By Jennifer Merin
WeNews film critic
Friday, September 6, 2013
September is an exceptionally strong month for films by and about women. Especially appealing among early openers are two femme-helmed narrative features that delve into illicit relationships between women and younger men. Both films open Sept. 6.
Credit: Courtesy of Oscilloscope Pictures
(WOMENSENEWS)-- "A Teacher," writer/director Hannah Fidell's first feature, follows the romance between a Texas high school English teacher (Lindsay Burdge) and her student (Will Brittain) as it evolves from a lusty, pleasurable fling to her uncontrollable obsession with the boy. We've seen this story of self-destruction before in movies and in the news. Fidell's take is hauntingly dark. Much of the film is shot in shadow. Fidell's style makes no judgments about her characters' behavior, which gives you room to reflect on the rift between their psychological needs, common sense and moral imperatives.
In comparison, "Adore," set on a breezy beach in sunny Australia, illuminates the story of two lifelong best friends (Naomi Watts and Robin Wright), now in their 40s, who become romantically involved with each other's 20-something sons, who are also best friends. With screenwriter Christopher Hampton's smart adaptation of Doris Lessing's compelling "The Grandmothers," acclaimed French director Anne Fontaine's English language movie debut is a sophisticated, nuanced and nonjudgmental probe into the nature of female relationships with each other and with the men in their lives. Watts and Wright are superb guides on this journey of self-discovery.
"Touchy Feely," Seattle filmmaker Lynn Shelton's latest feature, is a female/male, sister/brother switcheroo. Abby (Rosemarie DeWitt), a gifted and free-spirited massage therapist, abruptly develops an aversion to physical contact, while her brother Paul (Josh Pais), an emotionally stunted and patient-less dentist, suddenly develops remarkably healing hands. Their inexplicable transformations precipitate an eccentrically entertaining plot in which now untouchable Abby rebuffs the affectionate advances of her boyfriend, who is the not-so-secret crush of Paul's daughter (Ellen Page). With characteristic charm and humor, Shelton unhinges onscreen female/male stereotyping. Good show!
"Things Never Said," written and directed by Charles Murray, stars Shanola Hampton as Kal, a gifted spoken-word poet whose determination to make her voice heard means breaking bounds set by her oppressive husband. The character of Kal serves as a fine role model and actress Hampton does a great job.
In "Populaire," a French romcom, Rose (Déborah François) seeks independence from her overbearing father and the drudgery of life as a rural housewife by taking a secretarial job. Discovering that she types almost as fast as light travels, her handsome boss (Louis Échard) promotes her entry into a speed typing competition and vows to be her coach. Sparks fly and not all of them are ignited by speed at the keys. Directed and co-written by Régis Roinsard, the film is light-hearted fun and purely pro women.
"Winnie Mandela" is a narrative biopic and tribute film directed by Darrell Roodt, based on Anne Marie du Preez Bezdrob's written biography, starring Jennifer Hudson in the title role and Terrence Howard as her husband. Winnie Mandela has been both beloved and maligned as a key player in South Africa's struggle against apartheid and the establishment of an equality-based democracy. Avoiding the controversies kicked off by her aggressive security brigade, the "Mandela Football Club," the film presents a heroic profile of the "Mother of South Africa." Although it takes some time to adjust to Hudson and Howard as the faces of Winnie and Nelson Mandela, the story presented in this well-made film deserves attention.
"I Am Breathing," directed by Emma Davie and Morag McKinnon, is a profoundly moving documentary about Edinburgh architect Neil Platt's bout with death-dealing Motor Neurone Disease (MND, aka. Lou Gehrig's Disease), a neurological disorder that causes complete loss of communication between the brain and muscles, ultimately terminating all bodily function. Platt, age 33, heroically creates "The Plattitude," a blog where he exercises his sharp sense of humor while sharing his story and his MND experiences with others who are afflicted and their loved ones. He also leaves a memoire for the infant son who will never get to know him in life. This heartbreaking and inspirational film is a must-see.
"Good Ol' Freda" is filmmaker Ryan Whit's feel-good documentary about Freda Kelly, the lifelong secretary to The Beatles. The fan-pleasing profile features lots of archival footage of the Fab Four, comments from the band's two surviving members and, best of all, candid interviews with Kelly, who speaks out for the first time in 50 years. Great music. Insider info. Lovely nostalgia. Terrific fun.
"99%: The Occupy Wall St. Collaborative Film" is a galvanizing chronicle of the rise and demise of the grassroots "Occupy" movement that took root in 2011. The film focuses on the Occupy settlement in New York's Zuccotti Park, located near Wall Street in lower Manhattan, showing collective efforts to create a society with greater equality and more equitable distribution of wealth and tracing the Occupy movement to other cities in the U.S. and around the globe. The film presents first person accounts of how the police disbanded the impromptu communities, brutalizing and arresting participants and effectively terminating the "live in" phase of the Occupy movement. Fortunately the Occupy movement's media savvy organizers and participants documented everything. And this comprehensive film is an exceptional reveal of the disruption of civil rights. Alarming, indeed. A must-know, must-see. Collectively directed by Audrey Ewell, Aaron Aites, Lucian Read, Nina Krstic, Katie Teague, Peter Leeman, Aric Gutnick, Abby Martin and Doree Simon.
