Women-Directed/Photographed Films Coming to Theaters: July 2019

Cinematographer Anna Franquesa Solano, director/screenwriter Lulu Wang and actress Awkwafina on the set of The Farewell, 2018. (Photo: Casi Moss/Courtesy of Big Beach, republished by NPR)

Here are twenty new movies due to be released in theaters or via other viewing platforms this July, all of which have been directed and/or photographed by women. These titles are sure to intrigue cinephiles and also provoke meaningful discussions on the film world, as well as the world in general.

JULY 4: Oh! Baby (dir. B.V. Nandini Reddy)Galaxy Theatres synopsis: “A 70-year-old woman (Lakshmi) turns into her 24-year-old self (Samantha Ruth Prabhu) after being photographed in a studio.”

tumblr_ptzwm5akmy1s5o8nro1_1280

JULY 5 (in theaters & on digital/VOD): My Days of Mercy (dir. Tali Shalom-Ezer)Variety’s Toronto International Film Festival review by Dennis Harvey: “A lesbian romance stretching across bitterly divided death-penalty political lines might sound like a recipe for case-pleading dramatic contrivance, but it’s handled with plausible restraint and delicacy in My Days of Mercy, Israeli director Tali Shalom-Ezer’s first U.S. feature.

“Her acclaimed prior 2015 Princess was a disturbingly intimate portrait of unconventional domesticity edging toward quasi-incestuous abuse. It showed high promise, but there’s still a sense of surprise in how well Shalom-Ezer navigates the very different focus and milieu of Joe Barton’s astute screenplay here. Produced as a vehicle for co-starring friends Ellen Page and Kate Mara, Mercy serves them both well, with critical support likely to help the film find an audience despite its challenging themes.

“The Moro family are first glimpsed on what appears to be a vacation, but in fact is something very different: driving their ancient RV to yet another vigil amongst death-penalty foes (and advocates) outside a prison where another convict is about to be executed. Maternal eldest sibling Martha (Amy Seimetz) is the literal and figurative driving force behind these road trips, with 22-year-old Lucy (Ellen Page) a more ambivalent participant, while grade-school-aged brother Ben (Charlie Shotwell) is too young to have much opinion one way or the other. It takes a while for us to suss out their mutual dynamics, not to mention what got them here — the longtime Death Row residency of their father Simon (Elias Koteas), who was found guilty of murdering their mother eight years ago but maintains his innocence.

“There’s an uneasy co-existence at such events between the ‘enemy’ camps, with little interaction if little overt hostility. So it seems like an invisible line-crossing when nonconformist Lucy finds herself making friends with cheerleader-ish Mercy (Mara), who’s on the other side: Her father has agitated for the execution of a mentally disabled man who killed his off-duty longtime police partner. The two young women’s fledgling relationship continues later via online contact between their respective Ohio and Illinois homes, then jumps from flirtation to romance when Lucy commandeers the RV to rendezvous at another gathering.

“But there remains something furtive and dangerous about their connection. Shalom-Ezer limns several fairly explicit sex scenes with the tension of possibly getting ‘caught.’ it’s not just that the protagonists are semi-defying their families by seeing one another. Their liaison also reveals how needy small-town outcast Lucy is, while Mercy reveals suspiciously little about her own circumstances. Moreover, the latter is in a position to offer legal advice that might finally exonerate the Moro’s incarcerated dad — or, conversely, might cement his guilt. All these factors, plus the presence of Brian Geraghty as a lawyer who’s become involved with Martha over the long course of Simon’s appeals, exacerbate imbalances in a fragile household that’s been in a kind of suspended animation since one parent died and another ‘went away.’

“Barton finds drama not just in individual characters, but in the variably grieving and/or angry cultures that grow around a hot-button political issue like the death penalty. Wisely, his script defers from stacking the deck in one direction or another, thought the sharply observed dialogue does make room for arguments on both sides. More central, however, are the non-polemical rhythms of Midwestern life, which are captured with assured detail by Shalom-Ezer and her major below-the-line collaborators, notably production designer Maya Sigel.

“Page, in the middle of a very busy year (beyond this premiere and The Cured, TIFF venues are wallpapered with posters for the imminent Flatliners remake), gives one of her best performances in a tailor-made role. Mara is fine as a character whose elusiveness ultimately transcends plot device. Seimetz excels as a woman who’s held it together under duress for so long she may no longer know how to live in a state of non-crisis. Supporting roles are very well cast.”

JULY 5: Skin in the Game (dir. Adisa) (DP: Kira Kelly)Kandoo Films synopsis: “Abducted off the sidewalk of suburban America, fifteen year old Dani (Sammi Hanratty) finds herself submerged in a horrific human trafficking ring run by Eve (Angélica Celaya). With no initial assistance from the police, Dani’s mother (Elisabeth Harnois) and an ex-prostitute (Erica Ash) take to the streets in an effort to find her before it is too late. First time director Adisa takes viewers on an intense journey of a horrific underground world and introduces us to characters from both sides of the street, some who survive … and others who are not so lucky.”

JULY 9 (airing on Showtime at 7:30 PM EST), JULY 12 (in theaters): General Magic (dirs. Sarah Kerruish and Matt Maude)Showtime synopsis: “The ideas that dominate the tech industry and our day to day lives were born at a secretive Silicon Valley start-up called ‘General Magic,’ which spun out of Apple in 1990 to create the first handheld personal communicator (or ‘smartphone’). The film combines rare archival footage with powerful honesty from the ‘Magicians’ today, reflecting on the most influential Silicon Valley Company no one has ever heard of. Featuring legendary members of the original Macintosh team, along with the creators of the iPod, iPhone, Android and eBay.”

JULY 9 and 10 (airing on HBO, 8:00 PM EST on both nights): I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter (dir. Erin Lee Carr)HBO synopsis: “In July 2014, 18-year-old Conrad Roy died by suicide in his car at a parking lot in Fairhaven, Mass. Police soon discovered a series of alarming text messages from his girlfriend, 17-year-old Michelle Carter, that seemed to encourage him to kill himself. This discovery sparked sensational headlines nationwide, leading to a trial that raised difficult questions about technology, social media and mental health, while asking if one person can be held responsible for the suicide of another.

“In 2012, teens Michelle Carter and Conrad Roy fell in love. They lived hours apart and met in person no more than five times, but exchanged thousands of texts over a two-year period. After Roy was found dead in his car in July 2014, what appeared to be a standard case of suicide by carbon-monoxide intoxication took a shocking turn when investigators discovered alarming text messages on his phone. Carter, 17 at the time, had urged Roy to kill himself, even after he had second thoughts and removed himself from his car.

“Directed by Erin Lee Carr (HBO’s At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal and Mommy Dead and Dearest) I Love You, Now Die explores the complicated relationship between Carter and Roy, drawing on some of the thousands of texts they exchanged over two years to chronicle their courtship and its tragic consequences. Featuring unprecedented access to the families, friends and communities that were forever changed by this unusual case, the documentary explores the changing nature of the justice system today, following a story that has wider implications for society at large, both online and in real life. The film presents a well-rounded look at a bizarre tale that was a deadly convergence of mental illness, loneliness, pop culture and technology.

“In July 2017, Michelle Carter was charged with involuntary manslaughter in the suicide of Roy. In August 2017, she was found guilty and began her 15-month prison sentence in February 2019, following a failed appeal.

I Love You, Now Die includes footage from Michelle Carter’s trial, where the filmmakers had the only camera allowed in court and supplied the pool camera for this historic case. It also features interviews with key individuals in the story, including: Conrad Roy’s immediate family; Joseph Cataldo, Michelle Carter’s defense attorney; Dr. Peter Breggin, an expert witness for the defense; police detectives; and journalists who covered the case extensively.”

JULY 12: American Heretics: The Politics of the Gospel (dir. Jeanine Isabel Butler)Synopsis from the film’s official website: “At what other point in our history has the line between church and state become so tangled and polarizing?

“We’ve entered a time where the power of negative partisanship has sorted us along lines of race and religion. And what that means, according to Dr. Robert Jones, head of the Public Religion Research Institute ‘is that the two parties have exploited race and religion, two of the most visceral things you can think of in terms of the human experience, and they’ve locked them in partisan identities.’

American Heretics: The Politics of the Gospel takes audiences into the buckle of Bible belt where a group of defiant ministers, congregations, and community leaders are challenging deeply rooted fundamentalist Christian doctrine in favor of a Gospel of Inclusion. Labeled as ‘heretics’ for their beliefs and actions, they refuse to wield their faith as a sword sharpened by literal interpretations of the Bible. Especially those fundamentalist Christian interpretations that continue to justify nationalism and hack away at landmark civil rights protections for women, minorities, immigrants, and the LGBTQ communities.

“This poignant story challenges what we think we know about the Christian heartland by offering a rare personal glimpse into the contentious and often misunderstood history of religion, race, and politics in America. These Heretics are still interested in saving you from hell, but’s the earthly one, where poverty, discrimination and nationalism oppresses ‘…those who are the least among us.'”

JULY 12 (in theaters & on VOD): Darlin’ (dir. Pollyanna McIntosh) (DP: Halyna Hutchins)SXSW synopsis: “Found at a Catholic hospital filthy and ferocious, feral teenager Darlin’ is whisked off to a care home run by The Bishop and his obedient nuns where she is to be tamed into a ‘good girl.’ However, Darlin’ holds a secret darker than the ‘sins’ she is threatened with, and she is not traveling alone. The Woman, equally fierce and feral, who raised her is ever present and is determined to come for her no matter who tries to step in her way. Continuing the twistedly vicious adventure of Lucky McKee’s cult hit The Woman, Darlin’ sees standout star Pollyanna McIntosh both in front of and behind the camera, expertly commanding an all-consuming feast on the senses and sensibility in equal measure.”

JULY 12: The Farewell (dir. Lulu Wang) (DP: Anna Franquesa Solano)BAM synopsis: “Based, we are informed, ‘on an actual lie,’ Lulu Wang’s wonderfully warm, bittersweet look at the intricacies of family dynamics features a bravura breakout performance from Awkwafina as a writer living in New York who travels back to her hometown in China for a wedding celebration. The lie? The wedding is really just a pretext for family members to say goodbye to their beloved grandmother who, as everyone but the old woman herself knows, has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. What plays out is a by turns gently humorous and achingly tender reflection on home, heritage, and the ways in which family bonds can stretch across cultures, distance, and generations.”

JULY 12 (in theaters & on VOD): Firecrackers (dir. Jasmin Mozaffari) (DP: Catherine Lutes)Vancouver International Film Festival synopsis: “Teens Lou (Michaela Kurimsky) and Chantal (Karena Evans) have only one thing on their minds: getting the hell out of their rural Ontario backwater and never looking back. Scouring their stifling surroundings for any source of income, these resilient girls butt heads with a place and a populace that threaten to rob them of their free spirits. But Lou and Chantal are equally threatened by their own combustibility and could very well precipitate their own ruin.

“A tribute to youthful ambition and ideals, Jasmin Mozaffari’s feature debut offers us the chance to feel as rebellious, as animated and as alive as its protagonists. Set against a striking backdrop of big skies and open spaces and vibrantly shot by Catherine Lutes, Firecrackers hinges on raging emotions and devastating heartbreaks. It’s also a potent reminder that opportunities in life are often precarious and fleeting. None of us have a moment to waste.”

JULY 12 (in theaters & on VOD): Miss Arizona (dir. Autumn McAlpin)Synopsis from the film’s official website: “Rose Raynes (Johanna Braddy) was crowned Miss Arizona – 15 years ago. Now a bored housewife trapped in a less-than-ideal marriage, and mourning the independence of her 10-year-old son, Rose accepts an invitation to teach a life skills class at a women’s shelter. Digging out the relics of her pageant queen past, Rose attempts to share her ‘Making Your Presence a Present’ platform speech with a room of four disinterested women dodging abusive exes. But when trouble shows up at the shelter, what the women really need is for Rose’s shiny SUV to get them out of Dodge. The five embark on an all-night adventure through L.A.’s darkest streets and wildest drag club as the women fight to survive, and in so doing, discover what they need most. This one’s an anthem for any woman who’s ever been told to sit still and look pretty. This one’s for the marginalized. This one’s for the girls.”

JULY 12: The Sweet Requiem (dirs. Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam)Toronto International Film Festival synopsis by Cameron Bailey: “This bold new work from directors Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam (Dreaming Lhasa) is a tale of tragedy, retribution, and courage. Shifting between a present-day struggle to overcome trauma and flashbacks to a harrowing trek through the Himalayas, The Sweet Requiem offers an unforgettable reflection on the refugee crisis in a part of the world too rarely reported on.

