The Loneliest Planet

Things go wrong for trekking lovers in Julia Loktev’s “The Loneliest Planet.”

Credit: Courtesy of IFC Films.

(WOMENSENEWS)–August film openings bring seven must-sees, including three superb narrative features written and directed by exceptionally strong female filmmakers, each with her own uniquely engaging, inventive and edgy approach.

Four compelling documentaries focusing on women complete the smashing lineup.

Opening Aug. 10, French filmmaker Julie Delpy’s side-splitting comedy of manners “2 Days In NY” is a sequel of sorts to her delightful “2 Days In Paris.” Delpy again stars as Marion, a gal whose romances–on both sides of the pond–go awry. This film pairs her with Chris Rock as her charming live-in lover. The happy nest they’ve made for themselves and their kids–they each have one from former relationships–is thoroughly disrupted by the arrival of her parents and an ex-beau (not the father of her child) from France. Voila! The comedy of culture clash ensues.

Aug. 17 brings to big screens “Chicken With Plums,” co-written and directed by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, the team that set cinema on fire with the brilliant animated feature “Persepolis,” based on Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel about leaving her family in repressive Iran to seek a better life in Paris. “Chicken With Plums,” set in Teheran in 1958, uses a captivating mix of live action and stylish animation to present an enchanting fable about romance, melancholia and the lasting agony of unrequited love. Mathieu Almaric stars as Nasser-Ali Khan, an aging violist who–for reasons revealed in the film though flashbacks–decides to die and takes eight days to do it. His rather simple story is garnished with such rich embellishments that it becomes an eight-course, beautifully-served meal, with a thoroughly satisfying palette of colors, textures and flavors.

Opening Aug. 24, writer-director Julia Loktov’s “The Loneliest Planet” is also about love lost. Nica (Hani Furstenberg) and Alex (Gael Garcia Bernal), an engaged couple on holiday, are trekking through the beautiful but rough and very remote terrain of the Caucasus Mountains in Georgia. The lovers are carefree, joyful and totally attuned to each other until a moment of crisis guts their faith in each other. The plot is minimal. Loktov’s brilliant shooting style is so intimate that she converts small moments into big, tension-filled events. Every frame of this film contributes to the jarring conclusion. No spoilers here. Just an advisory: don’t blink.

Must-See Docs

On to this month’s brilliant nonfiction.

“Dreams of a Life,” opening Aug. 3, is the story of Joyce Carol Vincent, a 40-something woman whose decomposed body was found in a London bedsit in 2003, when authorities broke in to evict her for nonpayment of rent. She’d been dead for three years and nobody had missed her. The gruesome discovery made headlines. Little was known about Vincent or what happened to her, but masses of people were fascinated and saddened by her story.

Filmmaker Carol Morley found and interviewed people from Vincent’s past–ex-flat mates, co-workers and lovers–all of whom were shocked to learn that she was the woman who’d died alone. Based on their comments, Morley staged reenactments of Vincent’s activities and childhood. The result is a stunning, haunting reminder of how easy it is for people–in this case, a single woman–to become isolated and forgotten.

“Meet The Fokkens,” opening Aug. 8, has nothing at all to do with the 2004 comedy, “Meet the Fockers.” Here, Dutch filmmakers Gabrielle Provaas and Rob Schroder follow 69-year-old twin sisters Martine and Louise Fokkens, who’ve been prostitutes in Amsterdam’s red-light district for 50 years. After years on the job, they see nothing sinister, tawdry or demeaning about their occupation and consider their lives quite normal. They’re proud that they’ve established their own brothel and founded a prostitute’s labor union and quite frankly recount stories–some of which are hilarious–about their exploits. Martine still works because she needs income, and we see her sitting in her window to attract Johns. The film even peeks behind her closed curtain. Louise, on the other hand, had to retire due to flexibility-limiting arthritis. The Fokkens are charming and the film presents a different point of view on the world’s oldest profession.

Opening Aug. 13, Macarena Aguilo’s autobiographical “The Chilean Building” is a fascinating historical account of how political activists opposing the brutal dictator Augusto Pinochet protected their children by creating “Project Home.” After it was first established in Europe, Project Home was relocated to Cuba. Twenty adults supervised 60 boys and girls, raising them from childhood to adulthood in a communal family-like setting. The kids were the progeny of members of the the Leftist Revolutionary Movement (Movimiento de Izquierda Revoluntionario). The filmmaker, who grew up in Project Home, interviewed her peers. Many of their parents were killed by the regime or disappeared.

In another documentary about relocated children, Linda Goldstein Knowlton follows four American female teens–Ann, Fang, Haley and Jenna–who were adopted from China by U.S. citizens after China established its one child policy. Through focusing on the girls’ stories, Knowlton considers the plight of some 80,000 girls who’ve been similarly adopted and face the same huge and deeply troublesome questions about where they belong and how they fit in, as well as issues having to do with race and gender. The girls are smart, honest and very appealing, and their stories are heart wrenching. The film opens Aug. 24.

Sex, Songs and Scary Offerings

Several femme-centric August releases are also of interest.

Good for laughs, “Hope Springs” stars Meryl Streep as Kay, a woman whose 31-year marriage to Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) has lost its sizzle. She signs them up for Dr. Feld’s (Steve Carell) marriage therapy retreat, where their daily assignments range from hugging each other to having sex. Penned by Vanessa Taylor, the script’s abundant humor is delivered in full by the film’s adept cast. Opens Aug. 10.

“Sparkle,” a music drama set in Motown, stars American Idol winner Jordin Sparks as the youngest and strongest of a three-sister singing group struggling to make it to stardom. Scripted by Mara Brock Akil, this remake of a 1976 film has a plot line as predictable as the original. But the music is good. The recently deceased Whitney Houston appears in the role of the trio’s mom.

If you’re up for scares, August has four crime-horror releases with women in leading roles.

“The Awakening,” opening Aug. 10, stars Rebecca Hall as a professional hoax exposer hired to demystify–if she can!–whatever is scaring the young residents of a boy’s boarding school to death.

In “The Possession,” parents played by Kyra Sedgwick and Jeffrey Dean Morgan battle a dybbuk for the soul of their daughter Hannah. Opens Aug. 31

Also opening Aug. 31, horror and crime intertwine in “The Tall Man.” In the film, Jessica Biel plays a skeptical mom who must face off against the legendary “Tall Man,” a mysterious figure who has allegedly abducted her son and other children from their small, rural hometown.

Based on a true story, “Compliance” stars Ann Dowd as a fast food restaurant manager who is conned into strip searching an attractive female employee (Dreama Walker); and you’re not the only one watching! Opens Aug. 17.

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.

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