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'Bright Star' Glows in September Film Firmament

Thursday, August 27, 2009

September brings a full roster of movies by, for and about women. One of the most intensely anticipated is Jane Campion's "Bright Star" about young love and loss. Jennifer Merin says "35 Shots of Rum" by Claire Denis is another must-see.

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September brings a full roster of movies by, for and about women. One of the most intensely anticipated is Jane Campion's "Bright Star" about young love and loss. Jennifer Merin says "35 Shots of Rum" by Claire Denis is another must-see.
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Jennifer Merin

(WOMENSENEWS)--This September, we're treated to films by two galactic luminaries in the Milky Way of female film directors, when Jane Campion's "Bright Star" and Claire Denis's "35 Shots of Rum" light up selected movie theaters.

Additional highlights of the month include a Coco Chanel biopic, a variety of femme-penned screenplays and a quartet of femme-centric horror thrillers.

But at the very top of the month, is today's September 1 release of director Sally Potter's "Rage," a drama that revolves around a young male blogger who interviews eccentric subjects over a week-long period. It premieres, fittingly enough, on the online film site Babblegum. No urgent need to see "Rage" on opening night--after all, that's the beauty of the Web--but the work of the fearless Potter (she who cast Tilda Swinton as the leading man in "Orlando" in 1992) is always interesting.

On September 4, making its way into theaters in select markets, is "Amreeka," an independent feature written and directed by Cherien Dabis. It's about a divorced Palestinian woman who wins the lottery for a Green Card to America and moves with her teenage son from the military occupied Middle East to Middle America. In the United States they both face prejudice and the hardships of assimilation.

Two studio films scripted by women are also opening on September 4. There's not much feminist torque in either of these movies, but they could provide some solid entertainment.

"All About Steve," penned by Kim Barker (who wrote "License to Wed" in 2007), is a romcom romp in which Sandra Bullock plays a love-smitten crossword-puzzle creator who stalks a guy trying convince him they're meant for each other. Pamela Pettler (writer of "Corpse Bride" in 2005 and "Monster House" in 2006) scripted "9," an animated feature about a post-apocalyptic world in which a small group of surviving humans battle a hoard of machines.

'No Impact Man' Opens Mid-Month

Co-directors Laura Gabbert and Justin Schein deliver a high-impact documentary on September 11. "No Impact Man" follows freelance author Colin Beavan's project to limit the environmental toll of his own existence by eschewing all energy-consuming conveniences, including the elevator in his high-rise apartment building.

Beavan's intriguing career-defining project included a blog (hey, doesn't that require wattage?) that then became a book. Now there's this film. The dramatic tension comes from tracking how Beavan's low-carbon lifestyle impacts his wife (Business Week writer Michelle Conlin) and their toddler daughter, both of whom were subject to a project they didn't initiate.

A trifecta of femme-centric horror thrillers opens on September 11: "Sorority Row," "Jennifer's Body" and "Splice."

"Sorority Row" unleashes Briana Evigan, Rumer Willis, Leah Pipes, Margo Harshman and Carrie Fisher in leading roles in this movie about the crimes of co-ed sisters in campus Greek.

In "Jennifer's Body," director Karyn Kusama ("Aeon Flux," 2005) fleshes out Diablo Cody's ("Juno," 2008) script, in which a deviant and demented college campus cheerleader takes to killing her male classmates. Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried star.

"Splice," co-written by Antoinette Terry Bryant, features Sarah Polley and Adrien Brody as a duo of ambitious scientists who illegally splice human DNA with that of another species and produce Dren, a female hybrid who turns into a beautiful but deadly adversary.

Meanwhile, September 11 also brings in "Whiteout," a femme-centric action adventure thriller starring Kate Beckensale as a criminal investigator who pursues her suspect to Antarctica.

'35 Shots of Rum' Stars Glance and Gesture

September 16 is the release date for Claire Denis' "35 Shots of Rum," an intimate and contemplative must-see treatment of the complexities of familial relationships and family life.

Acknowledging her film as an homage to Yasujiro Ozu's "Late Spring" (1949), Denis presents slices-of-life from suburban Paris, in an apartment complex where a single, Afro-French father and his grown daughter are intimately connected with their neighbors. The neighbors include the father's ex-girlfriend and a young man who has a crush on the daughter, co-workers, classmates and friends. Glances and gestures are this quiet movie's main vocabulary, communicating almost everything the director wants you to know about the characters' conflicts and tenderness.

Jane Campion's "Bright Star," which has its U.S. theatrical premiere on September 18, is undoubtedly the month's most highly anticipated film for female moviegoers. It's certainly a movie that's been targeted for marketing to women. But its appeal is equally strong for men as well and, I suspect, for teenagers--male and female--who may well identify with the anguishes of young love.

In "Bright Star," Campion--among the few women ever nominated for a best director Oscar (for "The Piano," 1993)--tells the true-life tale of the unconsummated love affair between poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and his neighbor Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish). It's set in London in 1818 and based on letters exchanged between the two young poets. It ends with Keats' death at age 23 and the start of Brawne's lifelong mourning of him. Campion captures the nuances of character and period like no other director. "Bright Star" is her ode to Keats and Brawne, to love and lovers.

Also in theaters on September 18 is "The Burning Plain." Its executive producer and star is Hollywood power player Charleze Theron, who won the best actress Oscar for "Monster" (2003). This is a drama about how adultery and unresolved feelings of guilt affect three generations of two families who live on the U.S.-Mexico border. Guillermo Arriaga, who wrote the script and directed the film, presents a nonlinear tragedy of misunderstandings and missed opportunities that somehow all add up--perhaps a little too neatly--in the end.

On September 25, "Coco Before Chanel," Anne Fontaine's biopic about the famous designer, has theatrical showings in New York and Los Angeles. With a screenplay by three--Fontaine, along with her sister Camille and the accomplished Christopher Hampton--and starring the delightful Audrey Tautou, "Coco Before Chanel" promises to be quite fashionably entertaining.

September's finale is that fourth horror flick, "Rotkappchen: The Blood of Red Riding Hood," opening on September 28. In this movie, a German teen comes to live with her grandmother in America where she's mercilessly taunted by her new classmates. Then there's a series of bloody murders.

I'll leave it there.

Jennifer Merin is president of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists (AWFJ). She edits AWFJ Women On Film (w'Young Victoria' Rules the Holiday Movie Lineup, awfjinc@gmail.com) and writes about film for About.com (http://documentaries.about.com).