“Dolkar (Tenzin Dolker) is a 26-year-old living in exile in Delhi. An unexpected encounter with a figure from her past sets off a flurry of memories she had long repressed regarding the journey that brought her here. Dolkar was only eight when she and her father left their Tibetan home in a desperate attempt to start anew in a safer land. As memories of what became a disastrous expedition take shape, Dolkar resolves to confront the man she believes responsible.

The Sweet Requiem authentically captures the life-and-death stakes of the real-life escape across the border on which it was based, but the film’s deeper insights emerge from the complex and shifting allegiances Dolkar must navigate in exile. Sarin and Sonam, who is the child of Tibetan refugees, draw on their knowledge and perspective to take us inside that experience. This latest work is their most powerful and compassionate yet, contending with the sinister shadows of the past while envisioning a better future.”

JULY 12 (in theaters), JULY 19 (on VOD): Sword of Trust (dir. Lynn Shelton)IFC Center synopsis: “Mel (Marc Maron) is a cantankerous pawnshop owner in Alabama who spends most of his time swindling customers while trying and failing to get his man-child employee Nathaniel (Jon Bass) to do any work. When Cynthia (Jillian Bell) and her wife Mary (Michaela Watkins) try to hawk a Civil War-era sword inherited from Cynthia’s recently deceased grandfather, he tries to get the better of them. The sword, however, comes with a convoluted report from Cynthia’s grandfather claiming the relic to be proof the South actually won the war. It isn’t long before the coveted ‘prover item’ draws the attention of overzealous conspiracy theorists and the two duos have to join forces in order to sell the sword to the highest bidder. The journey that ensues takes the ragtag bunch on a tour through the deep South and the minds of the local fanatics who inhabit it. Created from the raw talent of its cast and infused with a lot of heart and laughs, Sword of Trust takes a stab at uncovering emotional truths through moments of hilarity and hits right on the mark.”

JULY 19 (in theaters & on VOD): Above the Shadows (dir. Claudia Myers)Hipzee synopsis: “A supernatural tale follows a young woman (Olivia Thirlby) who has faded from the world to the point of becoming invisible. After more than a decade existing in the shadows, Holly meets the one man who can see her, Shayne Blackwell (Alan Ritchson), a disgraced MMA fighter. Holly discovers that it was one of her tabloid photographs that caused his downfall, and that she must restore him to his former glory if she wants to regain a foothold in the world around her. With Shayne, Holly awakens to love but also to the possibility that she may remain invisible forever.”

JULY 19: Cassandro the Exotico! (dir./DP: Marie Losier)Film Movement synopsis: “This stirring feature portrait of lucha libre star Cassandro in his waning years in the ring is less a swan song than a meteor shower rendered in Technicolor. Famed as much for his flamboyant drag and sky-high pompadour as for his show-stopping kicks and flips, Cassandro’s trailblazing ascent as one the industry’s first openly gay wrestlers has resonated internationally for a quarter century. Marie Losier captures the moving, at times humorous, and always colorful dualities of this legendary figure with her talent for forging intimacy with a subject while celebrating his individuality broadly. Cassandro, a prize-winning fighter who reinvented a staunchly macho sport, exudes resilience of all kinds—from the physical power to leave his opponents KOed to an ability to revisit past trauma and cope with the scars of a body pushed to its limits. Cassandro’s story—of an underdog and a queer icon, simultaneously fragile and mighty—is ever more evocative as it unfolds on both sides of the Mexican-American border. Losier’s signature 16mm filming melds tender encounters and larger-than-life fight scenes into a stylish whole that reflects the vivid textures and hues of a dazzling life in sport.”

JULY 19: A Faithful Man (dir. Louis Garrel) (DP: Irina Lubtchansky)Kino Lorber synopsis: “Nine years after she left him for his best friend, journalist Abel (Louis Garrel) gets back together with his recently widowed old flame Marianne (Laetitia Casta). It seems to be a beautiful new beginning, but soon the hapless Abel finds himself embroiled in all sorts of drama: the come-ons of a wily jeune femme (Lily-Rose Depp), the machinations of Marianne’s morbid young son (Joseph Engel), and some unsavory questions about what exactly happened to his girlfriend’s first husband. Shifting points of view as nimbly as its players switch partners, the sophomore feature from actor/director Louis Garrel—co-written with the legendary Jean-Claude Carrière—is at once a beguiling bedroom farce and a playful inversion of the patriarchal tropes of the French New Wave.”

JULY 26 (in theaters & on digital/VOD): Astronaut (dir. Shelagh McLeod)Edinburgh International Film Festival synopsis:Richard Dreyfuss is excellent in this moving and enthralling new drama from writer-director Shelagh McLeod. Dreyfuss stars as Angus, a lonely widower whose long-held dream of becoming an astronaut is reignited when a nationwide competition is announced to win a trip to space with an independent space agency. Angus struggles against prejudice towards his age and increasing ill health, and with the help of his dysfunctional family his dream gets closer and closer to becoming reality.

JULY 26: For Sama (dirs. Waad Al-Khateab and Edward Watts) (DP: Waad Al-Khateab)Quad Cinema synopsis: “Waad al-Kateab lives through five years of the uprising in Aleppo, Syria as she falls in love, marries, and gives birth to Sama, all while a cataclysmic conflict rises around her. Waad wrestles with an impossible choice– whether or not to flee the city to protect her daughter’s life, when leaving means abandoning the struggle for freedom for which she has already sacrificed so much. A powerful love letter from a young mother to her daughter.”

JULY 26: The Ground Beneath My Feet (dir. Marie Kreutzer) (DP: Leena Koppe)IFC Center synopsis:Lola manages her personal life with the same ruthless efficiency she uses to succeed in the business world. She keeps her relationship with her boss Elise secret, as well as the existence of her older sister Conny, who has a long history of mental illness. But when she receives the news that Conny has attempted suicide, Lola’s secrets begin to unravel into the workplace. As she tries to do what’s best for her sister without jeopardizing all she’s worked so hard for, Lola slowly finds her own grip on reality slipping away. The new film from Marie Kreutzer is a taut Austrian psychological thriller reminiscent of Repulsion, featuring Valerie Pachner’s Maguey Prize winning performance as Lola.”

JULY 26: Honeyland (dirs. Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov)IndieWire’s New Directors/New Films (MoMA) review by David Ehrlich: “There’s no evidence Albert Einstein actually said that ‘If the bee disappeared off the face of the Earth, man would only have four years left to live.’ The guy’s name may be synonymous with genius, but he was a theoretical physicist, not an entomologist — just because he was smart doesn’t mean that he could read a hive like a tarot card.

“Of course, it’s easy to appreciate why that quote, however apocryphal, has always been attributed to him: Those words are endowed with the profound wisdom of someone who saw the world more clearly than the rest of us, and recognized the equations that maintained balance in the universe. They speak to the insect’s long history a symbol of stability and discipline (a history that stretches from the ancient Greeks to The Happening), and help to explain the low-grade hysteria that resulted from widespread reports of Colony Collapse Disorder in 2007. They also account for the urgency of Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov’s Honeyland, a bitter and mesmerically beautiful documentary that focuses on a single beekeeper as though our collective future hinges on the fragile relationship between she and her hives.

“But Hatidze Muratova is no ordinary apiarist. In fact, she’s apparently the last of Macedonia’s nomadic beekeepers, although — like every other bit of context in this strictly observational film — that detail is never made explicit. It doesn’t need to be: The more time we spend watching Muratova stick her bare hands into natural stone nests and sing old folk songs to her buzzing swarms, the more obvious it becomes that she’s one-of-a-kind.

“Muratova is at once both older and younger than her 50 or so years first suggest. Her face is weathered and weepy, the skin on her nose appearing to bulb from the countless stings it has presumably endured during her time on the job (again, this is left to our imagination). On the other hand, Muratova flits around the arid countryside with the giddy effervescence of a child, and spars with her half-blind 86-year-old mother like a teenager (their bracingly intimate nighttime chats are shot with the disaffected honesty of a hidden camera, as the bedridden Nazife alternates between joking with her daughter and lamenting that she’s become a burden to her). Her life may appear to be simple, but she is not, and the film never condescends to her the way that well-intentioned documentaries often do to their rustic subjects.

“Kotevska and Stefanov respect Muratova’s interiority, and don’t presume to know what she’s thinking. Their six-person crew lived on the lot beside her for three years, and some of the stray moments they captured — such as the one where Muratova sits inside the cold stone of her unelectrified hut and fusses over the exact color of her hair dye — hint at all the moments they never could. Even towards the end of the film, after you’ve stared at the green and yellow flowers on Muratova’s headscarf for so long that you could draw the floral pattern by memory, there’s still an unknown poetry in the way the cloth flaps in the wind. Even after the beekeeper has reached her breaking point and you know exactly what’s on her mind, there’s something shockingly direct about the way that she puts it into words. When Muratova curses the itinerant Turkish family who begin crowding her area (‘May God burn their livers!’), it stings worse than anything they’ve felt before.

“When Hussein Sam, his wife, and their seven kids drive into Muratova’s neck of the woods in the film’s opening minutes, they bring a powder-keg of a plot conflict along with them. At first, the beekeeper is happy enough for the company, even if the artful camerawork suggests that the outside disturbance runs deeper than Muratova would care to admit (Kotevska and Stefanov display a shrewd ability to see the undercurrents below a given scene, often using shallow focus to express how the Sam family has imbalanced a once-holistic environment). Muratova plays with the younger children, who buzz around the farm with much less purpose than any of her bees. She teaches the curious Hussein about her business, always stressing that she only takes half of the honey that’s produced by each hive, as that ensures the bees will survive and be able to produce more. That sustained harmony is more valuable to Muratova than the extra few Euro she could earn by taking every drop of honey; with her mom unable to walk, she needs to rely on these specific bees for the foreseeable future. They protect her, she protects them, and everyone in turn gets what they need to survive.

“But Hussein Sam doesn’t have time for that. He’s got eight mouths to feed — nine including his own — and he’s just discovered a new way to turn a quick profit. Brusque and impatient, Hussein is poised to be the villain of this story, and his spats with Muratova only seem to cement that status. If only it were a simple matter of good vs. evil, perhaps this story would have a happier ending. Hussein is as responsible for his kids as Muratova is for her mother; he’s desperate to provide for them, even when they take his efforts for granted. ‘Greed’ isn’t the right word for someone in such dire straits, but Hussein needs more than the bees can give him, and he needs it now.

“The relatively modern tools Hussein uses to weigh honey only help to cement the film’s clear microcosm of the tension between sustainability and industrialization; between restraint and a catastrophic lack of foresight. In that sense, watching Honeyland is like looking at the greatest problems of our time through a pinhole, but the film sees the situation with a clarity that gets under your skin and breaks your heart. Far from a scolding, rub-your-nose-in-it depiction of environmental havoc, this is a tender story about the chaos of abandoning the common good. By reflecting Muratova’s relationship with her hives against the social contract that she’s formed with her mother — and that binds Hussein to his family — Kotevska and Stefanov shine a light on what the bees have always told us: They survive by serving each other. And if they ever disappeared completely, people would only have themselves to blame.”

JULY 27 (airing on HBO at 10:00 PM EST): Share (dir. Pippa Bianco) (DP: Ava Berkofsky)The Playlist’s Sundance Film Festival review by Jason Bailey: “No good news ever follows a text that reads, ‘you ok?’ Mandy (Rhianne Barreto) gets that text a couple of days after a late night she can’t explain; she woke up on her lawn, her mind a blank, and subsequently discovered bruises on her arm and back. She throws up a little the next day, but puts on a happy face for her friends. And then her phone starts blowing up.

“Mandy’s story is told, and well, by writer/director Pippa Bianco in Share, an uncommonly knotty and fiercely intelligent story of assault and blame in the social media age. The ‘you ok?’ text comes because a video and some pictures are circulating, taken during Mandy’s blackout (‘u need to see it,’ her friend texts, ‘it’s bad’). They give her a corner of the puzzle of that evening. She spends the rest of the film trying to piece together what happened – and who, if anyone, she can trust to tell her.

