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MUBI review: A curated art-house streaming platform

Maverick Life

THIS WEEKEND WE’RE WATCHING

MUBI review: A curated art-house streaming platform

MUBI. Image: Supplied

MUBI is an international streaming platform and cinema community available in South Africa, encouraging deeper engagement with excellent films and documentaries you might otherwise miss.

Famed, cheap and with a reputation for offering a vast array of titles, Netflix accounts for 35% of South African subscriptions to VOD (video on demand) streaming platforms. Showmax and Prime Video are neck-and-neck for second place, each making up just under a quarter of subscriptions, with the former offering the most local content and the latter offering by far the most titles if you don’t mind forking out extra cash for the omni-affluent cyber tokoloshe (aka Jeff Bezos). 

With these statistics in mind, Maverick Life reviews a lot of content from these three platforms, and yet in 2021 our review of the Criterion Channel, an alternative streaming platform prioritising pop culture classics, received a big response (mostly from eager readers confused about what a VPN is – here’s an informative video if you were one of them). 

Last week we reviewed the winner of the Best International Feature Film award at the Oscars 2022, Drive My Car, which is currently only available on a streaming platform called MUBI, and many of our readers who reached out, keen to watch it, had never even heard of the platform. So this week we’re taking a look at MUBI, an alternative streaming platform for cinephiles which, unlike Criterion Collection, is available in South Africa without the use of a VPN. 

MUBI is fairly specialised for a streaming platform. While it has everything from short films to double features and filmmaker retrospectives, like Criterion Channel, it doesn’t offer series. Furthermore, while Criterion collects old and emerging pop-culture classics, many of which you’d be familiar with, you’re unlikely to recognise more than a few of the films in MUBI’s catalogue. 

MUBI’s approach is antithetical to that of Netflix or Prime Video which feature as much content as possible to create a sometimes overwhelming impression of abundance and choice. MUBI’s team scours film festivals and international cinema communities to lovingly curate its catalogue, which primarily comprises documentaries and indie and art-house films from all over the world.  

There is a particular focus on emerging filmmakers, unusual film festival entries and experimental movies. As far as documentaries go, the curators shy away from biopics and flashy or sensational subjects, focusing instead on exploration of the arts, cultural and historical stories, and social justice. MUBI also releases exclusive content. 

The homepage is the “Now Showing” section, which features the 30 latest films. Right at the top is the “Film of the Day” – every day MUBI adds one new film to its collection and gives it the spotlight. 

"Our Lady of the Nile" -Film Of the Day on 14 April.
“Our Lady of the Nile” -Film Of the Day on 14 April. Image: Supplied

While big VOD platforms use algorithms to funnel you towards the most popular content, MUBI’s interface is designed to do quite the opposite. The main feed is divided up into changing widget lists like: “1980s Masterpieces”, “Luminaries” and “Films About Films”. You can alphabetically churn through their nearly 1000-film catalogue one by one if you prefer; these thematic collections are only there to encourage you to notice and engage with films outside of your usual niches and the mainstream in general. 

The interface is well suited to a curious film lover. You aren’t bombarded by trailers exploding from every thumbnail as you browse (the way Netflix likes it). If a film catches your eye, clicking on its thumbnail takes you to a preview page that acts as a sophisticated version of IMDB. You can find the synopsis, write-ups, reviews, the trailer, a list of its awards, its cast and crew and associated articles from “The Notebook”. 

Songs My Brother Taught Me” preview page. Image: Supplied
Changing widget sections. Image: Supplied

The Notebook is a publication within Mubi that encourages deeper engagement with film through news, interviews, articles and discussion. One of the features that sets MUBI apart from other streaming sites is its community engagement. Users can rate, review and discuss films, or simply follow others who do. 

MUBI’s profile pages allow you to see ratings, comments and watch lists of any other user who has made their profile public – following a user whose taste you appreciate is a great way to find films you’ll like. Martin Scorsese himself is an active MUBI member, so you can literally browse his personal lists of favorites. Here’s his profile. 

“The Notebook”. Image: Supplied
Martin Scorsese’s Mubi Profile. Image: Supplied

One feature of the community that can become annoying to more casual users is that The Notebook often features discussions about films that aren’t on the platform, so you can finish reading about a film that you’re excited to watch only to find that it’s not available. Look out for that. 

Streaming rights vary for each title in the “Now Showing” list, so not all of them will be moved to the permanent library. If a film pops up that you’re interested in but don’t have time for right now, you have to make sure it’ll still be available by the time you get to it. You are able to download films to watch offline, but only on the mobile app. 

The other potential irritation is the automatic image quality. Mubi offers up to 1080p, which for most users is absolutely fine, but the resolution automatically adjusts to one’s internet speed, so it’s prone to drop suddenly if the connection dips. Many users might find a little buffering preferable to momentarily finding themselves watching an art-house film in 240p, but for now we haven’t a choice in the matter. 

The platform offers customisable subtitles for its multilingual content but it does not yet offer audio descriptions for the visually impaired. This is one of but a few features to be considered to improve upon an otherwise excellent product. 

It seems an injustice to lump a platform like MUBI, which thrives on passion, intellectualism and creativity, with the likes of Netflix; but maybe it’s necessary to compare apples and oranges when so many people take for granted that the metaphorical apples are the only choice and aren’t even aware that the oranges exist. DM/ML 

You can sign up to MUBI with a free 30-day trial period using this YouTube promotion. MUBI also offers Student Membership for a reduced R70 per month.

You can contact This Weekend We’re Watching via [email protected]

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