contrived, but the rich, lively conversations that feature are all drawn from the women’s real lives. As they hunker down and get on with the business of surviving with meager food — something they manage to do largely thanks to the bushcraft skills of Mohawk elder Alice — the strangers reflect on their long lives and open up to each other about their lingering fears and still-burning hopes.

They’re a diverse bunch — featuring Cockney transplants, lesbian pioneers, and nuns — and the film’s brief cuts to real photos from the women’s earlier years both underscore the rawness of what they’re saying and serve as testaments to the rich fullness of their lives. The Company of Strangers grants these women the kind of serious consideration and space that they’re denied in so many public spaces, but it never feels like a strained exercise in redressing that imbalance. Instead, this is simply a gentle, gorgeous, and profoundly moving portrait of women who aren’t done living yet.

Genre: Adventure, Drama

Actor: Alice Diabo, Beth Webber, Catherine Roche, Cissy Meddings, Constance Garneau, Michelle Sweeney, Winifred Holden

Director: Cynthia Scott

, 1987

Celebrated Malian filmmaker Souleyman Cissé crafted Yeelen (which means ‘brightness’) as an explicit antidote to the “ethnographic” lens through which Western directors often told Africa-set stories. That intention is certainly felt, because Yeelen doesn’t trouble itself to translate its folklore-drawn premise for audiences unfamiliar with 13th-century Malian myths. Rejecting Western storytelling conventions, it instead uses those of the culture it depicts — a looping approach to time and matter-of-fact magical realism — to present the tale of Nianankoro (Issiaka Kane), a supernaturally gifted young man whose sorcerer father (Niamanto Sanogo) plots to kill him because of the threats he poses to the elder man's power. 

 A basic primer to the customs central to Yeelen is provided in the opening titles, but knowledge of the culture it communicates through isn’t a prerequisite to watching and enjoying the film because its epic conflicts — both Oedipal (father versus son) and religious (flesh versus spirit) — and otherworldly sensibilities make it both instinctively familiar and mesmerizing. A deserved winner of the Cannes Jury Prize, though the fact that it was the first African film to win one of the festival's awards — 40 years into its existence — makes this an unjustly belated milestone.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Aoua Sangare, Balla Moussa Keita, Ismaila Sarr, Issiaka Kane, Niamanto Sanogo

Director: Souleymane Cissé

Rating: NR

As a comedy made in the 80’s all about a gay couple, viewers not familiar with this indie film might expect something tragic, raunchy, or insensitive, but Parting Glances is surprisingly understated. The main relationship is refreshingly treated with the same domesticity as a straight couple would, and the main conflict isn’t concerned with acceptance– after all, Michael and Robert were already accepted by their urban Manhattan community. In writing this, first-time director Bill Sherwood is able to focus on the upcoming long-distance relationship, Michael realizing Robert wants the distance, while Robert feels uncertain over Michael’s feelings for his ex dying from AIDS. The film doesn’t shy away from the touching, but even with the difficult pain of losing parts of the community, it’s still straightforward, unsentimental, and so funny with the witty repartee between the well-written characters. Parting Glances is a true gem.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Adam Nathan, Bob Koherr, Cam Brainard, John Bolger, Kathy Kinney, Michael Medeiros, Nicholas Hill, Patrick Tull, Richard Ganoung, Steve Buscemi, Victor Rivers, Yolande Bavan

Director: Bill Sherwood

Rating: NR

This Danish thriller is about a man who gets into a car accident with a woman and, upon visiting her at the hospital, gets mistaken for her boyfriend by her wealthy family.

The man in question is Jonas, a family guy with two cheerful children who is also going through a text-book case of mid-life crisis. So when he realizes that Julia lost her memory and that she shows interest in him, he steps into the role of her boyfriend.

Things escalate very quickly, both as Julia starts to get some of her memory back and her actual boyfriend arrives. If you like Scandinavian noirs like Headhunters, you will love this.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Anders W. Berthelsen, Bent Mejding, Charlotte Fich, Dejan Cukic, Ditte Hansen, Ewa Fröling, Fanny Leander Bornedal, Flemming Enevold, Jannie Faurschou, Josephine Raahauge, Karin Jagd, Karsten Jansfort, Lin Kun Wu, Niels Anders Thorn, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Rebecka Hemse, Rune Klan, Thomas Chaanhing, Timm Vladimir

Director: Ole Bornedal

Rating: Not Rated