“Among its many achievements, Share uncomfortably captures the specific end-of-the-world misery of high school scandal, and the way that those highly populated spaces can somehow feel like the loneliest in the world. When Mandy’s parents discover the circulating images and video, and (over her objections) bring them to the attention of school administration, she’s victimized further: made to feel like an outsider, sent home from school (so she’s not ‘a distraction’), blamed for the frankly inadequate consequences visited upon those involved.

“Bianco crafts her script as a series of short, often impressionistic scenes, parachuting into conversations late and sneaking out early. It’s filled with hang-out scenes that feel like eavesdropping, both in the ease of dialogue and the messiness of the razor-sharp sound design; she has a terrific ear for the din of these environments, which somehow doesn’t subvert the quiet and stillness at the picture’s center.

“Her supporting characters are well-drawn – particularly Mandy’s parents, who are scared and protective but not villainous, or even (all things considered) overbearing. Among the actors cast as Mandy’s school crew, Lean on Pete star Charlie Plummer stands out with a complicated portrait of residual guilt.

“But this is Barreto’s show. It’s a wonderfully understated performance, as a character most striking in her normalcy – she’s very average, a typical 16-year-old who likes to play ball and hang out with her friends and party a little (and here Bianco dives insightfully into the age-old conundrum of the ‘perfect victim’). Mandy basically just wants this whole ugly business to go away. It is not, of course, that easy.

“Because Bianco is working so close to the ground, Barreto doesn’t get the kind of Big Acting Moments we might expect from this kind of story; there are no shouting confrontations or sobbing breakdowns. Instead, Barreto focuses on small character touches. The way she stands at the top of her stairs, gathering her courage for the first day back at school. How she stares at the floor when she returns to the scene of the crime. The way she lets her thumb hover over the video clip on her phone before pressing play again. And, most heartbreakingly, the way she smiles and says ‘I’m ok,’ and you almost believe her. You want to believe her.”

Women-Directed/Photographed Films Coming to Theaters: June 2019

Screenwriter/producer/actress Mindy Kaling and director Nisha Ganatra on the set of Late Night, 2018. (Photo: Emily Aragones)

Here are twenty-two new movies due to be released in theaters or via other viewing platforms this June, all of which have been directed and/or photographed by women. These titles are sure to intrigue cinephiles and also provoke meaningful discussions on the film world, as well as the world in general.

JUNE 1 (streaming on Netflix): Oh, Ramona! (dir. Cristina Jacob)Netflix synopsis: “Awkward 16-year-old Andrei (Bogdan Iancu) is infatuated with his alluring but aloof schoolmate Ramona (Aggy K. Adams) – until he meets stunning hotel clerk Anemona (Holly Horne) while on vacation.”

tumblr_pqwro1jefc1s5o8nro1_1280

JUNE 6 (streaming on Netflix): Alles Ist Gut (aka All Good) (dir. Eva Trobisch)Variety’s Locarno International Film Festival review by Guy Lodge: “When we speak of someone ‘refusing to be a victim,’ it’s usually in praise of their resolve and resilience: It’s a refusal that asserts an identity stronger than the worst adversity you’ve experienced. There’s undeniable power in that, but at what point does defiance twist into denial? This is the fine precipice on which German writer-director Eva Trobisch’s searing debut feature All Good balances its frayed-nerve drama — after a self-possessed young woman is raped by a man she hardly knows, and chooses to continue her life without acknowledging that fact. A fascinating flip on themes contentiously raised in Paul Verhoeven’s Elle, underpinned by a breakout performance of raw candor by Aenne Schwarz, this is grown-up filmmaking of sharp, subtle daring.

“Written as a graduation project at the London Film School and a worthy victor in Locarno’s first-feature competition, Trobisch’s finely poised film will likely prompt auspicious comparisons to the early work of Maren Ade as it burns through the festival circuit. Trobisch’s narrative voice, however, is very much her own, with savage deadpan humor cutting into its head-on articulation of everyday human horrors. All Good — a seemingly bland title that turns bitingly resonant in context — would inspire vigorous post-screening debate even if it weren’t arriving in the heat of the #MeToo movement. As it is, arthouse distributor interest should be amped up by the film’s blazing (if hardly momentary) topicality.

“We all know that ‘I’m fine’ is a statement that can indistinctly cover any number of personal conditions, from genuine contentment to raging inner torment. At the film’s outset, however, you’d have little reason to believe Janne (Schwarz), a thirtysomething publishing professional, is anything but. We meet her as she’s cheerfully renovating a dilapidated, newly bought house with her boyfriend Piet (Andreas Döhler), a stand-up guy with whom she has quiet, comfortable chemistry.

“From that opening picture of domestic bliss, the cracks begin to widen. They’ve recently declared bankruptcy after a joint business venture failed, the resultant stress of which might explain Janne’s uncharacteristically uninhibited behavior at a college reunion, where she drinks heavily and gets chatting with gangly, socially awkward stranger Martin (Hans Löw, cutting a very different figure from his lead in the recent Cannes premiere In My Room).

“What she intends as innocuous flirtation, however, he crassly misreads as a sexual advance; when she rebuffs him, he rapes her, in a stark, unsensationalized scene that’s wince-inducingly painful to watch. Janne is so stunned (‘Are you serious?’ she asks her attacker as it happens) that she almost forgets to be angry. And perhaps, she decides, that’s easier: Once the shock subsides, she attempts to pick herself up with no visible disruption, not even telling Piet about her ordeal. It’s an already fragile plan that collapses when she takes a job with a former associate, only to find herself working alongside Martin.

“Though she suggests to him, too, that they pretend nothing has happened, it’s an increasingly hard lie to live: As her mental composure deteriorates, her personal and professional lives plunge into simultaneous freefall. Working in a mode of unornamented naturalism, with no score and a preponderance of tight, peering closeups, Trobisch paints an unstinting portrait of unreleased trauma — one marked by deep compassion for its scarred female protagonist, but a complex amoral stance on the spiralling, self-harming irrationality of her behavior.

“It’s a nuanced characterization brought to seething, silently volatile life by Schwarz’s tremendous interpretation. While the actress recently made an impression as the eponymous author’s wife in Austrian festival favorite Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe, this is a potentially career-altering lightning bolt of a turn, alive with intuitive, revealing body language and expressive verbal tics — as the steaming fury inside her occasionally forces its way past her painstaking self-containment. It’s the kind of fearless emotional spin-cycle with which Schwarz’s compatriots Nina Hoss or Sandra Hüller might have stunned us earlier in their careers. Even as an ambiguous final act arrests Janne’s freefall for the comparative relief of psychological limbo, director and actress are plainly on the same purposeful, zero-compromise page; All Good feels the urgent benefits of their combined conviction.”

JUNE 7 (in theaters & streaming on Netflix): Elisa & Marcela (dir. Isabel Coixet) (DP: Jennifer Cox)Berlin International Film Festival synopsis: “When Marcela and Elisa meet on their first day in high school, it is love at first sight. A deep friendship begins which soon turns into a romantic relationship. Nothing can prevent the two girls’ feelings for each other, not even Marcela’s suspicious parents, who eventually send their daughter to boarding school. Years later, the two women meet again and decide to live together. Both are respected teachers, but their partnership has to be kept secret from the critical Catholic population. For this reason, Elisa decides to pose as a man and marry Marcela. Their wedding photo depicts two young women, one in a black dress with her hair up, the other with a short haircut and wearing a suit; both are looking hopefully into the future. But their love remains exposed to great dangers. Based on true events, Isabel Coixet’s film makes use of black-and-white images and letters for her unfussy but deeply empathetic rendition of the story of Elisa Sánchez Loriga and Marcela Gracia Ibeas, who tied the knot in the church of San Jorge in A Coruña in Spain in 1901. A paean to passion, dignity and resistance.”

JUNE 7 (in theaters & on VOD): Framing John DeLorean (dirs. Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce)Tribeca Film Festival synopsis by Brian Gordon: “If the story of John DeLorean, whose car nowadays is mainly associated with the Back to the Future star, has faded since the cameras, gossip, and intrigue swirled around him in the 80s, his triumphs and downfall, ego, and consequences remain relevant today. DeLorean’s rise at GM began with the immediate success of the GTO but he ticked off the suits with his flamboyant style and attitude that eventually forced him out. He was free to develop and build his titular dream car, which debuted in 1981. Amid an economic recession, poor business decisions, mismanagement, and his air of invincibility, the company flopped, which led to his infamous coke bust and the revelations of theft.

“Don Argott and Sheena Joyce provide a variety of insights from those who worked with him at GM and DeLorean, assembly line workers at the Northern Ireland DeLorean plant, his son and daughter, FBI agents, and others close to him. Also providing a fresh perspective is Alec Baldwin, playing the man himself in re-enactments of key scenes in his life, adding to a deep portrait of a complex, brilliant innovator, designer, and marketing genius whose Midas touch ultimately and quickly disappeared.”

JUNE 7: Ghost Fleet (dirs. Shannon Service and Jeffrey Waldron)IFC Center synopsis:Hauntingly beautiful and driven by a strong-willed heroine, Ghost Fleet takes viewers on a sweeping search of remote Indonesian islands looking for escaped men who seek out survival.

Much of the seafood in our daily lives — sushi, frozen fish, shrimp cocktail, and the vast amount that goes into pet food — was caught by slaves. Thailand is one of the world’s largest seafood exporters with a huge fishing fleet that needs thousands of fishermen. Decades of overfishing has decimated fish stocks in the region and today the Gulf of Thailand is one of the most barren parts of the ocean. Thai captains now scramble to find crew willing to travel thousands of miles to find fish. Human traffickers have started to fill the labor shortage by selling men from Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, and other impoverished nations to fishing companies for as little as a few hundred dollars each. Once at sea, these captive men go months, even years, without setting foot on land, earning little to no pay — becoming slaves at sea.

Ghost Fleet follows a small group of activists who risk their lives to find justice and freedom for the enslaved fishermen. Bangkok-based Patima Tungpuchayakul, a Thai abolitionist, has committed her life to helping these ‘lost’ men return home. Facing illness, death threats, corruption, and complacency, Patima’s fearless determination for justice inspires her nation and the world.

JUNE 7: Katie Says Goodbye (dir. Wayne Roberts) (DP: Paula Huidobro)The Hollywood Reporter’s Toronto International Film Festival review by Sheri Linden: “Told with a spareness that suits its desert setting, Katie Says Goodbye is a plaintive story of hard luck and fringe dwellers, one that might have felt clichéd in lesser hands. But first-time filmmaker Wayne Roberts conjures new, resonant chords in his taut, tender drama about a young truck-stop waitress who dreams of life beyond her edge-of-the-map town. With its superb cast’s finely etched characters, led by Olivia Cooke’s memorable work in the title role and featuring a heart-stoppingly lovely supporting turn by Mary Steenburgen, the quietly assured debut would be a worthy addition to any art-house schedule.

“Cooke’s Katie, a sort of Mary Magdalene of the trailer park, waitresses at a diner in the remote corner of Arizona where she lives with her mother, Tracey (Mireille Enos). (The film was shot in New Mexico, with unaffected eloquence, by Paula Huidobro.) Sometimes it’s just a look, sometimes a heart-to-heart, but the restaurant’s owner, Maybelle (Steenburgen), gives Katie the maternal attention that’s so desperately lacking on the home front, where the teen is the sole source of income and stability. The sad-eyed Enos deftly manages to be both pathetic and predatory as the unemployed Tracey, who spends her time in a vacant haze on the couch, watching TV and counting the hours between hookups with the neighbor’s husband.

“To make ends meet — and also to fund her plan to move to San Francisco — Katie turns tricks, an open secret in the tiny desert outpost. Her regular customers include cops and the hypocritical churchgoing father (Nate Corddry) of a diner co-worker (Natasha Bassett). Only one, though, a trucker named Bear, played with grizzled warmth by Jim Belushi, has become a friend to the fatherless girl; his protective concern for her is as genuine as Maybelle’s.

“For all her practicality, Katie proves alarmingly romantic when she falls for Bruno (Christopher Abbott), a new mechanic at the auto repair shop, and decides that she wants to share her life with him. He’s a barely communicative ex-con with a guarded, wounded gaze; Abbott, who plumbed feverish depths in James White, embodies Bruno’s passivity as well as something coiled and potentially explosive in him. As their relationship develops, it grows clear that it’s as one-sided as most of Katie’s relationships, whether she’s serving food, taking care of her mother or servicing johns.

