‘Suffragette’ Revitalizes Our Own, Century-Old Drama

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"Suffragette" looks at the British feminists who fought to win civil equality for women.

Credit: Courtesy of Focus Features

(WOMENSENEWS)– "Suffragette" is a gripping dramatization that brings us closer to the British feminists who fought to win civil equality for women – the right to vote, parental rights, equal pay – a century ago. I am not sure how happy they would be with the title of the film since it entered usage as a derisive form of the more respectful term "suffragist." But that stickler note aside, Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonhan Carter and Anne-Marie Duff head an extraordinary ensemble portrait of women who risked their marriages, livelihood–and in some cases, their lives– to follow the call to commit civil disobedience by their movement leader Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep). Without sensationalizing, the film quietly conveys the oppression these women felt in all aspects of their lives as second citizens. These heroic women are our forebears, their story is our story. The film is a must-see. "Suffragette" not only illuminates an important chapter in herstory, it represents a monumental achievement by a team of women working together behind the camera: director Sarah Gavron, scripter Abi Morgan and producers Alison Owen and Faye Ward. It’s significant that the film opens at a moment when women are demanding equal opportunity as well as equal pay in the film industry. Support the film and the movement by voting for "Suffragette" at the box office this weekend. You will not be disappointed.

"I Smile Back" stars Sarah Silverman in a somber and disturbing drama about a likeable, well-to-do, happily comfortable suburban wife and mother, Laney Brooks, whose life is falling apart because she cannot control her impulsive and ultimately self-destructive bad behavior. She’s addicted to alcohol, cocaine, sex and noncompliance. Screenwriters Paige Dylan and Amy Koppleman offer a view that is neither apologetic nor judgmental. We don’t know why Laney is as she is, but she is enormously appealing as a complex, convincing and compelling character. Silverman’s stunning performance is honest and heartbreaking. See this one for Silverman, and think Oscars!

"Difret" is based on the harrowing current-day story of Hirut (Tizita Hagere), a 14-year-old Ethiopian village girl who fights against the traditional Ethiopian custom of abduction and marriage. After she’s kidnapped, locked up and raped, Hirut is expected to wed her brutal abductor. However, while attempting to escape, she accidentally kills her "betrothed," whose kith and kin vow to kill her in revenge. Enter Meaza (Meron Getnet), a strong women’s advocate who learns of Hirut’s case, takes custody of her and defends her against the vengeful relatives and a court system that complies with such traditions. It’s astonishing that such dramas still take place in real life, and it’s important that cinema raises our awareness of them. Angelina Jolie Pitt, the film’s executive producer, deserves credit as an outspoken advocate for change. The film won the World Cinematic Dramatic Audience Award at Sundance last year.

"India’s Daughter," which screened previously in the U.S. but this is its theatrical release, is

filmmaker Leslee Udwin’s galvanizing documentary about Jyoti Singh. The brilliant young medical student’s life was ended at age 23 when a gang of six men raped her on a moving bus, then threw her brutalized body from the vehicle. The incident took place in Delhi in 2012 and set off a huge national and international outcry. In this case, the murderers were caught by authorities and have been sentenced to death, but there are numerous other rape and murder cases that go unreported, unsolved. It’s sickening. The well-crafted film is a tribute to Singh and her parents, and an eloquent call to action to support those pressing for social and legislative change in India.

"The Pearl Button," the latest from acclaimed Chilean documentary auteur essayist Pablo Guzman, is a call to contemplation of the deepest sort. The focus of this well-constructed stream-of-consciousness cinematic oeuvre is water. Its flow, scarcity, shape-shifting nature and essential importance to humankind provide a metaphor for subjective consideration of the intersection of civilization and the natural world. The film delves into the history and traditions of the indigenous people of Patagonia, the evolution of the universe, climate change, genocide, borders, cartography, stillness, silence, science and storytelling. Indescribably wonderful, and a must-see.

"Heart of a Dog," this week’s second personal-essay documentary, opened Oct. 21. It is Laurie Anderson’s deeply moving expression of mourning for her recently deceased dog, the beloved and talented Lollabell, whom she’d trained to play experimental music and paint, and for her late husband, the beloved and fabulously talented Lou Reed, who passed away in 2012. The nonlinear film is an impressionistic flow of new and old, animated, still and moving images contextualized by a lyrical and introspective voiceover that reaches the heights of humor and plummets to the depths of depression. "Heart of a Dog" is an incarnation of Anderson’s brilliance. You won’t want the film to end.

Stay tuned for more October openers next week.

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