(WOMENSENEWS)— "Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt," which opened April 6 in the U.S., is Israeli filmmaker Ada Ushpiz’s probing documentary profile of the famous philosopher. It is as provocative and controversial as Arendt’s own relentlessly challenging observations and theories, and her unusual lifestyle. The documentary ties the development of Arendt’s ideas to the rise and effects of totalitarianism in Europe, beginning with the rampant refugee problem post World War I and continuing through the Holocaust and up to the year of Arendt’s death in 1975. It suggests that Arendt’s writing has renewed relevance with today’s disastrous refugee crises in Europe and around the globe. Alarming archival footage shows the transformation of ordinary day-to-day activities into threatening and horrific scenarios in Germany. Ushpiz’s chronicle starts with Arendt’s birth in 1906 to an assimilated Jewish German family in Hanover. It follows her from early childhood through her university education and infamous romance with her Nazi-sympathizing mentor, Martin Heidegger, and her 1933 flight to the U.S. With help from Arendt’s letters and more formal writings, Ushpiz delves into Arendt’s ideas and focuses especially on her controversial New Yorker magazine reportage of Adolph Eichmann’s 1955 war crimes trial and her often misinterpreted comments about "the banality of evil." A must-see. In English, German, Hebrew and French with English subtitles.
"Wedding Doll" is Israeli writer-director Nitzan Giladi’s poignant coming-of-age drama about Hagit (Moran Rosenblatt), a young, mentally deficient woman who lives with her single mom and is successfully employed at a local toilet paper company. The factory owner, who treats her kindly and tolerates her odd habits – including her persistent decoration of the premises with streamers of unfurled toilet paper — doesn’t know that she’s smitten with his son, who she believes intends to marry her. Her life is simple and happy until the announcement of the factory’s closure changes everything. Rosenblatt’s performance is beautiful and heartbreaking. In Hebrew with English subtitles.
"The Invitation," directed by Karyn Kusama, is a tense horror thriller in which old friends are invited to a lavish dinner by hosts they haven’t seen in years. Over the course of the evening the guests begin to suspect their hosts’ ulterior motives. Something is not right. The taught plot is full of twists and teases that keep you guessing. Sly cinematography sets you on edge. The cast deftly communicates increasing anxiety and paranoia, and the single location – a remote house – puts the guests’ claustrophobia into the heads of the audience. No specific spoilers here, but be warned that the climax isn’t nearly as satisfying as the buildup.
"The Boss" is Melissa McCarthy’s latest opus. She wrote the script. She stars in the film. And she can be thanked for another big budget movie with yet another appallingly stereotyped female lead character. To wit, meet Michelle Darnell (the resurrection of a character McCarthy introduced during her early career with The Groundlings improve group). Darnell, the 47th richest woman in the United States, is an entrepreneur whose ruthless ambition led her to betray both her mentor (Kathy Bates) and her former lover (Peter Dinkelage). The latter is bent on revenge and turns her in to the feds for insider trading. When she gets out of prison, broke and homeless, Darnell foists herself on her former assistant (Kristen Bell), a single mom with a tween daughter, and enlists both of them in her scheme to regain her fortune. The film’s scenario is a progression from one outbreak of rotten behavior to the next, with hefty McCarthy and diminutive Dinkelage (a superb actor who deserves better than this) eventually getting into a samurai sword fight that leads to their making out. This raucous movie amounts to a revolting replay of what McCarthy and her husband, Ben Falcone, who co-wrote and directed "The Boss," are turning into a femme-centric franchise where McCarthy exploits the same crass, selfish, bullying — and ultimately demeaning — spoof on female ambition. What a pity McCarthy isn’t using her box office clout to produce films with more complex, genuine and challenging women’s stories.
"Look At Us Now, Mother!," Gayle Kirschenbaum’s autobiographical documentary about growing up with an abusive mother and seeking reconciliation through various rounds of therapy, is targeted towards helping others who’ve suffered abusive parental relationships to heal. The film offers little analysis, but instead invites audiences to sit through actual therapy sessions with Kirschenbaum and her mother, Mildred. This theatrical release follows the film’s tour of film festivals and community-sponsored screenings across the U.S., with the filmmaker, her mother and relationship experts in house for post-screening QandAs. They will appear at theatrical screenings, as well.
"High Strung," co-scripted by Janeen Damien, is an upbeat riff about a pair of mismatched-but-made-for-each-other young and budding artists. He is a hip hop violinist, she is a classical ballerina. After a chance meeting in the subway in Manhattan they decide to integrate their talents – and their lives — for a competition that could begin their professional careers. There’s nothing impressively new about the story, but the cast is hugely appealing. Their high-energy performances are contagious and beautiful. "High Strung" is a pleasing and sunny escape from April showers.
Stay tuned for movie news and more reviews of April openers.