(WOMENSENEWS)—In the feast-or-famine world of women and movies, this week is a rich one. There are narrative films and documentaries. Some are independently produced and delve into compelling themes and issues. Others present important and entertaining stories that women care about.
“Colonia” is a romantic thriller set in the Chile of ousted strongman dictator General Augusto Pinochet. It stars Emma Watson as Lena, a Lufthansa flight attendant who abandons her flight schedule to stay in Chile to find and rescue her lover, Daniel (Daniel Bruhl), a graphic artist and active supporter of Salvador Allende, the country’s socialist president who was ousted by Pinochet’s military coup. She finds that Daniel has been imprisoned in the infamous Colonia Dignidad, a cult settlement in the south of Chile, where dissidents are tortured into acquiescence or die. To infiltrate the cult, Lena pretends to be a nun, and submits to disciplinary cruelties; hard labor, denial of drinking water, beatings and terrifying emotional abuse. Daniel, meanwhile, has been severely tortured and is being kept in the segregated men’s quarters. When they connect, they must find a way out of the heavily guarded compound and a locked down country. Watson’s performance is stunning. Directed by Florian Gallenberger, the film is a brutal and brilliant account. It’s a hard film to watch, but it’s a must-see.
“Hostile Border,” screenwriter Kaitlin McLaughlin’s femme-centric film about undocumented immigrants, has an unusual and interesting twist. The plot spins around a woman who’s been raised in the U.S. She gets arrested for credit card fraud and is deported to Mexico, a country where she never lived and can’t speak the language. She settles at her estranged father’s ranch, where she endures his constant criticism and demands while scheming to return to the U.S., which she considers her home. In addition to its thrilling plot, the film presents a harsh look at the hostile border between the U.S. and Mexico.
There are six noteworthy female-directed narrative features releasing this week.
“Armenia, My Love” is written and directed by Diana Angelson, who also stars in it. This heartbreaking drama follows one family’s harrowing experiences during the Armenian genocide of 1915 and shows how that heinous slaughter still haunts Armenians today. The film mixes remembered incidents, filmed in black and white, with current events shot in color. Although the film is about Armenia, it’s also an outcry against genocide everywhere.
“Echo Park,” directed by Amanda Marsalis and written by Catalina Aguilar Mastretta, stars Mamie Gummer as Sophie, a soul-searching woman who trades the built-in comforts of a home and fiancé in Beverly Hills for Echo Park, an artsy neighborhood on the other side of L.A. Echo Park is like a character in the film, not just its setting. Sophie’s new neighbor Alex (Anthony Okungbowa) soon becomes her new best friend, and then her new heartthrob. But her mother doesn’t approve. The twists on that are fittingly complicated and quite interesting. Gummer’s nuanced and truthful performance is captivating, as is that of Okungbowa.
“Wig’d Out” is a truth-based dramedy in which writer/director Kate Chaplin tells the story of Olivia Rusk, a pretty teenager who suffers from alopecia and is completely bald. Olivia is more accepting of her situation than is her mother, a former beauty queen who owns a beauty parlor and urges Olivia to wear a wig and win a pageant. Olivia prefers skateboarding and would rather win at the sport. The baldy vs. beauty theme, the teen angst and the inherent mother-daughter tensions are beautifully played out. This film’s balance between poignant and funny is just right
“The Breakout: A Rock Opera” is director Jenn Page’s ambitious and entertaining femme-centric rock musical narrative about a group of high school misfits, led by Albert (Andre Myers), who rally to help one of their clique, Cara (Emma Farabee), who is being tormented by taunting classmates. Chris Edgar’s smart script puts into focus issues faced by teens, their families and teachers. The music and performances are terrific.
“The Bandit Hound” is Michelle Danner’s delightful crime comedy about an adorable dog named Bandit, who is trained to steal money and valuables and can’t break the habit after he is adopted from the dog pound by a law abiding family. The plot is pure fantasy, and very entertaining. If you love cute animal videos on Facebook, you’ll have a great time with this laugh-filled feel good flick.
“The Adderall Diaries” is writer/director Pamela Romanowsky’s cinematic adaptation of Stephen Elliott’s eponymous memoir. James Franco plays Elliott, the writer beset by memories of his troubled childhood and addicted to mood-altering drugs. It’s great to see a female director at the helm of a male-centric tale. But the film rambles and spins into too many subplots to really hit the mark.
“The Syndrome” is filmmaker Meryl Goldsmith’s eye-opening documentary that debunks shaken baby syndrome by presenting leading forensics and biomechanics experts who say there’s no such thing and that hundreds of people have been wrongfully jailed for it. The main argument is that autopsies of infants whose cause of death has been listed as shaken baby syndrome show no injury to their necks. The whiplash that is supposed to have caused brain trauma must be transmitted through the neck. The film points a finger at three doctors who’ve built their careers on the notion of shaken baby syndrome and questions their motives and credibility. The film is a revelation. It’s a must-see.
“The First Monday in May,” Andrew Rossi’s high-fashion documentary, takes a front-row seat at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual Costume Institute Gala, a.k.a. The Met Ball, where the glamorati gather to ogle each other and the haute couture displayed in the museum’s various classical art galleries. The frocks are fabulous, the cinematography is superb and the cast is a who’s who of top designers and other celebrities. Vogue guru Anna Wintour is on the scene, of course, curating and pontificating that fashion is art that uplifts “people.” The documentary makes it very clear, however, that “people” don’t get into this posh bash. So she might as well be saying “Let them eat cake.” If you are a fashionista, in fact or in fancy, you’ll favor this film.
“The Jungle Book” is the latest riff on Rudyard Kipling’s classic tale about Mowgli, and it’s pure Disney. In other words, the animation is spectacular and the entertainingly inspirational storyline covers many a mishap and near miss, but is never more than moderately threatening. Take the kids, and after the show take time to discuss with them life in the jungle, wild animal behavior and the responsibilities of growing up.
Stay tuned for reviews of more April openers and movie news.