April Movies Spring Open With 'Queen to Play'

Friday, April 8, 2011

Movies opening in April release plenty of directing, scripting or acting talent by women. Stories include a French woman's obsession with chess, a soapy circus romance starring Reese Witherspoon and an English dramatist who died young.

Jennifer Merin (WOMENSENEWS)--April has already sprung some great movies so let's catch up.

On April 1, from France, came director Caroline Botero's "Queen to Play." Helene (Sandrine Bonnaire), a middle-aged cleaning lady, discovers a gift for playing chess that offers an escape from the humdrum, a road to self discovery, inspiration to her daughter (Alexandra Gentile) and a challenge to her married life. Botero adapted it from Bertina Henrich's novel, "Joyeuse" (the film's French title) and the story is rich with moving mother-daughter moments, including a lovely dance sequence. Kevin Kline, in his first role in French, plays Helene's chess mentor; Francis Renaud is her husband. Shot in Corsica, the film is gloriously cinematic.

Another April 1 release was Danish director Susanne Bier's "In a Better World," a dramatic narrative about two troubled boys who bond to resist a gang of bullies in a school in rural Denmark. Both boys feel neglected by their loving but workaholic single fathers. The boys get into increasingly dangerous situations that eventually demand their fathers' attention. "In a Better World" probes how and whether children can be taught and expected to follow nonviolent behavior in a violence-plagued world. This compelling film won the 2011 Oscar for "Best Foreign Language Film."

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Opening today in limited release, "Meek's Cutoff" is director Kelly Reichardt's first foray into the Western genre. The film is about a small group of pioneer families who hire a miscreant trail guide (Bruce Greenwood) and find themselves lost and desperate in a vast, desolate, bone-dry desert. Ultimately, their survival is at stake. When the women in this film are pushed to their limits, they find hidden reserves of willpower. The characters are beautifully written by Reichardt, and brilliantly portrayed by Michelle Williams (a regular in Reichardt's films), Zoe Kazan and Shirley Henderson.

Doc Examines Dunbar's Life

Opening on April 27, "The Arbor" is artist Clio Bernard's fascinating first film. It's a documentary about Andrea Dunbar, the English dramatist whose autobiographical plays exposed what life was like for the working poor who live in Midlands "estates," or public housing, during the 1970s. Dunbar, who had two daughters and one son fathered by three different men, died in 1990 at age 29. In cutting-edge nonfiction style, Bernard uses tight close ups of actors lip synching to audio-only interviews conducted with Dunbar's surviving family and friends. Bernard's daring blend of nonfiction and narrative elements makes for a compelling cinematic biography.

Maternal influence is the theme of two other April openers.

In "Two Gates of Sleep," set in the isolation of rural Mississippi, two brothers attend to their mother (Karen Young) during her terminal illness and then carry her coffin on an extremely arduous journey through uncharted wilderness to the burial place of her choice. The film is slow paced and the dialogue is spare, with an engaging meditative quality. The actors give subtle and finely crafted performances. In theaters from April 1.

"Incendies," opening April 22, is Denis Villeneuve's action-packed drama about the Marwan sisters. They are French-speaking Canadians of Arab descent who discover that their recently deceased mother had long ago been an imprisoned political activist and had had another child, a brother. In a journey to the Middle East to find him they uncover further details of their mother's tumultuous life and reconnect with their ethnic roots. It's a riveting exploration of issues of ethnic identity and family loyalty.

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