(WOMENSENEWS)--October is bursting with great movies, but the most mesmerizing might just be "Vision," a haunting biodrama based on the life of Hildegard von Bingen, a 12th century nun.
It opens Oct. 13 in limited release and is directed by Germany's Margarethe von Trotta, who began her laudable directing career after starring in films by Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Volker Schlondorf.
Barbara Sukowa, in her third collaboration with von Trotta, plays the leading role. Unyielding faith and superb negotiation skills allow her character to succeed in building a cloister that was exclusively for women, without the protection and-or supervision of men. The movie is dark, fascinating and a reminder of the deep roots of religious women's tough and ongoing power struggle.
Backing up a few days, get ready for strong performances by actresses in three terrific films that are battling for big box office sales all on the same Oct. 8 release date.
Most highly anticipated is "Secretariat," the story of the woman behind the legendary thoroughbred who won the Triple Crown in 1973. Diane Lane stars as Penny Chenery, who, having graduated from Smith College, studied at Columbia University's Business School and raised four children. She transformed her family's failing Meadow Farm into a stable of champions and spurred Secretariat to set a record in horse racing history. Lane is as brilliant as ever.
Stephen Frears' "Tamara Drewe" is an adaptation of Posy Simmonds' enormously popular eponymous graphic novel, in which a successful, stylish and spoiled, but lonely, London columnist returns to her country home after having had an appearance-altering nose job. Gemma Atherton stars in this charming satire of contemporary British bourgeois country life.
"Nowhere Boy" is a compelling biopic about a young Liverpool lad named John Lennon and his relationship to two women who shaped his life. Kristin Scott Thomas plays Lennon's strict and protective aunt and Anne-Marie Duff is his sadly well-meaning but neglectful mother.
Major Trio in Mid-Month
Oct. 15 also brings three major openings with double-X interest.
"The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest" completes the Swedish cinematic adaptation of Stieg Larsson's "Millennium" trilogy. The series has fixated untold numbers on the strong and uncompromising Lisbeth Salander, a talented computer hacker who avenges the sexual abuse she suffered in her troubled youth. The stunning Noomi Rapace stars again. The film is in Swedish with English subtitles. (Another movie about sexual violence also comes out this month. "Spit On Your Grave" is a remake of the 1978 "Day of the Woman," about a novelist who takes revenge against men who raped her. But if you can only take so much of this content, see "Hornet's Nest." It's a much better film.)
Chlo Moretz, the young actress whose daring performance in "Kick-Ass" garnered many female fans, stars in "Let Me In," the American version of Sweden's cult horror film, "Let The Right One In." The film's plot revolves around a young girl with unusual powers who forms a strange and dangerous relationship with the lonely adolescent boy living next door.
Hilary Swank, meanwhile, stars in "Conviction," director Tony Goldwyn's movie about an unemployed single mom who puts herself through law school so she can clear her older brother (Sam Rockwell) from a murder conviction. Minni Driver, Juliette Lewis and Melissa Leo also play big parts.
Melissa Leo shows up again in a release later in the month. In "Welcome to the Rileys," Leo and James Gandolfini play a Midwestern couple whose relationship is falling apart as they mourn the death of their daughter. They find some solace and reconciliation by helping a troubled teenage stripper (Kristen Stewart of "Twilight" fame) who they take into their home. It opens Oct. 29. (The movie is echoed by another October release, "Life As We Know It." The film stars Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel as a couple who must restore their disintegrating relationship so they can care for their suddenly-orphaned goddaughter. But unless you're a huge Heigl fan, opt for "Welcome to the Rileys"--it's a better film on the same theme.
Documentarians Come Up Big
Women direct or co-direct six documentaries that hit the big screen this month.
"Freakonomics," which opens Oct. 1, has the biggest buzz. Based on the best-selling book of the same name by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubnerís, it has four distinct segments, each based on a chapter of the book. The best of the four--for my money--is about offering incentives to students in public education. This segment is directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, who follow several failing school kids to see whether their performance improves when promised tangible rewards. I won't spoil the plot, but suffice it to say that stereotypical expectations are upset.
Two documentaries about about conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians open on Oct. 8. Women direct both films, which target the behavior of the Israeli military.
"Budrus," directed by Julia Bacha, follows a West Bank resident, Ayed Morrar, as he organizes what is supposed to be a nonviolent protest to prevent the Israeli army from building a wall that will divide the
towns dwellings from its age-old olive fields. The film shows Palestinian youths throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers who are working on the project, and they fire back. But, in the end, the Israelis relocate the wall in response to the protest and the Palestinians celebrate triumphantly.
More October Docs
"Rachel," directed by Simone Bitton, examines the death of Rachel Corrie, a young American peace activist who was living in the Gaza strip and participating in nonviolent protests against the demolition
of Palestinian homes by the Israeli Army. She was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer. Her colleagues and other witnesses describe the incident in on-camera interviews and in narration over photos.
"Urville" is an experimental documentary in which filmmaker Angela Christlieb journeys through France, stopping in several towns named Urville, as she searches for the legendary Utopian town of the same name. The film, opening Oct. 13, is intriguing, funny and surprising.
"Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt and The Magnetic Fields" is a portrait of the pop composer and performer best known for his 1999 hit, "69 Love Songs." The film is made by the documentary directing duo of Kerthy Fix and Gail O'Hara. It opens Oct. 27.
Lucy Walker's "Waste Land" opens Oct. 29. It follows Vik Muniz, a successful Brooklyn artist, as he returns to his native Brazil to create a life-changing art project with poor people who live in and make their living from a gigantic garbage dump on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. This is a wonderful documentary about an artist who understands the transformative nature of art and uses it to make a difference in people's lives.
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Jennifer Merin is president of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists (AWFJ). She edits AWFJ Women On Film (www.awfj.org, email@example.com) and writes about film for About.com (http://documentaries.about.com).
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