"Out of the Clear Blue Sky" is a 9/11 documentary that focuses on Cantor Fitzgerald, the investment firm that occupied Tower 1's top five floors and lost 658 employees as a result of the terrorist attack. Director Danielle Gardner, who also suffered the loss of family in the Sept. 11 attack, weaves interviews with grieving survivors of deceased employees with coverage of Cantor Fitzgerald's CEO Howard Lutnick's shockingly inconsistent and ultimately inexcusably insensitive treatment of them. In the aftermath, Lutnick made a teary promise to take care of the aggrieved families, but shortly after announced his intention to stop paychecks for deceased and missing employees. The film digs deeper than emotion to explore the impact of the 9/11 attacks on big business and "business as usual."
"Mademoiselle C" profiles fashionista Carine Roitfeld, who edited French Vogue for a decade before setting out to give the fashion bible a run for its money by establishing her own high concept magazine, CR Fashion Book, based not in Paris but in New York. Roitfeld isn't very well known outside the fashion world, but her inner circle of friends includes Karl Lagerfeld, Donatella Versace, Diane von Furstenberg, Tom Ford, Alexander Wang and other fashion leaders, many of whom speak up about her talents in this trend-monitoring documentary by filmmaker Fabien Constant.
"Mother of George" is a powerful drama about a young woman brought from Nigeria to marry a member of New York's Brooklyn-based Nigerian community and have his babies. Scripted by Darci Picoult and directed by Andrew Dosunmy, the film begins with an elaborate, colorfully traditional wedding ceremony, after which the couple give procreation a go -- again and again -- to no avail. Berated by her mother-in-law, Adenike (Dabau Gurira) does everything she can to conceive. Eventually, realizing her husband may be infertile, she beseeches him to see a doctor. He refuses. Her marriage and well-being are at stake. No spoilers. This tension-filled film with its fine performances and beautiful cinematography is a must-see.
"And While We Were Here," written and directed by Kat Coiro, is the tale of a bored housewife (Kate Bosworth) who accompanies her somewhat neglectful husband, a musician, on a concert tour to Ischia, a scenic, romantic island off Italy's Amalfi Coast. While she's exploring the island, she meets a younger man (they're apparently all the rage in movies this September) and falls into lust. Is the steamy affair a momentary diversion or a life changing event? No spoilers. See the film. Bosworth's performance is engagingly reflective and the cinematography is gorgeous.
"Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction" is Sophie Huber's profile of the character actor whose craggy face has appeared in more than 200 films directed by the likes of David Lynch, Wim Wenders and Sam Shepard, all of whom chat about him on camera. This fan-pleasing biodoc includes clips from his films, his renditions of American folk songs and his own candid accounts of his life and career. His friendships with Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson and other beloved Hollywood glitterati are also discussed.
"Herb and Dorothy 50X50" is filmmaker Megumi Sasaki's sequel to her 2008 documentary about the art-loving middle class couple, the Vogels, whose assemblage of contemporary works congested their small New York apartment. In 1992, the Vogels donated their collection to the National Gallery of Art, which couldn't house and display the 5,000 works. So, it was agreed that 50 works would be given to 50 museums, one in each of the 50 United States. "50X50" follows Herb and Dorothy during the dispersal process, traveling to exhibition openings and collecting their insightful comments, along with those from important museum curators and famous artists, including Chuck Close, Charles Clough, Mark Kostabi and Cristo and Jeanne Claude. The film is an intriguing look at the art world's behind-the-scenes machinations and how art is made accessible to the general public.
"GMO OMG" is neither made by nor about women, but it is a must-see for all women who believe that we are what we eat. Jeremy Seifert's documentary is a compelling investigation of how genetic modification of food -- primarily of corn and soy -- impacts every aspect of contemporary life, including our human species' physical well-being and sustainability. Each time we eat something containing genetically modified ingredients -- and it's almost impossible to avoid them -- we are "unwittingly participating in the largest experiment ever conducted on human beings." In the film, Seifert takes his young sons on a road tour of farms and food processing sites to teach them (and us) about food production. The adorable boys are sometimes distracting, but their presence is a pressing reminder about why consumers must find out about the dangers and heed the warnings about genetically modified foods. This entertaining documentary provides vital information.
In addition to covering film for Women's eNews, Jennifer Merin writes about documentaries for About.com and is president of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, a nonprofit organization of the leading female film journalists in the U.S. and Canada. She is also a member of the prestigious Broadcast Film Critics Association.
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