“In her certainty about Bruno there’s a new vulnerability, though, that falls somewhere between childlike yearning and a readiness for adult independence. From the way Katie rehearses her first conversation with him, walking alone along an empty road, to the way she tries to draw him out during a postcoital chat in her girlish bedroom, Cooke makes that yearning as fully dimensional as the character’s self-reliant strength. In a place of stunted hopes and benighted lives, hers is the kind of strength that can arouse violent resentment, as a couple of inseparable buddies (Chris Lowell and Keir Gilchrist) seem determined to prove.

“A compelling member of the Bates Motel ensemble and an engaging lead in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (notwithstanding that feature’s problematic premise), Cooke delivers a revelatory performance in this Southwestern tale. Katie is poised between high school and the rest of her life but surrounded by dead-end realities. However many freight trains and cargo trucks crisscross past her, movement feels like a far-off luxury. When she speaks of her plan to attend beauty school, she’s quick to soften the autonomous stance by adding, ‘It’s nothing fancy like being a lawyer.’

“But though Katie might be hyper-alert to other people’s feelings and needs, and though many of those people take advantage of her and worse, she refuses to be a victim — something she has in common with Isabelle Huppert’s character in Elle, though the two women otherwise couldn’t be more different. The heart of Katie’s story is the way, from moment to moment, she chooses to respond to circumstances that are trying and sometimes brutal. To call her selfless wouldn’t be accurate, but she sees beyond herself in a way that’s nothing if not enlightened. A light shines in her, however tired her smile.

“As both writer and director, Roberts is sensitive to the emotional spaces between characters, and also to offhand sparks of connection. The simplest words convey whole stories, barely acknowledged. Bruno and Katie have the same telling answer — ‘I don’t think so’ — when asked whether they have siblings.

“It’s worth noting that the film’s executive producers include directors of three significant recent indies — Antonio Campos (Christine), Sean Durkin (Martha Marcy May Marlene) and Josh Mond (James White). Roberts joins their ranks with his character-driven big-screen bow. Drawing upon archetypes of American independent cinema, he and his collaborators on both sides of the camera have spun narrative gold from the flat, arid setting. In keeping with the understated tone, the design elements by Tania Bijlani and Amit Gajwani never scream ‘period design.’ Collectively they suggest the ’70s — gas is going for $1.13 a gallon. The details are lived-in and plain. The story has a timeless sheen.”

JUNE 7: Late Night (dir. Nisha Ganatra)Vulture’s Sundance Film Festival review by Emily Yoshida: “Even though it deals head-on with such issues as workplace diversity, sexism, and the craven nature of network television, Late Night takes place in its own kind of fantasy world. It’s a world where a woman is the host of her own late night network TV talk show, and she’s been in that position long enough that people are starting to worry that she’s too much of a relic of a bygone era. It’s a premise writer-producer Mindy Kaling must sell in order to get to Late Night’s rich central dynamic: Two women at different ends of the entertainment industry power structure. And since Late Night is such a zippy, comfortable watch, we’re more than wiling to go along with it — I mean, who wouldn’t want to live in that world?

“Directed by Nisha Ganatra with gleaming prime-time plasticity that will be familiar to anyone who’s seen an episode of The Mindy Project, Late Night is a romantic comedy between two women and their work. We’re first introduced to Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson,) a dry, unsmiling, extremely British veteran comic who has been the face of Late Night with Katherine Newbury for going on two decades. She’s got an office dripping in Emmys and a supportive, if ailing husband (John Lithgow,) but not a lot of friends — she hasn’t even met most of her all-white-male writing staff (which includes Reid Scott, John Early, Hugh Dancy, just to name a few). Sensing this is a bad look, and that there’s a perception out there that she hates other women, Katherine’s producer makes a spur-of-the-moment hire of Molly Patel (Kaling), who up until that day had been employed at a chemical plant in Queens owned by the network’s parent company.

“It’s a cartoonishly exaggerated dramatization of the ‘diversity hire,’ and the other staff writers don’t take too kindly to it, grumbling to each other about how when you’re a woman of color in Hollywood, every door opens to you. It’s such a boy’s club that the women’s restroom isn’t even the women’s restroom anymore, and Molly’s first days on the staff go as smoothly as any ingenue’s first day at the big company goes in any romcom. Her guilelessness and willingness to criticize the status quo of Katherine’s show doesn’t win her any brownie points. But Katherine, having learned the network is planning on replacing her with shock comedian Daniel Tennant (Ike Barinholtz) due to low ratings, goes into crisis mode, introduces herself to her staff, and starts trying to figure out how to salvage the show. And of course, Molly might be the only one in the room who knows how to do it.

“What makes Late Night — otherwise a largely predictable story in a familiar mold — really pop is Kaling’s script, which is at the blunter and frankly more exciting spectrum of what Kaling has proven herself to be capable of in her writing career thus far. (The freedom of an R rating helps things.) Late Night isn’t content to just be a story about a woman of color succeeding despite the odds, it’s also cynical about and challenges such psychologically simplistic narratives. The most piquant scene takes place at a PR-repair party at Katherine’s house, where Molly, realizing Katherine is getting hounded by reporters for her hiring practices, steps in to make herself useful as the token, happily posing for the photo-op as Katherine Newbury’s New Brown Hire. Molly is a sort of Pollyanna figure, but she also knows how the world works, and how to make herself useful, a tough dichotomy that Kaling’s script and performance pull off.

“Emma Thompson is sharp and complex as Katherine, a highly unlikable, very funny woman with a unhappy personal life, who sidesteps Miranda Priestly territory by being considered as a human first, boss-from-hell second. The film takes the time to actually interrogate the source of her internalized misogyny and doesn’t just chalk it up to her being a caricatured supervillain. Katherine is a powerful woman in Hollywood who has broken down walls, as well as a nearly unredeemable jerk, who, as it’s later revealed, has made some unscrupulous decisions in her personal life. It’s easy to imagine the version of this show where Molly must ingratiate herself to a white male boss with a similar temperament, and it wouldn’t be as interesting. Late Night is a Devil Wears Prada for TV writing that’s more neurotic and has more on its mind — these are comedians we’re dealing with, after all.”

tumblr_psbqdai3pt1s5o8nro1_1280

JUNE 7: Nureyev (dirs. David Morris and Jacqui Morris)Film Forum synopsis: “A documentary on the brilliant Russian ballet dancer that includes previously unseen archival footage has an exclusive two-week theatrical engagement. Ralph Fiennes’s The White Crow, a recently released drama of Rudolf Nureyev’s life, leading to his 1961 defection to the West, hints at the artistry of this legendary star — widely considered the greatest classical dancer of his generation. This documentary goes further, serving up a truly profound experience of the man’s extraordinary technique, scintillating stage presence, and sexual magnetism (both on and off-stage). Richard Avedon’s dazzling photography of the dancer in his prime gives a sense of why he was often compared to a panther.

Nureyev includes previously unseen archival dance footage, some choreographed by modern dance greats Martha Graham, Paul Taylor and Murray Lewis. Newly created work directed by Royal Ballet alumnus Russell Maliphant, with an original score by Alex Baranowski, dramatizes scenes from the dancer’s life.

“The film follows Nureyev’s life chronologically, from birth on a Trans-Siberian train to his early struggles to study dance, to his years at the Kirov (now the Mariinsky) Ballet. After bursting onto the international stage in Paris, he made a life-changing decision to leap into the arms of the French airport police rather than return to the USSR. His partnership with the great British prima ballerina Margot Fonteyn followed; footage of them performing Romeo and Juliet and Giselle are among the highlights of the film. In the years that followed, he danced principally with The Royal Ballet and, beginning in 1983, became Director of the Paris Opera Ballet where he was also chief choreographer.”

JUNE 12 (in theaters & streaming on Netflix): Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese (dir. Martin Scorsese) (DPs: Howard Alk, Paul Goldsmith, Ellen Kuras and David Myers)From a Den of Geek article by Tony Sokol: “Martin Scorsese knows music. His movies have some of the best soundtracks in film, he pointed cameras at Elvis Presley, documented The Band’s final concert with the film The Last Waltz, done documentaries on The Rolling Stones and even co-produced the short-lived HBO record industry series ‘Vinyl.’ His new Netflix documentary Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese, will shed light on a legendary tour.

“‘Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese captures the troubled spirit of America in 1975 and the joyous music that Dylan performed during the fall of that year,’ Netflix said in a statement. ‘Part documentary, part concert film, part fever dream, Rolling Thunder is a one of a kind experience, from master filmmaker Martin Scorsese.'”

JUNE 14: Back to the Fatherland (dirs. Gil Levanon and Kat Rohrer) (DPs: Ashton Green, Thomas Marschall and Kristina Vasil’eva)Synopsis from the film’s official website: “Gil and Kat, both filmmakers, struck up a friendship during their time at college in New York City ten years ago. Gil comes from Israel, Kat from Austria. Their families’ history is strikingly different. Gil is the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, Kat one of a Nazi officer. The exodus of many young secular Israelis to Germany and Austria prompt Gil and Kat to embark on a journey: to find other grandchildren of Holocaust survivors who had moved to Germany and Austria and learn how their grandparents reacted to that decision. Could returning to the site of their pain decades ago create reconciliation between generations?

Back to the Fatherland follows the journey of three families in transition; Israeli grandchildren from the ‘Third Generation’ and their respective grandparents.The film deals with both sides of the historic tragedy and the attempt to build their own future without ignoring the past.”

JUNE 14: Being Frank (dir. Miranda Bailey)Quad Cinema synopsis: “Jim Gaffigan stars as Frank, a hard-working husband and father… to two families. His carefully orchestrated double life threatens to implode when one of his sons, Philip (Logan Miller), discovers the secret. Privy to this unsettling revelation, Philip can either blow the whistle on his father’s deceit or leverage the surreal situation. With a perfect balance of comedy and drama, Being Frank turns the heartbreaking into the hysterical. Featuring a terrific ensemble cast including Samantha Mathis, Alex Karpovsky, and Anna Gunn.”

JUNE 14: Deep Murder (dir. Nick Corirossi) (DP: Daniella Nowitz)Cinema Village synopsis:Deep Murder is a genre-bending horror comedy that takes place inside the world of a softcore porn. It begins like any other, with a group of horny archetypes holed up in a poorly decorated house. But when they begin to be brutally murdered one by one, the survivors are forced to evolve from clichés into real people to catch the killer in their midst and survive the night.”

JUNE 14 (in theaters & on VOD): Head Count (dir. Elle Callahan)Samuel Goldwyn Films synopsis: “Newcomer Evan (Isaac Jay) joins a group of teens on a getaway in Joshua Tree. While exchanging ghost stories around the campfire, Evan reads aloud a mysterious chant from an internet site. From that moment, someone–or something–is among them. As unsettling, inexplicable events become more frequent, Evan realizes this summoned shape-shifting creature is targeting them to fulfill a deadly ritual.”

JUNE 14 (streaming on Netflix): Life Overtakes Me (dirs. John Haptas and Kristine Samuelson)Music Box Theatre synopsis: “Over the past fifteen years, hundreds of refugee children in Sweden have become afflicted into Resignation Syndrome, withdrawing from the world into a coma-like state for months, or even years. The families of these children have been subjected to severe trauma in their home countries, followed by the anxiety of a lengthy asylum process and an uncertain future. Intercut with sweeping Swedish landscapes, Life Overtakes Me follows three families for over a year. Viewers are immersed in their lives as the anguished parents struggle to care for their sick children.”

JUNE 14 (NYC), JULY 5 (LA): Paris Is Burning (dir. Jennie Livingston)Film Forum synopsis: “The 80s seen through the eyes of NYC’s African American and Latinx Harlem drag ball scene, an intimate portrait of rival fashion ‘houses,’ from fierce contests for trophies, to house mothers offering sustenance in a world rampant with homophobia, racism, AIDS, and poverty. Featuring legendary voguers, drag queens, and trans women including Willi Ninja, Pepper LaBeija, Dorian Corey, and Venus Xtravaganza. Made by Livingston over seven years, Paris Is Burning premiered at Film Forum in 1991 for a blockbuster 6-month run.”

JUNE 19 (in theaters & streaming on Netflix): The Edge of Democracy (dir. Petra Costa)The Wrap’s Sundance Film Festival review by Steve Pond: “There’s a right-wing candidate who unexpectedly rose to power on a wave of nationalist anger despite a history of making rude and racist comments. A woman from a left-wing party vying to become the country’s first female leader. Cries to not just defeat politicians, but to lock them up. Rampant corruption growing out of campaign financing. A country ‘divided into two irreconcilable parts,’ in the words of one observer.

