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."

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.

Four Noteworthy Films

Four movies opening April 8 also deserve a mention. In action thriller "Hanna," a young girl (Saoirse Ronan) and hardcore CIA agent (Cate Blanchett) are pitted against each other to the death. "Meet Monica Velour" is a dramady about an aging porn star (Kim Cattrall) being saved from hard times by a doting teen fan (Dustin Ingram). "Soul Surfer" is a truth-based drama about a teenage surfer (AnnaSophia Robb) who triumphed in the sport after losing her arm in a shark attack. If you’re seeking horror, there’s Wes Craven’s "Scream 4," in which Sidney Campbell (Neve Campbell), having recovered from her last set of shocks, again faces her ghost-faced nemesis.

Two more open on April 15. Robert Redford’s "The Conspirator" is a courtroom drama about the trial of Mary Surratt (Robin Wright), the one woman accused of conspiracy in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. She was defended by a Union lawyer (James McAvoy). The little-known story is compelling and the cast is superb. "Atlas Shrugged Part I" was adapted from Ayn Rand’s novel by Paul Johansson (who also directs and plays John Galt opposite Taylor Schilling as Dagny Taggert).

April 22 brings two more: "Trust" is a coming-of-age drama about a female teen who falls prey to an online sex predator. Directed by David Schwimmer and starring Clive Owen and Catherine Keener, the film is a well-made cautionary tale with an engaging plot and no huge surprises.

"Water for Elephants," adapted from Sara Gruen’s novel, is a soapy romance set within the epic environment of the circus. Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson and Christoph Waltz star in this lavish, lustrous escape from reality.

Opening April 29, "Bride Flight" is a truth-based epic romance written for the screen by Marieke van der Pol, based on her eponymous novel. The multistory plot focuses on three young Dutch women who were among 26 brides-to-be aboard the airplane that flew the last great air race (in 1953) from Holland to New Zealand, where the women were to reunite with their fiances. Lots of love scenes, female friendship and dramatic moments of operatic proportions make this movie a moving and entertaining escape.

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In addition to covering film for Women’s eNews, Jennifer Merin writes about documentaries for ( and is president of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists (, a nonprofit organization of the leading women film journalists in the U.S. and Canada. She is also a member of the Broadcast Journalists Association.

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