Even as someone whose job it is to cover the streaming scene, I admit I’m often stumbling through it as blindly as everyone else. Away from the well-publicised brands like Netflix or Amazon, there are many outlets I find more by accident than design. Such is the case with the rather unprepossessingly named Pantaflix, a site that had been in my peripheral internet vision for some time through hazy, lazy searches for viewing alternatives, without ever quite inviting me to click on it. A German-based pay-per-view film site founded by the actor Matthias Schweighöfer, it’s been available in the UK for nearly three years now, yet neither its content nor its brand ever quite drew me in.
That changed a couple of weeks ago: for an unrelated project I was seeking out the early documentary shorts of late Polish master Krzysztof Kieślowski, and finding them rather hard to track down online – only to find them streaming, seemingly exclusively, at Pantaflix, where they’re splashily billed as a top attraction on the homepage.
Made across the 1970s, the 16 Kieślowski films range from his searching vox-pop exercise Talking Heads to the blunt procedural verite of Hospital to the candid unemployment confessional I Don’t Know. Bearing the poised humanity and grace of Kieślowski’s later fiction work, despite their monochrome roughness, they proved worth the search – though at £2.99 a pop there ought to be a cheaper way to watch them. (Some have been stuck, rather randomly, as extras on Blu-ray rereleases of the director’s more famous works.) A box set is surely called for.
As Pantaflix bait, however, they did the job: I was curious to see what other treasures were buried on the kind of website that spotlights 40-year-old Kieślowski docs as prominently as Netflix does the new series of Queer Eye. As it turns out, the site is a bit of a rummage sale of lesser-spotted art cinema, documentaries, a scattering of reassuring Hollywood classics and a lot of mainstream international films rarely screened outside their home country. That, indeed, is something of a selling point. “Home is just a movie away,” runs their tagline, as the site seems designed less for armchair-travelling cinephiles than for immigrants across Europe seeking home-comfort viewing without regional restrictions. Click on the “Turkish Movies” tag, for example, and you won’t find a lot of Nuri Bilge Ceylan; many films aren’t furnished with English subtitles.
Yet the gems are there for patient, open-minded diggers, from Ruben Östlund’s striking bad-behaviour mosaic Involuntary to the famously outrageous Belgian serial-killer mockumentary Man Bites Dog. In their French section, I was delighted to find Léa Mysius’s moody, ingeniously visualised Ava, a sidebar standout from the 2017 Cannes festival that more or less evaporated beyond the festival circuit. A sensual study of a 13-year-old girl rapidly losing her sight, it skirts coming-of-age cliche to reflect on ephemeral youth with urgency and risk. Guillaume Canet’s Rock’n Roll, meanwhile, is a clever, highly meta exercise, starring the director and Marion Cotillard as themselves in a larkish industry satire so garlicky and Gallic it could never really travel – and yet here it is.
Kieslowski aside, a generously stocked documentary section is full of surprises amid the sometimes intriguing obscurities. Steve James’s still-mighty, still-timely sports doc Hoop Dreams is there, as is Austrian provocateur Ulrich Seidl’s challenging, enraging, altogether extraordinary Safari, an icy, tacitly damning study of hunting tourism that can’t come loaded with enough trigger warnings. The small, dingily selected LGBT section is a disappointment, but the golden-oldies department is delight-strewn. Fritz Lang’s slinky noir Scarlet Street rubs shoulders with Jean Renoir’s rich, earthy Texan sharecropping portrait The Southerner.
You’ll have noticed precious little of a throughline between these highlights, but the haphazard pick-and-mix nature of Pantaflix – which could, nonetheless, stand to improve its vague indexing and dicey search function – is seemingly the point. I’ll be grazing more often.
New to streaming & DVD this week
The Sisters Brothers
Jacques Audiard escapes the curse that befalls so many world cinema greats switching to English. This darkly comic, Oregon-set western probes masculine rivalry and insecurity with his customary tough elegance.
Simon Amstell’s first feature film as a director is a heart-cradling, boy-meets-boy romantic comedy, though its sweetness doesn’t cancel out his signature barbed humour – and a keen observational eye for London’s gay scene.
(Warner Bros, 12)
With superhero films getting so dour and grandiose these days, any one that settles for being a bubblegum romp has my attention. This DC kids’ adventure gets by on bounding, winking enthusiasm, but why is it 130 minutes long?
The Central Park Five
For the many viewers riveted by Ava DuVernay’s Netflix miniseries When They See Us, here’s a well-timed rerelease of Ken Burns’ stark, stern, superb documentary on the corruption-ridden rape case that inspired it.