“The country in question, by the way, is Brazil, and the observer is filmmaker Petra Costa, whose sobering documentary, Edge of Democracy, screened on Thursday at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. And if the echoes of the United States are unmistakable and disquieting, that was no doubt the point of Sundance giving the film a coveted opening-night berth.

“But it’s not the only reason to give the film a prime timeslot. Edge of Democracy, as sprawling and occasionally confusing as it can be, is a powerful document of a wave of nationalism sweeping both Europe and the Americas in recent years.

“But it started with a personal story. The daughter of two militants who organized protests against the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil until 1988, Costa is a patriot who grew up in the country’s early flush of democracy and now mourns the increasingly authoritarian streak she sees in her homeland.

“The film is both vast and intimate; it covers decades of Brazilian history, focusing on the rise of the Workers’ Party (PT) under Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (known to everyone as Lula) and later Dilma Rousseff, a former left-wing activist who had been jailed and tortured by the military dictatorship in the 1970s. Costa received extensive access to Lula and Rousseff, which allows her to capture the currents of history as seen in the private, human moments that are the film’s strength.

“Costa narrates the film herself, in a voice tinged with sadness; even before we hear the details, we know from her tone that this movie is going to be a lament.

“The story is sobering: Lula, a former labor union organizer, ran for president and lost several times until he began making deals with the country’s biggest companies. He enjoyed unprecedented popularity during his years in office, leaving in 2010 with an approval rating of more than 80 percent.

“His term, though, had not been without controversy, from his pragmatic but troubling compromises with the right-wing Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) to a series of scandals tied to construction contracts and campaign financing.

“For those without a clear grasp of Brazilian history, the issues can be muddy, the scale daunting, but Costa grounds it in the personal as much as the political; wherever she turns in this chronicle, she finds family connections.

“She traces a ‘seismic shift’ in the country to 2013 when protests over a rise in bus fare expanded into a widespread right-wing uprising that at times seemed to feel affection for the law-and-order days of the military dictatorship.

“Before long, an investigation that came to be called ‘Car Wash’ was launched, ostensibly to look into corruption and shady dealings between politicians and the country’s largest construction companies. But as it expands, the film documents an investigation that seemingly outstrips its stated intent and becomes a vehicle with which to dismantle the left, from Lula (currently in jail after a trial that seems politically motivated at best) to Rousseff (impeached in another suspicious move).

“It can be hard to tell the players without a scorecard, and Costa’s film is more effective at tracking political shenanigans than explaining why a huge chunk of the population would turn on Lula and his party and suddenly embrace retired military officer Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right populist who came to power touting family values as he spewed anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-affirmative action rhetoric.

“‘They call me rude, homophobic, racist,’ he proudly says to Costa’s camera. ‘I’m a hero.’

“Costa clearly doesn’t agree, and neither will most of the viewers attracted to Edge of Democracy. And if the film never quite comes to terms with the why of Bolsonaro’s support, it may well be she has trouble tracking the social winds of change simply because they’re so unimaginable to her.

“‘In Bolsonaro’s cosmology, militants like my parents should have been killed,’ she says, lamenting ‘a country that had never punished people for the crimes committed under military role…a country built on forgetting.’

“In laying out the facts, Costa is, for the most part, posing a series of sad questions rather than supplying the answers; in truth, she may not know whether she’s documenting a stormy political era or chronicling the end of something.

“‘Here we are,’ she says, ‘with one president impeached, another arrested and the country moving toward its authoritarian past. I fear our democracy is nothing but a short-lived dream.’

“That fear makes Edge of Democracy a requiem, not a rant; it’s both a huge national story (a tragedy to many) and its the story of a family that saw its dream fulfilled and now sees its dream slipping away.

“But its Sundance premiere, a prime opening-night slot at a prestige festival in a country whose own leader is an avowed admirer of Bolsonaro, makes it more than that. The echoes are unmistakable, and the story is international.”

tumblr_psbubzevhx1s5o8nro1_1280

JUNE 21 (NYC), JUNE 28 (LA): Before Stonewall (dir. Greta Schiller with co-dir. Robert Rosenberg)Quad Cinema synopsis: “Gorgeously restored for the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots that marked the effective beginning of the Gay Liberation Movement, this richly textured documentary surveys the subcultural enclaves that had been advancing social change since the 1920s. Blending moving and humorous personal testimony with archival footage, Before Stonewall remains a crucial historical document exploring forms of resilience and resistance from the covert cruising codes of the 30s to the lesbian paperback boom in the 50s, through to the eponymous landmark event.”

JUNE 21: Ever After (dir. Carolina Hellsgård) (DP: Leah Striker)The Hollywood Reporter’s Toronto International Film Festival review by Stephen Dalton: “Layering contemporary zombie apocalypse tropes over timeless gothic fairytale elements, Ever After is a superior German-language pulp thriller from the Berlin-based Swedish director Carolina Hellsgård. Chronicling the adventures of two mismatched twentysomething heroines on a quest to save the human race from extinction, or at least themselves, the screenplay was adapted by young German author and illustrator Olivia Vieweg from her own 2011 graphic novel.

“World premiering in Toronto’s Discovery strand, Ever After has more than enough emotional depth and conceptual chutzpah to transcend limiting genre labels. The splatter violence is fairly tame by modern gore standards, and the episodic narrative sags in places, but the ecological subtext and feminist folk-horror elements make this almost entirely female-driven road movie an agreeably fresh addition to the zombie canon. It certainly passes the Bechdel Test. Festival bookings should be healthy, with several strong hooks for potential theatrical interest.

“The setting is a dystopian Europe of the near future, two years after a raging zombie plague has wiped out most of humanity. Only two cities in East Germany, Weimar and Jena, remain safe havens for the last surviving humans. In Weimar, newly infected zombies are immediately slaughtered without mercy. The Jena authorities take a more humane approach by trying to find a cure for plague victims. The vast rural no man’s land between the cities is divided by miles of wire fencing and watchtowers. Echoes of the old Cold War border between East and West Germany, as well as Fortress Europe’s current refugee anxieties, are surely not accidental.

“Two young women, traumatized Vivi (Gro Swantje Kohlhof) and kick-ass zombie-slayer Eva (Maja Lehrer), become fractious travelling companions after fleeing Weimar to attempt the hazardous overland trip to Jena. When their antique self-driving train breaks down, the pair are forced to continue on foot, fighting off marauding mobs of zombies at irregular intervals. Both have personal reasons for risking life and limb, guilty secrets which only come to the surface through nightmarish flashbacks and painful shared confessions.

“The lush, sunny, deceptively idyllic landscape that Vivi and Eva traverse takes on an increasingly folkloric feel as they encounter spooky abandoned castles, monstrous outcasts and cackling gargoyles in bridal gowns. We are definitely not in Kansas anymore. But potentially more dangerous is a witch-like stranger (Danish screen queen Trine Dyrholm) who welcomes the imminent extinction of humankind as Mother Nature’s payback to our greedy, parasitic species. ‘We are unwelcome guests,’ she claims, ‘Earth is a wise old lady and humans haven’t paid her any rent for too long.’ The garden of Eden is returning with a vengeance, purged of sinful humans.

Ever After has a jumpy stop-start plot that sometimes lacks focus. Some of the zombie make-up effects also look a little cheesy, while the open-ended finale will not satisfy genre fans expecting a more conventional orgy of flesh-chomping carnage. But taken on its own terms, Hellsgård’s second feature is a smart and stylish treat, with two engaging leads and plenty of fresh ideas. Incidentally, that Disney-sweet English-language title loses something in translation. The original German title Endzeit strikes a much more cataclysmic chord.”

JUNE 21: Holy Lands (dir. Amanda Sthers)Atlanta Jewish Film Festival synopsis: “James Caan leads an all-star cast as a retired American cardiologist who leaves everything behind to become a pig farmer in Israel, in the comedic family drama Holy Lands. At a crossroads, Harry (Caan) abandons his New York life for Nazareth. A lapsed Jew, his decidedly non-kosher career doesn’t endear him to the community rabbi (Tom Hollander) or other intolerant neighbors. While Harry tries to mollify the acrimonious locals, his estranged family lies scattered in his wake: ex-wife Monica (Rosanna Arquette), alienated son David (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a successful gay playwright, and daughter Annabelle (Efrat Dor), a thirty-something perennial student. When tragedy strikes, Harry tries to rise above past grudges to set things right, eschewing technology for written letters to express his inner feelings. Bestselling novelist Amanda Sthers adapts her own book into a wry, moving, personal tale of a dysfunctional family striving for reconciliation and acceptance.”

JUNE 26: The Chambermaid (dir. Lila Avilés)Film Forum synopsis: “A deluxe Mexico City hotel feels like an upscale prison for Eve (Gabriela Cartol), a chambermaid whose days are filled with making beds, cleaning bathrooms, and running interference for a panoply of guests demanding special attention. A fiction film that feels uncomfortably real, The Chambermaid posits Eve’s disciplined schedule – beginning her day at 4 a.m. and ending it with a class to fulfill a high school diploma – with the guests’ capricious whims. Lila Avilés’s film takes its inspiration from French artist Sophie Calle’s art project, The Hotel, in which she worked as a chambermaid and photographed objects left behind. Minimal and hyper-realistic, the film leaves the viewer with hope that Eve will not herself become mere detritus.”

JUNE 28 (in theaters & on VOD/digital): Euphoria (dir. Lisa Langseth)The Moveable Fest’s Toronto International Film Festival review by Stephen Saito: “‘I don’t have time to lie,’ Emily Thompson (Eva Green) confides to a stranger early in Lisa Langseth’s Euphoria, just after she’s greeted by her sister Ines (Alicia Vikander) at the airport. It’s a matter of convenience that she’s said this now, well after her sister got on the plane, since Ines is under the impression she’s spending a spa weekend with her sister for the first time in five years, but Emily has other plans, with her short-cropped hair and pale complexion tell-tale signs that something is amiss. As if Ines wasn’t aware before, it isn’t long after she’s met with the piercing gaze of Charlotte Rampling at the base of a mountain retreat that things truly get hairy in Euphoria, a drama that tests the sisters’ already tenuous relationship when Emily reveals she’s brought Ines along to accompany her in what will be her final days.

“After dealing with mental illness and grief in unconventional ways in her previous film Hotell, Langseth’s follow-up is no less daring in positioning a story that revolves around euthanasia as an opportunity to observe two women, brought up under the same roof, who have entirely different attitudes towards life. Spiking the film with hits of David Bowie and having two very game actresses in Green and Vikander who throw themselves around with abandon, the writer/director ensures Euphoria isn’t some dour countdown to Emily’s death, but instead nourishes a vibrant dialogue between the sisters that ranges from their separate reactions to their mother’s death five years earlier to their wildest sexual experiences, ultimately bringing to light what they value the most when staring the end in the face.

“Langseth’s thoughtful and provocative consideration of such matters grows out of finding the perfect setting for Euphoria, a gloriously verdant estate made to feel like heaven for its guests – Emily’s request to have the staff make her mother’s blueberry pancakes for breakfast is just one accommodation – yet becomes a personal hell for Ines, who can’t escape after learning her sister’s condition. As much as cinematographer Rob Hardy roams around the property finding beauty in both the flora and the soon-to-be-deceased, Emily and Ines, as well as all the other guests of the retreat, are ultimately stuck, some more accepting of their fate than others and the reasons why they’ve chosen to take their own life, rather than wilt away, are very different.

“The variety of experience portrayed in Euphoria continually tickles the cerebrum as the unique atmosphere forces the guests to engage with both the environment and each other, but it’s the raw, unvarnished performances that tug at the heart, vacillating between Emily and Ines to a wily stage four cancer patient (Charles Dance) and a deflated former football-playing paraplegic (Mark Walter). Green, who rarely gets to be seen so vulnerable, is especially affecting as the dying Emily, ferocious to have a measure of control over her death that she hasn’t had while living, and Vikander does well to complicate Ines, who isn’t initially accepting of her sister’s decision yet finds it in her own nature to respect it. Rampling, there to serve as a kind of mediator at times seems as if she’s the only person who could play Marina, the impervious leader of the retreat who hides her own wounds.

“Although the strength of the performances are powerful enough, Langseth’s ability to give them air and place them into an experiential context where the narrative never takes precedence over a sense of atmosphere yet also never loses momentum, is refreshing, particularly when dealing with such difficult subject matter. True to the film’s title, Euphoria washes over you, making you feel all the emotions so deeply, both sensually and quantitatively.”

