(WOMENSENEWS)— Topping my list this week is “Diary of a Chambermaid,” a wonderfully produced period drama that comes through with a compelling contemporary theme. This is the latest cinematic adaptation of Octave Mireau’s eponymous1900 novel. Lea Seydoux stars as Celestine, the attractive and capable young housemaid who plots to escape the intolerable abuse of her employers; an unkind woman and her sexually harassing husband. The 19th century plot shenanigans may be less scandalous today, but co-scripter Helene Zimmer’s scenario manages to unsettle. Seydoux’s performance is particularly seductive and the rest of the ensemble is terrific. Cinematography, set décor and costuming are all superb.

“The Last Cab to Darwin” is an Aussie indie road trip film about Rex (Michael Caton), a hard-living independent outback taxi driver suddenly forced to come to grips with his impending death. When diagnosed as terminally ill, Rex decides to leave his home, dog, drinking buddies and Polly, his delightfully no-bull aboriginal lover who lives across the street. He drives across the country to Darwin to be the first patient to be legally euthanized by Dr. Farmer (Jacki Weaver), a staunch “death with dignity” advocate. Along the way, Rex meets Julie (Emma Hamilton), an English nurse who’s working as a barmaid; and quits her job to help him complete the trip to Darwin. This film is filled with love, humor and human kindness – plus stupendous scenography and some stunning, thoroughly engaging and neatly understated plot surprises. This film is a must-see. Bring tissues.

“Germans & Jews,” a documentary by Janina Quint, looks at a contemporary cultural relationship between two groups of people with a devastating history. It compares current trends in personal identification, political expectations and social stereotyping to those which existed during the 1930s and 40s, as prelude and during the Nazi regime. The film uncovers ideas and points of views that are surprising. For example, many of the Germans interviewed say they knew little or nothing about the Holocaust, were shocked when they found out about it and still don’t know how to cope with the  guilt they feel about their forebears’ behavior. On the other hand, many Israelis say they now feel safer in Germany than they do in their homeland and they find current German culture to be more tolerant and progressive than their own. The film is largely anecdotal in style – with Germans and Jews discussing the issue over dinner, for example — so don’t expect a thesis supported by heavy statistics or analysis. But it is certainly a fascinating take on a difficult subject that is often avoided.

“Call Her Applebroog” is filmmaker Beth B.’s documentary profile of her mother, Ida Applebroog, the renowned New York-based artist and free thinker. Applebroog’s art, aesthetic and mindset are fascinating, but it’s the unlimited access, the depth of the relationship between subject and filmmaker – mother and daughter — and appealing honesty of the filmmaking process that makes this biodoc so compelling and refreshing.

In “Dream, Girl,” filmmaker Erin Bagwell follows the careers of several leading female entrepreneurs and influencers, including life coach Maria Forleo, feminist investor Joanne Wilson, energy entrepreneur Suzanne West, business promoter Clara Villarosa and other ambitious women who discuss the depth of commitment, unflagging energy and ever-present wit required to be successful in business. The film is both instructive and inspiring for those who would follow suit. It opened on June 9.

Human Rights Watch Film Festival

If you’re in New York City or its environs, don’t miss this year’s admirably programmed Human Rights Watch Film Festival (June 10-19), presenting 18 films focused on human rights issues worldwide.

Eleven concern the rights of women and girls, and 10 are directed or co-directed by women.

The opening film is Nangfu Wang’s “Hooligan Sparrow,” documenting Chinese feminist activist Ye Haiyan’s protest against her government’s condoned rape of six schoolgirls by their headmaster. The festival closer is Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami’s “Sonita,” a spirited documentary about the Tehrani teenager who fights tradition to become a rapper instead of a teen bride.

Other highlights include Sophia Luvara’s “Inside the Closet,” a revealing visit with Chinese LGBTs who are struggling to reconcile their personal lives with the expectations of traditionally-minded parents, and Tatiana Huezo’s “Tempestad,” following the personal journey of two women traveling through Mexico to protest government corruption and impunity for drug trafficking and violence.

U.S.-based issues are explored in Maisie Crow’s “Jackson,” about the impact of the closure of women’s reproductive health care clinics in Mississippi. And Joanna Sokolowski and Kate Trumbull-LaValle’s “Ovarian Psychos” follows activist Xela de la X and her crew of feminist activists who monitor L.A.’s barrios and boulevards, confronting racism, violence and injustice and creating safer environments for women.

Human Rights Watch Film Festival screenings are at New York City’s Film Society of Lincoln Center and the IFC Center.  If you’re not in New York, the festival visits other cities throughout the year. For the full program visit the Human Rights Watch Film Festival website.  These are important must-see films. If you’re unable to the screenings, you can watch many of the films online at mubi.com. And many will eventually open theatrically, after finishing their festival runs.

Stay tuned for more reviews of upcoming June releases and movie news next week.