‘Clouds of Sils Maria’ Is This Week’s Must-See

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Kristen Stewart and Juliette Binoche in "Clouds of Sils Maria."

Credit: Courtesy of IFC Films

(WOMENSENEWS)– "Clouds of Sils Maria," which opened April 10, is this week’s must-see. In it French film auteur Olivier Assayas provides an illuminating and sensitive look at three complex and highly theatrical women, each at a different phase of life. Juliette Binoche plays an acclaimed actress whose career has started to fade. Kristen Stewart is her patient but put-upon assistant. Chloe Grace Moretz is an ingénue on the rise, bolstered by her pop culture social media popularity. Despite their differences, the three women are all struggling for direction and the actresses portray them with daringly honest performances. Stewart’s performance won her France’s coveted César Award for Best Supporting Actress. The film’s cinematic qualities are also awesome.

More April 10 Openers

"Desert Dancer" is a biopic about Afshin Ghaffarian (Reece Ritchie), the extraordinary young dancer who defied religious and political repression in Iran by founding an underground dance company that included men and women. For that, he faced dire consequences. His compelling story is an important reflection of Iranian realities and cultural life. Ghaffarian’s courage and fortitude are inspiring. The strong women in his life are beautifully represented in affecting performances by Nazanin Boniadi, Freida Pinto and Marama Corlett. The choreography and cinematography are quite magical.

"Ex Machina" is a provocative sci-fi adventure that has as its central character a seductive robot (Alicia Vikander) whose increasingly human feminine charms are to be tested when her inventor (Oscar Isaac) hires a "suitor" (Domhnall Gleeson) to see the chemistry that might ensue. The film’s convincing performances and thrilling special effects help fuel a serious examination of human values; freedom and love, for example, and by whom or what they might be deserved. If only — for the sake of even edgier insight — the central character had been a male bot in the hands of a female inventor and admirer.

"Dior and I" is filmmaker Frederic Tcheng’s fashion documentary, chronicling the arrival of touted young designer Raf Simons, hired to take over the influential haute couture house. The film follows the daring fashionisto as he composes his first collection and asserts his rather radical vision in traditional workrooms where women do much of the shaping and seaming. This is real life drama with fascinating subtle tensions. The cinematography, clothing and culminating fashion show are no less than exquisite.

"Dial a Prayer," written and directed by Maggie Kiley, is decidedly inspirational. Cora (Brittany Snow) works at a "prayer call center," where she answers phones and reassures supplicants that their needs – often dire – will be heeded. Hearing the troubles of others helps her put her own despairing alcoholic past in perspective. The guidance of the center’s religious leader (William H. Macy) and positive feedback from callers helps her to lighten her spiritual load and evolve into a better person with a better life. Fine performances, a little light romance and some engaging humor help offset the platitudes.

"The Longest Ride" is a long and very sappy romance. If you’re in need of one, this movie is ideal. Adapted from Nicholas Sparks’ eponymous novel, it involves romances in two generations, with the elder couple working their way through a long-past war in flashback and the younger lovers in the throes of major decisions and lust at a rodeo. The dialogue is abuzz with soulful old saws, and the music swells tides of emotions. Whew! You might be happy when it’s over; just because it’s over.

Stay tuned for more April openers.

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