JUNE 28 (in theaters), JULY 5 (on VOD): Ophelia (dir. Claire McCarthy)The Wrap’s Sundance Film Festival review by Alonso Duralde: “We’ve had Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Fortinbras Gets Drunk, and now there’s Ophelia, an intelligent and gorgeous spin on Shakespeare’s Hamlet from the point of view of the melancholy prince’s beloved.

Hamlet of course has its share of memorable characters — recall the bit player who claimed that the play was about a grave digger who meets a prince — but this provocative adaptation of Lisa Klein’s novel gives an oft-maligned character purpose and agency. It is not betrayal and madness that bewitches this Ophelia but toxic masculinity.

“Director Claire McCarthy (The Waiting City) and adapter Semi Chellas (‘Mad Men’) give us an Elsinore Castle and its court that’s as handsomely mounted as any number of straightforward Shakespearean adaptations, but they cleverly tweak the proceedings to make us reexamine key moments from an entirely different angle. (Hamlet’s advice that the girl get herself to a nunnery gets a whole new context, and when Ophelia goes mad, she’s crazy like a fox.)

“Our heroine grows up a commoner in the castle, running wild with older children after her beloved brother Laertes begins studying in the library, which is off-limits to girls. After she’s caught crashing the going-away banquet for college-bound young Hamlet, Queen Gertrude (Naomi Watts) takes the little tomboy under her wing and makes her a lady-in-waiting. Played by Daisy Ridley as a young adult, Ophelia is mocked by her peers for not being of noble birth, but her ability to read makes her a close confidant to the queen.

“That gives her a front row seat to Gertrude’s fear of getting old, which makes the monarch susceptible to the seduction of her brother-in-law Claudius (Clive Owen). And while Hamlet (George MacKay, Captain Fantastic) starts out being merely flirty, he later pledges his true love to Ophelia despite their difference in station.

“Brimming with palace intrigue and fascinating backstory (Claudius has skeletons in his closet from well before his fratricide), Ophelia gives the character new depth, even letting her experience some of the play’s big moments, whether it’s encountering a ghost on the battlements or eavesdropping on important conversations from behind a tapestry.

“The film is rich with detail, from the ornate (yet lived-in) interiors to the gorgeous costumes by Massimo Cantini Parrini (The Leisure Seeker). McCarthy has a high-concept story to tell, but the images tell a story of their own, from the time-lapse sunset over the face of King Hamlet to the occasional flocks of birds that seem to announce danger.

“Ridley is simply extraordinary, and she and MacKay give us a younger, lustier Ophelia and Hamlet than we usually get on the big screen. (At times, they call to mind the age-appropriate Romeo and Juliet from the 1968 Franco Zefferelli version.) She’s a girl angling to survive and to make her way through a complicated system that is designed to destroy the likes of her, and this Ophelia is nobody’s fool.

“Watts, so often misused of late, finds the many layers of Gertrude (as well as another character) while Owen brings an appropriate brutishness to the throne room. And as the adult Laertes, Tom Felton gets a juicy grown-up role that takes him further away from his indelible portrayal of Draco Malfoy.

“Ultimately, Ophelia is the story of a woman who offers all of herself and all of her love to a man who wants her — but who wants vengeance and violence more. It’s a tragedy that has played out countless times, but it feels fresh and powerful in this telling.”

High Life (2018/2019, dir. Claire Denis)

tumblr_psjj4ecqqj1s5o8nro2_1280

tumblr_psjj4ecqqj1s5o8nro1_1280

tumblr_psjjf9j6bf1s5o8nro1_1280

tumblr_psjjbw8a3w1s5o8nro1_1280

tumblr_psjjofrj6n1s5o8nro1_1280

tumblr_psjiz7zfxi1s5o8nro1_1280

tumblr_psjj7jkhre1s5o8nro1_1280

Like a strange, fascinating slumber that teeters on the edge between dream and nightmare, Claire Denis’ sci-fi drama High Life is a unique experience that I had the great fortune to see on the big screen at BAM last month. The audience was small, maybe ten or fifteen other people besides me and my friend, which was just right; the two women who were sitting directly in front of me left a couple of minutes into the movie, undoubtedly because they realized they were in the wrong theater, but I like to think it was because they immediately decided they weren’t into the opening scenes of a spaceship’s lush garden, a baby crying and Robert Pattinson accidentally dropping a screwdriver into the infinite darkness of outer space.

Pattinson portrays Monte, whose story is slowly revealed to us through fragmentary flashbacks. He and the other inhabitants of the spaceship – Tcherny (André Benjamin), Boyse (Mia Goth), Nansen (Agata Buzek), Chandra (Lars Eidinger), Mink (Claire Tran), Ettore (Ewan Mitchell) and Elektra (Gloria Obianyo) – are convicted criminals who are there as part of a cruel experiment headed by Dibs (Juliette Binoche), herself a disgraced doctor. As the inmates begin to realize their purpose on board the vessel, distrust and anger ripples violently throughout the group. Slowly, the situation becomes more and more deadly.

tumblr_psjjmfdyw01s5o8nro1_1280

tumblr_psjjarfyfe1s5o8nro1_1280

tumblr_psjjjhvled1s5o8nro1_1280

tumblr_psjj8rlnyp1s5o8nro1_1280

tumblr_psjj1ihmbr1s5o8nro1_1280

tumblr_psjj9mgxzk1s5o8nro1_1280

tumblr_psjjwah7br1s5o8nro1_1280

Claire Denis is nothing if not transgressive. High Life is a canvas painted with bodily fluids in a vision probably most closely aligned with her 2001 horror film Trouble Every Day, which I have not yet seen but have heard is graphic in its depictions of gore. Certain scenes in High Life elicited gasps of shock from my fellow moviegoers – to say that it is not a film for everyone is an understatement of limitless proportions – but there is always unquestionable artistry in those instances. Cinematographer Yorick Le Saux captures the horror and disturbing beauty of the characters’ journey into the farthest reaches of the universe, while Pattinson (he continues to evolve so admirably), Binoche (light years away from her turn in Denis’ Let the Sunshine In), Benjamin (a wonderful presence), Goth (another fearless descent into body horror after her work in Suspiria) and Mitchell (absolutely chilling) give performances that remain seared into my mind. Denis’ drama may evoke recollections of Solaris, Alien, Sunshine and other tense trips into the abyss, but High Life has a style and a mood that set it apart from the rest.

Women-Directed/Photographed Films Coming to Theaters: May 2019

Director/screenwriter Ash Mayfair on the set of The Third Wife, 2017. (Photo: Cleveland International Film Festival)

Here are thirty-five new movies due to be released in theaters or via other viewing platforms this May, all of which have been directed and/or photographed by women. These titles are sure to intrigue cinephiles and also provoke meaningful discussions on the film world, as well as the world in general.

MAY 1 (in theaters & streaming on Netflix): Knock Down the House (dir./DP: Rachel Lears)Film Society of Lincoln Center synopsis: “Rachel Lears’s remarkable documentary follows four female politicians as they challenged local Democratic incumbents in the 2018 midterm elections. They include the new face of the party, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, then a struggling candidate from the Bronx no less passionate or charismatic than she is now; Cori Bush, a former nurse inspired to run for office shortly after the murder of Michael Brown; and Paula Jean Swearengin and Amy Vilela, both motivated to improve communities blighted by health problems and poverty. Observing a flash point in American history with confidence and unfettered access, Knock Down the House is an emotional  portrait of the changing profile of America’s political hopefuls, which effectively details all facets of the grassroots campaign trail.”

MAY 3 (streaming on Netflix): Alles Ist Gut (aka All Good) (dir. Eva Trobisch)Variety’s Locarno International Film Festival review by Guy Lodge: “When we speak of someone ‘refusing to be a victim,’ it’s usually in praise of their resolve and resilience: It’s a refusal that asserts an identity stronger than the worst adversity you’ve experienced. There’s undeniable power in that, but at what point does defiance twist into denial? This is the fine precipice on which German writer-director Eva Trobisch’s searing debut feature All Good balances its frayed-nerve drama — after a self-possessed young woman is raped by a man she hardly knows, and chooses to continue her life without acknowledging that fact. A fascinating flip on themes contentiously raised in Paul Verhoeven’s Elle, underpinned by a breakout performance of raw candor by Aenne Schwarz, this is grown-up filmmaking of sharp, subtle daring.

“Written as a graduation project at the London Film School and a worthy victor in Locarno’s first-feature competition, Trobisch’s finely poised film will likely prompt auspicious comparisons to the early work of Maren Ade as it burns through the festival circuit. Trobisch’s narrative voice, however, is very much her own, with savage deadpan humor cutting into its head-on articulation of everyday human horrors. All Good — a seemingly bland title that turns bitingly resonant in context — would inspire vigorous post-screening debate even if it weren’t arriving in the heat of the #MeToo movement. As it is, arthouse distributor interest should be amped up by the film’s blazing (if hardly momentary) topicality.

“We all know that ‘I’m fine’ is a statement that can indistinctly cover any number of personal conditions, from genuine contentment to raging inner torment. At the film’s outset, however, you’d have little reason to believe Janne (Schwarz), a thirtysomething publishing professional, is anything but. We meet her as she’s cheerfully renovating a dilapidated, newly bought house with her boyfriend Piet (Andreas Döhler), a stand-up guy with whom she has quiet, comfortable chemistry.

“From that opening picture of domestic bliss, the cracks begin to widen. They’ve recently declared bankruptcy after a joint business venture failed, the resultant stress of which might explain Janne’s uncharacteristically uninhibited behavior at a college reunion, where she drinks heavily and gets chatting with gangly, socially awkward stranger Martin (Hans Löw, cutting a very different figure from his lead in the recent Cannes premiere In My Room).

“What she intends as innocuous flirtation, however, he crassly misreads as a sexual advance; when she rebuffs him, he rapes her, in a stark, unsensationalized scene that’s wince-inducingly painful to watch. Janne is so stunned (‘Are you serious?’ she asks her attacker as it happens) that she almost forgets to be angry. And perhaps, she decides, that’s easier: Once the shock subsides, she attempts to pick herself up with no visible disruption, not even telling Piet about her ordeal. It’s an already fragile plan that collapses when she takes a job with a former associate, only to find herself working alongside Martin.

“Though she suggests to him, too, that they pretend nothing has happened, it’s an increasingly hard lie to live: As her mental composure deteriorates, her personal and professional lives plunge into simultaneous freefall. Working in a mode of unornamented naturalism, with no score and a preponderance of tight, peering closeups, Trobisch paints an unstinting portrait of unreleased trauma — one marked by deep compassion for its scarred female protagonist, but a complex amoral stance on the spiralling, self-harming irrationality of her behavior.

“It’s a nuanced characterization brought to seething, silently volatile life by Schwarz’s tremendous interpretation. While the actress recently made an impression as the eponymous author’s wife in Austrian festival favorite Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe, this is a potentially career-altering lightning bolt of a turn, alive with intuitive, revealing body language and expressive verbal tics — as the steaming fury inside her occasionally forces its way past her painstaking self-containment. It’s the kind of fearless emotional spin-cycle with which Schwarz’s compatriots Nina Hoss or Sandra Hüller might have stunned us earlier in their careers. Even as an ambiguous final act arrests Janne’s freefall for the comparative relief of psychological limbo, director and actress are plainly on the same purposeful, zero-compromise page; All Good feels the urgent benefits of their combined conviction.”

MAY 3 (in theaters & airing on HBO at 8:00 PM), MAY 4 (HBO on demand): At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal (dir. Erin Lee Carr)HBO synopsis: “For more than two decades Dr. Larry Nassar was the osteopathic physician for the U.S. women’s Olympic gymnastics team, as well as a physician at Michigan State University (MSU). During that time, he sexually abused hundreds of female athletes.

“Based on years of research by producers Dr. Steven Ungerleider and David Ulich (Munich ‘72 and Beyond) and featuring brave testimonials from the athletes at the center of the story, director Erin Lee Carr’s (Mommy Dead and Dearest and the upcoming I Love You, Now Die) powerful documentary, At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal, reveals a dangerous system that prioritized winning over everything else, including protecting young female athletes. Through interviews with dozens of survivors, as well as coaches, lawyers and journalists, the film exposes an environment in which young women spent their youth competing for victory on a world stage, juxtaposed against a culture where abuse was hidden, and lives were forever damaged.”

