‘Marguerite’ Wrings Suspense Out of Self-Delusion

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Credit: Courtesy of Cohen Media Group

Catherine Frot stars in the French film "Marguerite."

(WOMENSENEWS)—Topping my list of films that put women at the center of the story this week is "Marguerite." This exquisitely realized French period tragi-comedy is about a wealthy Paris socialite who, fancying herself an accomplished opera singer, regales friends with gala recitals at which she presents herself and other talent. From her first appearance on screen, it’s clear that Marguerite (brilliant played by Catherine Frot) can’t carry a tune. The surprisingly suspenseful plot turns on her self-delusion, as she’s protected by some – including her hypocritical, financially dependent husband — and ridiculed by others. Based on the fascinating true story of Florence Foster Jenkins, the scenario (co-written by Marcia Romano) is moved from New York to Paris in the 1920s. The cinematography is magnificent and the soundtrack – including Marguerite’s missed notes – is sublime. This film, directed and co-written by Xavier Giannoli, is a must-see. (In French with English subtitles.)

"Lolo," another French import, is director Julie Delpy’s latest quirky relationship comedy. This one is about how Paris 40-something sophisticate Violette (Delpy), while on vacation with best gal pal Ariane (Karin Viard), takes up with a charming local bumpkin (Dany Boon). She invites him home to Paris, where he encounters her jealous teenage son, who sets out to foil the affair. Delpy’s imprimatur is well-established in world cinema, but her work is inconsistent, and this isn’t one of her best. The plot is predictable; the quirks commonplace.

"Hello, My Name is Doris" is another comedy about a mismatched romance. In this one, the iconic Sally Fields plays Doris, a lonely and somewhat kooky older woman, who finds herself enthralled by a much younger and very handsome man at work. That, of course, changes her outlook on life. The script, co-written by Laura Terruso, is clever and compassionate. Fields is absolutely charming in this engaging femme-centric romp.

"Eye in the Sky" is a tense military thriller starring Helen Mirren as Colonel Powell, a U.K.-based officer in charge of a top secret mission to track a terrorist group in Kenya via remotely controlled tiny drones that look like bees, and larger drones that fire missiles. With a plot somewhat reminiscent of 2014’s "Good Kill," the film is a worthy addition to the list of movies raising essential ethical questions about remotely controlled warfare. Mirren’s nuanced performance is marvelous.

"About Scout" is an admirable femme-helmed, femme-centric shoestring budget indie film. Directed by Laurie Weltz, and written by Weltz and India Ennenga, who stars as Scout, the film tells the story of a teenager who sets out on a challenging road trip to find and reunite with her younger sister, who has been snatched by their estranged father. Rounding out the cast, Ellen Burstyn, Nikki Reed and Jane Seymour give strongly compelling performances. "About Scout" is a fine moviemaking example of "Yes! Women can!!"

"10 Cloverfield Lane," this week’s femme-centric horror flick, is bound to make you squirm. The victim, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), awakens from a car crash to find herself locked up in the basement of Howard (John Goodman), a disturbingly demented man who claims he’s saved her life and is keeping her safe from a chemical attack that rendered the outside world uninhabitable. Goodman’s characterization is crushing. See it if you think you can handle the claustrophobia and stress.

Three femme-helmed documentaries that open this week cover subjects dear to our hearts: food, home video and existentialism.

"City of Gold," Laura Gabbert’s charming profile of LA Weekly food critic Jonathan Gold, chronicles the Pulitzer Prize winner’s discovery of eateries off the beaten track and the impact of his reviews on the culinary arts in the City of Angels.

"Here Come the Videofreex!," directed by Jenny Raskin and Jon Nealon, is the compelling tale of how activists — and some pranksters — used their video footage to impact mainstream media during the 1960s and ’70s, when radical change was in the air. (It opened March 9.)

Sabine Gisiger’s "Yalom’s Cure" penetrates the personal life and psychotherapy practice of Irvin D. Yalon, the Stanford professor and bestselling author whose theories have provided insight and inspiration to millions seeking understanding of the meaning of life, and happiness in it.

Lastly, director Kelly Reichardt’s first feature, "River of Grass" (1994), is being rereleased after its recent restoration. Set in South Florida, the no-budget film is a study of the atmospheric ennui from which the central characters–a duo of drifters played by Lisa Bowman and Larry Fassenden–are trying to escape via a series of unsuccessful shenanigans. It’s great to see this superb director honored with this restoration and rerelease.

Stay tuned for more March openers next week.

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