(WOMENSENEWS)– “The Second Mother,” opening Friday, Aug. 28, is a most compelling and compassionate film, a must see. Brazilian filmmaker Anna Muylaert crafts a beautiful drama around the relationship between a wealthy Rio de Janiero family and its long-standing live-in maid, Val (Regina Case) and her daughter, Jessica (Camila Mardila). Val came to the household from impoverished rural circumstances, leaving Jessica in the care of relatives. Val finds a measure of joy in her role as “second mother” to the family’s now teenage son. However, things get complicated when beautiful, smart, free-spirited Jessica arrives, intending to stay with her mother while attending the same architecture school that had rejected the family’s son. Tension builds, especially when the family’s father develops a midlife crush on Jessica and invites her to enjoy the family’s space, rather than stay in the servants’ quarters with Val. Through superb storytelling and subtle plot developments, the film presents women’s perspectives — those of writer-director Anna Muylaert and her characters — on class conflict, and what to do about it.

Zipper,” directed and co-written by Mora Stephens, is also about tumultuous interpersonal relationships, this time framed by the political milieu of Washington, D.C. In this drama-cum-thriller, Patrick Wilson plays a politician whose star is on the rise. He’s seen as the do-gooder, the hope-giver, the candidate who will restore glory. Beneath the veneer, however, lies a real political career killer: an addiction to sex that threatens to unzip his chance for success. This gripping narrative probes political duplicity and the effects of personal power on personality. Patrick Wilson’s performance is a real stunner.

I Touched All Your Stuff,” from Brazilian filmmakers Maira Buhler and Matias Mariani, is an intriguing yet ultimately inconclusive look at the life of Christopher Kirk, an oddball American computer nerd and con man now incarcerated in a Brazilian jail for drug smuggling. Kirk’s Latin American sojourn began in Colombia, where Kirk saw the hippos that Pablo Escobar famously smuggled into the country and kept on his ranch. Using unlimited access to Kirk’s own archival material (iPhone movies, photos, computer files), the filmmakers expand their biodoc’s horizons from jail cell interviews to hippo encounters and other quirky Kirkian events, particularly those related to his love affair with “V,” a mysterious Japanese-Colombian woman never shown on screen. Where is the film going? It’s a question I asked throughout the film, without ever learning the answer. If you figure it out, let me know.

Queen of Earth” is writer-director Alex Ross Petty‘s tense psychological thriller about two women whose close friendship becomes strained to the breaking point. Catherine (Elisabeth Moss) is distressed by her father’s suicide and being dumped by her boyfriend. She seeks some R & R at a lakeside retreat owned by her friend, Virginia (Katherine Waterston). The two women have vacationed together at the cabin before, but this time, Catherine’s fragile, semi-delusional condition and Virginia’s responses to it escalate tensions between them, leading to the expectation that one of them might do evil to the other. Performances are superb, with perpetual close-up camera work capturing subtle shifts in emotion. The sinister take on the sisterhood theme is disturbing, but the characters feel real. No spoilers here. See the film.

Z is for Zachariah” is a post-apocalyptic thriller. The story centers around Ann (Margot Robbie), a survivor living in isolation but fairly comfortably on her parents’ still green and growing rural West Virginia farm. John (Chiwetel Ejiofor), another survivor, wanders onto her land and into her life, and the two form a bond of friendship and romance. Then, handsome Caleb (Chris Pine), a third survivor, arrives and the tale turns into a love-triangle intrigue, rife with racial overtones and padded with other problems tied to the theme of survival. Provocative, disturbing and well worth seeing.

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