MAY 3 (in theaters & on VOD): Bardo Blues (dir. Marcia Kimpton with co-dirs. Mark Haining and Justin McAleece)Roxie Theater synopsis: “Set in Thailand, Bardo Blues follows Jack (Stephen McClintic) as he struggles to learn the truth about the mother that abandoned him and his own reason for existing. Weaving spiritual awakenings and soulful struggle, Bardo Blues will leave you questioning everything you think you know about who you are, where you came from and where you’re going.”

MAY 3: Decade of Fire (dirs. Gretchen Hildebran and Vivian Vázquez Irizarry)Metrograph synopsis: “We all know the official story of South Bronx blight in the 1970s—’Ladies and gentlemen, the Bronx is burning’ and so on—but borough native Vazquez’s vital documentary tells another side of the tale, uncovering government policies of methodical negligence that abandoned Black and Latino neighborhoods, leaving them to wither and their residents to scatter, those left behind conveniently taking the blame for the destruction. A cold case investigation by a filmmaker who lived through it all, naming the true culprits who were trying to kill these neighborhoods and explaining why—and also a touching testimony to those who survived their baptism by fire, indefatigably remaining to build anew.”

MAY 3 (streaming on Netflix): Despite Everything (aka A pesar de todo) (dir. Gabriela Tagliavini)Netflix synopsis: “After their mother’s death, four sisters (Blanca Suárez, Amaia Salamanca, Belén Cuesta, Macarena García) learn a shocking family secret and embark on an adventure to discover the truth about their genealogy.”

MAY 3: Sweetheart (aka Mon Bébé) (dir. Lisa Azuelos)AMC Theatres synopsis: “Héloïse (Sandrine Kiberlain) is a mother of three. Her youngest daughter, Jade (Thaïs Alessandrin), has just turned eighteen and will soon be leaving the nest to pursue her studies in Canada. As Jade’s departure approaches, Héloïse reminisces of their shared past, a tight bond between mother and daughter. Dreading this separation, Héloïse takes on the role of a filmmaker and attempts, with her iPhone in hand, to capture their last moments together. Her urgent desire to film these fleeting moments consumes her to such a point that it prevents her from reaching the complicity and happiness she has always managed to share with her daughter, her ‘baby.'”

MAY 3 (in theaters & on VOD): Tell It to the Bees (dir. Annabel Jankel)The Hollywood Reporter’s Toronto International Film Festival review by Leslie Felperin: “A wee bit on the mushy side, which could actually be an asset commercially, Tell It to the Bees casts Anna Paquin and Holliday Grainger as secret lovers in a small Scottish town not long after World War II. Adapted from Fiona Shaw’s book of the same name by sister screenwriters Henrietta and Jessica Ashworth, this British production comes directed by Annabel Jankel, whose résumé includes co-creating TV character Max Headroom as well as directing the Meg Ryan-Dennis Quaid remake of noir classic D.O.A. and computer game-to-film adaptation Super Mario Bros. and lots of music-related filmmaking.

“Given that eclectic background, Jankel seems a slightly odd fit for this period-set romantic drama, although her visual effects skills must have been helpful for supervising the creation of a swarm of digital bees. The result should appeal to audiences with a soft spot for stories about plucky, convention-defying women falling in love while wearing floaty, vintage tea dresses — and keeping bees. Some might mutter about the industry’s preference for lesbian-themed movies in which the leads just so happen to be thin, femme and pretty, but it’s hard to dislike this pleasant, earnest work.

“In a Scottish town big enough to support a fabric mill but small enough that gossip spreads fast, pretty Englishwoman Lydia Weekes (Grainger) has found a precarious place for herself after marrying into the community and bearing a son, Charlie (Gregor Selkirk), now about 11 or 12. Unfortunately, Lydia’s husband Robert, a war veteran, has gone astray and now has a fancy woman he’s decided to move in with, leaving Lydia to cope largely on her own, albeit with some grudging childcare help from Robert’s widowed sister Pam (the protean Kate Dickie). Pam’s own daughter Annie (Lauren Lyle), nearly out of her teens and with a bit of a wild streak, has been stepping out with George (Leo Hoyte-Egan), a nice but barely developed character who happens to be of color. Oddly and rather ahistorically, George’s ethnicity is never remarked upon by anyone, which inadvertently flatters the townspeople by positing they’re capable of one kind of tolerance but not another, as the plot soon proves.

“For it transpires that Dr. Jean Markham (Paquin, assaying a Scottish accent near perfectly for the perhaps the first time since she won a best supporting actress Oscar for The Piano as a child), the new general practitioner in town, once caused a bit of a scandal as a teen herself when she was caught kissing another girl. Now back home in the wake of her father’s demise after years away at university and elsewhere, she keeps a low profile, living in her father’s large house and tending to the swarm of bees that comes with the place. An old friend, wealthy toff bachelor Jim (Steven Robertson), offers to marry her but, knowing it would never work, she declines. However, when a minor injury of Charlie’s introduces her to Lydia, the attraction is palpable. Moreover, Charlie is entranced by the bee swarm, and at Jean’s suggestion, in accordance with local folk wisdom, he starts telling his secrets to the bees regularly, hence the title.

“The time the young screenwriters Henrietta and Jessica Ashworth have spent so far working in television (including the upcoming second season of ‘Killing Eve’) is palpable in the tidy storytelling here, which braids all the strands in neatly, leading up to a finale where Jean must help out Annie with her medical skills after a botched forced abortion (a timely subject) while Lydia, now lovers with Jean, is confronted by her unpleasant, homophobic ex-husband. Even the bees get involved in the ensuing ruck, resulting in a lot of cross-cut drama as everything, somewhat improbably, all kicks off at once.

“Nevertheless, despite such melodramatic touches, the film demonstrates a good ear for period dialogue and, to an extent, period attitudes with a conclusion that suits the challenges of the times. There’s also a sensitivity to the nuances of class difference in the era, expressed subtly through Andy Harris’ production design and Ali Mitchell’s costumes, offering a lovely mood board study in warm ochres, heathery pinks and misty grays.

“In terms of performance, Grainger’s natural effervescence blends well with Paquin’s nervier persona, and they come across as a plausible, if somewhat idealized couple. The love scenes are genuinely sexy, just explicit enough to be credible without showing too much skin, thus risking a higher rating. This is no Mustard Yellow Is the Warmest Color — which, again, will probably make this more marketable, especially for nostalgic, open-minded older viewers.”

MAY 8: The Silence of Others (dirs. Robert Bahar and Almudena Carracedo) (DP: Almudena Carracedo)Film Forum synopsis: “What if in the ’60s you were sadistically tortured for your political beliefs – and the man responsible (Antonio González Pacheco, aka ‘Billy the Kid’) was now your neighbor? The bloody Spanish Civil War (1936-39) was followed by the Franco dictatorship that ended only with his death in 1975 – after which a law granted amnesty for crimes committed throughout this period. The Silence of Others tackles the legal/political questions that this enforced obliviousness has created, and equally compelling, the existential conundrum of living in a nation in which no one has been charged with the murder of hundreds of thousands, buried in more than 2,000 mass graves. A new movement in Spain confronts these hard truths. With the rise of authoritarian regimes around the world – and with human rights abuses being committed on our own border – this film could not be more timely.”

MAY 8 (in theaters), MAY 10 (streaming on Netflix): Wine Country (dir. Amy Poehler) – The Landmark at 57 West synopsis:Wine Country is a hilarious and heartfelt comedy directed by Amy Poehler. In honor of Rebecca’s (Rachel Dratch) 50th birthday, Abby (Poehler) plans a scenic Napa getaway with their best, longtime friends. Workaholic Catherine (Ana Gasteyer), post-op Val (Paula Pell), homebody Jenny (Emily Spivey), and weary mom Naomi (Maya Rudolph) are equally sold on the chance to relax and reconnect. Yet as the alcohol flows, real world uncertainties intrude on the punchlines and gossip, and the women begin questioning their friendships and futures. Tina Fey, Jason Schwartzman and Cherry Jones co-star.”

MAY 10: The Biggest Little Farm (dir. John Chester) (DPs: John Chester, Mallory Cunningham, Benji Lanpher, Chris Martin and Kyle Romanek)Angelika Film Center synopsis: “A testament to the immense complexity of nature, The Biggest Little Farm follows two dreamers and a dog on an odyssey to bring harmony to both their lives and the land. John and Molly Chester make a choice that takes them out of the city and onto 200 acres in the foothills of Ventura County, naively endeavoring to build one of the most diverse farms of its kind in complete coexistence with nature. The land they’ve chosen, however, is utterly depleted of nutrients and suffering from a brutal drought. The film chronicles eight years of daunting work and outsize idealism as they attempt to create the utopia they seek, planting 10,000 orchard trees and over 200 different crops, and bringing in animals of every kind. When the farm’s ecosystem finally begins to reawaken, so does the Chesters’ hope – but as their plan to create perfect harmony takes a series of wild turns, they realize that to survive they will have to reach a far greater understanding of the intricacies and wisdom of nature, and of life itself.”

MAY 10 (in theaters), MAY 17 (VOD): Charlie Says (dir. Mary Harron)IFC Center synopsis: “Years after the shocking murders that made the name Charles Manson synonymous with pure evil, the three women who killed for him—Leslie Van Houten (Hannah Murray), Patricia Krenwinkel (Sosie Bacon), and Susan Atkins (Marianne Rendón)—remain under the spell of the infamous cult leader (Matt Smith). Confined to an isolated cellblock in a California penitentiary, the trio seem destined to live out the rest of their lives under the delusion that their crimes were part of a cosmic plan—until empathetic graduate student Karlene Faith (Merritt Wever) is enlisted to rehabilitate them. Convinced the prisoners are not the inhuman monsters the world believes them to be, Karlene begins the arduous process of breaking down the psychological barriers erected by Manson. But are the women ready to confront the horror of what they did? Boundary pushing auteur Mary Harron (American Psycho, I Shot Andy Warhol) presents a provocative new perspective on one of the most notorious crimes of the 20th century.”

MAY 10 (streaming on Netflix): In Family I Trust (aka Gente que viene y bah) (dir. Patricia Font)Netflix synopsis: “After her partner cheats on her, an architect (Clara Lago) returns to her hometown to reassess her life with the help of her eccentric family.”

MAY 10: Poms (dir. Zara Hayes)Synopsis from the film’s official website:Poms is an uplifting comedy about Martha (played by Diane Keaton) a woman who moves into a retirement community and starts a cheerleading squad with her fellow residents, Sheryl (Jacki Weaver), Olive (Pam Grier) and Alice (Rhea Perlman), proving that it’s never too late to follow your dreams. Phyllis Somerville, Charlie Tahan, Alisha Boe and Bruce McGill also star. Zara Hayes directed the script by Shane Atkinson. Producing are Kelly McCormick (Atomic Blonde); Alex Saks (Book Club); Mad as Birds Films’ Andy Evans, Ade Shannon, Celyn Jones, Sean Marley and Rose Pictures’ Rose Ganguzza.”

MAY 15: The Third Wife (dir. Ash Mayfair) (DP: Chananun Chotrungroj)Film Forum synopsis: “Born and raised in Vietnam, Ash Mayfair has drawn upon her familial history (both grandmother and great-grandmother were in arranged marriages at a young age) to create the fictitious 19th century drama of 14-year-old May, who becomes the third wife of an older man. With a largely female cast and crew, The Third Wife portrays the strictures of patriarchy, the rules by which a woman can gain some degree of prestige and power (as the mother of a son), and the consequences any deviance will engender. But most of all, this is a story of emotional bonding among three generations of women, in a setting that is both exquisitely beautiful and painfully repressive. As with the lives of Chinese concubines in Raise the Red Lantern, the ostensible comfort and elegance of this world of women is both richly seductive and fearfully poisonous.”

MAY 16 (streaming on Netflix): Good Sam (dir. Kate Melville)Deadline synopsis by Denise Petski: “Netflix has set May 16 for the premiere of Good Sam, a feature based on the mystery book series of the same name by Dete Meserve, starring Tiya Sircar. Kate Melville is directing from a script by Meserve and Teena Booth.

“The film follows intrepid TV news reporter Kate Bradley (Sircar) who is assigned to uncover the identity of a mysterious Good Samaritan—Good Sam—who has been anonymously leaving $100,000 cash gifts on the doorsteps of seemingly random New Yorkers. As interest in the extraordinary gifts sweeps across the country, Kate seeks to unravel the identity of Good Sam and the powerful and unexpected reasons behind the extraordinary gifts.”

MAY 17: Aniara (dirs. Pella Kågerman and Hugo Lilja) (DP: Sophie Winqvist)The Film Stage’s Toronto International Film Festival review by Jared Mobarak:So much of our desire to exist is based in control. We have the ability to move our homes, restart careers, and work towards a future of our choosing. No matter how difficult things become, there’s always a hope for better or an avenue towards change. It’s only when we’re cornered without an exit that we start to let our fears rule us rather than the infinite possibilities in our grasp. We search for meaning and answers, struggling to reconcile that happiness may have always been an illusion to mask the pain. And it can disappear in an instant — one hiccup along a path of tenuous certainty throwing perfect plans into chaotic turmoil. Suddenly we can no longer take the reins of our circumstances. They begin governing us.

There’s no bigger example of this truth than our premonitions of apocalypse. Beyond religious scripture lies the science that we aren’t long for this universe — at least not in context with its breadth of time and space. We recognize previous extinction points and realize ours will arrive sooner or later whether from a dying star or our own steady dismantling of those intrinsic properties for which Earth seemed to have in abundance. Our art has attempted to give shape to what that desperation will look like either via our futility to prevent it or our technological advancement to cheat death and inevitably destroy another world too. One such example is Nobel laureate Harry Martinson’s 1956 epic poem Aniara, which Pella Kågerman and Hugo Lilja now bring to life.

The title shares its name with a city-size spacecraft ferrying humans from Earth to Mars in barely three weeks. It’s a routine trip that’s never run into problems with many passengers already having family on the red planet to greet them upon arrival. But there’s a first time for everything as a small field of debris forces Captain Chefone (Arvin Kananian) off course. Unfortunately a screw breaches their hull anyway, pushing their nuclear fuel supply to critical mass. Expelling it may save them for the moment, but without it they cannot steer. So despite having enough self-sustaining electricity and algae (for air and food), there’s no way to return onto their necessary trajectory. Either a celestial body interrupts their path to slingshot back or they simply drift forever.

How will everyone react? Chefone does his best to assuage fears by saying it’ll be two years tops before they can make their way back, but that’s enough of an increase from three weeks to throw people into hyperventilation regardless. Some find it impossible to cope while others realize living on Aniara with its many activities might actually be better than a dying Earth or a bleak Mars. The latter don’t have anyone or anything awaiting them and would have been continuing aboard the craft for the next ferry anyway, so why not make due and work towards calming those who can’t? MR (Emelie Jonsson) epitomizes this role as supervisor for MIMA — a spiritual, living tool used to mine consumer memories and recreate the serenity of their past.

Maybe a handful of people cared to experience what MIMA had to offer before the catastrophe. They didn’t need that sort of escape from the infinite blackness of space because they had the distractions of shopping mall boutiques, alcohol, and games. Once the reality that this vehicle was in fact a prison, however, passengers flocked to MIMA as though it was a drug to shroud their despair with manufactured euphoria. Acting as a transactional service of sorts, this machine can only handle that suffering for so long before it too acknowledges the fruitlessness of its mission. Eventually it will see how the pain it was being fed could never cease, questioning its own life in kind. And without its images those lost souls would know nothing but misery.

What follows is the devolution of mankind to its basest desires. Think High-Rise in space, the existential crises of being trapped in this cage feeding anxieties until sanity becomes hard-pressed to sustain. Chefone finds himself consumed by the power his position as captain affords — the trepidation and fear of mutiny at the start transforming into an entitled confidence as though a king lording over his court. Cults begin to rise — one built by a mother who was inconsolable at the news she wouldn’t be attending her son’s fourth birthday party (Jennie Silfverhjelm). And even those who appear too jaded to be affected (Bianca Cruzeiro’s logistics specialist Isagel and Anneli Martini’s unnamed astronomer) find themselves slowly losing their grip on life’s meaning against the vastness of space.

We therefore gravitate towards MR as the single inhabitant of this ship who hasn’t completely lost her head. But just as Martini speaks about how one can’t know why his/her relationship ended while still inside it, perhaps MR was losing her grip along with the others and we simply didn’t notice. Every chapter ticks off days, weeks, and years through an instantaneous cut to black and all we see is a new world vastly different from the old. So while appearances may not seem drastically changed, underneath smiles and laughter lies a river of dread hidden with varying success. Hope can still rear its head and breathe fresh life into those still remaining, but it often only leaves them more defeated once its promise is left unfulfilled.

Kågerman and Lilja bring Martinson’s poem to cinemas with a stark beauty both in its sci-fi production design and emotionally wrought performances. They present how life is meaningless without a destination — how we’d rather numb ourselves to the helplessness of our situation than embrace the little control we retain. It’s a fascinating character study since Earth is itself a complex self-contained ecosystem floating in space. What then makes Aniara so different? Or does the growing sense of defeatist malaise manifest precisely because it’s not? Perhaps this spacecraft is merely providing a glimpse at humanity’s unpreventable demise relative to size and population. This is centuries of mankind’s brightest dreams dissolving into dust. We’re such a miniscule part of the universe that survival will always prove just out of reach.

MAY 17: Ask for Jane (dir. Rachel Carey) (DP: Caitlin Machak)MyCinema synopsis: “Based on a true story. Chicago, 1969 – Imagine a world where abortion is punishable by prison, and getting birth control is nearly impossible. As a result, women die every day from taking matters into their own hands. When a pregnant student at the University of Chicago attempts to take her own life, Rose (Cait Cortelyou) and Janice (Cody Horn) find a doctor willing to perform the procedure in secret to save the woman’s life. Sparked by this experience, Rose and Janice form the Jane Collective: a secret organization to help other women obtain safe and illegal abortions. Operating like a spy network, complete with blindfolds and code names, the Janes help thousands of women – but they can’t hide from the police forever.”

MAY 17: A Dog’s Journey (dir. Gail Mancuso)Synopsis from the film’s official website: “Some friendships transcend lifetimes. In A Dog’s Journey, the sequel to the heartwarming global hit A Dog’s Purpose, beloved dog Bailey finds his new destiny and forms an unbreakable bond that will lead him, and the people he loves, to places they never imagined.

“Bailey (voiced again by Josh Gad) is living the good life on the Michigan farm of his ‘boy,’ Ethan (Dennis Quaid) and Ethan’s wife Hannah (Marg Helgenberger). He even has a new playmate: Ethan and Hannah’s baby granddaughter, CJ. The problem is that CJ’s mom, Gloria (Betty Gilpin), decides to take CJ away. As Bailey’s soul prepares to leave this life for a new one, he makes a promise to Ethan to find CJ and protect her at any cost. Thus begins Bailey’s adventure through multiple lives filled with love, friendship and devotion as he, CJ (Kathryn Prescott), and CJ’s best friend Trent (Henry Lau) experience joy and heartbreak, music and laughter, and few really good belly rubs.

“Directed by Emmy winner Gail Mancuso (TV’s Modern Family), A Dog’s Journey is produced by Gavin Polone (A Dog’s Purpose), and written by W. Bruce Cameron & Cathryn Michon, and Maya Forbes & Wally Wolodarsky, based on the best-selling novel by Cameron.”

MAY 17: The Souvenir (dir. Joanna Hogg)Time Out’s Sundance Film Festival review by Joshua Rothkopf: “A cinematic memoir of once-in-a-decade emotional precision and ambition, Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir does many things so exquisitely, it’s hard to know where to begin. Hogg, a veteran British TV and feature director with a distinctly intimate style, graduated from film school in the 1980s; her thesis project starred a then-unknown Tilda Swinton (already magnetic) as a character whose obsession with fashion results in a glamorous plunge into a magazine spread. Now, completing a cosmic circle, Hogg casts the Oscar-winning actor’s daughter, Honor Swinton-Byrne, to play an autobiographical version of herself as a young film student peering through spring-loaded Bolex cameras and awakening to the pleasures and heartaches of early ’80s London. (Mama Swinton is on hand too, as Hogg’s elegant, concerned mother.)

“To watch Swinton-Byrne’s 24-year-old Julie—angelically innocent, soft in voice, curious, a touch embarrassed by her Knightsbridge privilege—is to make the kind of immediate heart-to-heart connection with an actor that only the movies can broker. (Call Me by Your Name’s Timothée Chalamet was another.) Julie is still childlike enough to shower kisses on the family dog, but she’s turning serious, typing out her script ideas, interviewing earnestly with the graying, judgmental professors, mixing it up during discussions of Psycho. The world of film school, a crucible of naïveté and competition, has never been presented with quite as much clarity as Hogg musters here; the director is also self-deprecating enough to show herself as an awkward amateur, bumping into the lighting equipment. Her instinct is to let Swinton-Byrne fill these scenes with thoughtfulness, a call that pays off beautifully.

“And still, that’s not nearly the half of what The Souvenir is. An older man, Anthony (Tom Burke, wryly funny while charting a devastating descent), enters into Julie’s life, first as a worldly adviser and spouter of pretentious come-ons—’We don’t know what the inner machinations of the heart are,’ he murmurs—then as a sharer of books and a bed. Their relationship blooms with respectful sweetness, so it’s a shock when, at a dinner party, the host (a perfectly preening Richard Ayoade, clicking the entire movie into place in a single pivotal scene) leans over to Julie and confides, ‘You don’t seem druggy to me.’ He’s honestly curious about how it works between a ‘habitual heroin user’ and a ‘trainee Rotarian.’ We’re thrown as much as Julie is. For all of Anthony’s surface charms, he’s changed in our eyes.

“Hogg then dives into what might have been a fairly traditional junkie drama, but she’s blessed by a unique sense of compassion that stems from personal betrayal. Even though Stéphane Collonge’s gorgeous production design is decked out in the soft pinks and whites of a 1980 bedroom (there’s also a righteous soundtrack of XTC, Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson), the film as a whole squirms with self-destructive tension. The couple escapes for a Venice vacation, but despite their fancy-dress excursions and an accordion wafting in the air, Julie is in tears, sensing that something is off. Swinton-Byrne and Burke are magnificent in these unraveling scenes, tender and exposed, and though we flinch protectively for the teller of this tale, Hogg turns her story into a gift of empathy. A sequel is already in the works; when it arrives, you’ll still be wrecked by this one. While it’s unspooling, The Souvenir feels like the only film in the world—the only one that matters.”

MAY 17: The Sun Is Also a Star (dir. Ry Russo-Young) (DP: Autumn Durald Arkapaw)Warner Bros. Pictures synopsis: “College-bound romantic Daniel Bae and Jamaica-born pragmatist Natasha Kingsley meet—and fall for each other—over one magical day amidst the fervor and flurry of New York City. Sparks immediately fly between these two strangers, who might never have met had fate not given them a little push. But will fate be enough to take these teens from star-crossed to lucky in love? With just hours left on the clock in what looks to be her last day in the U.S., Natasha is fighting against her family’s deportation as fiercely as she’s fighting her budding feelings for Daniel, who is working just as hard to convince her they are destined to be together. A modern-day story about finding love against all odds, The Sun Is Also a Star explores whether our lives are determined by fate or the random events of the universe. The film stars Yara Shahidi (‘Black-ish’) as Natasha and Charles Melton (‘Riverdale’) as Daniel, along with John Leguizamo (John Wick: Chapter 2).

“Directed by Ry Russo-Young (Before I Fall), the film is based on the acclaimed bestseller by Everything, Everything author Nicola Yoon. The Sun Is Also a Star was #1 on the New York Times bestseller list and has received multiple accolades, including: 2016 National Book Award Finalist; Amazon’s Best Book of 2016 in YA; Amazon’s Top 20 Children’s Books of 2016 in YA; the New York Times Notable Children’s Books of 2016; and Entertainment Weekly’s 10 Best Books of 2016.

“Russo-Young directed from a screenplay by Tracy Oliver (Girls Trip). The film’s producers are Leslie Morgenstein and Elysa Koplovitz Dutton, who served as producers on Everything, Everything. Pamela Hirsch served as executive producer. The behind-the-scenes creative team includes director of photography Autumn Durald Arkapaw (Teen Spirit), production designer Wynn Thomas (Hidden Figures), editor Joe Landauer (Before I Fall), and costume designer Deirdra Elizabeth Govan (Sorry to Bother You). The music is by Herdís Stefánsdóttir (The Hate U Give).”

tumblr_pqt7zzilca1s5o8nro1_1280

MAY 17: Walking on Water (dir. Andrey Paounov) (DPs: Martina Cocco, Simone D’Arcangelo, Pietro Daviddi, Antonio Ferrera, Snejina Latev, Anastas Petkov, Franco Piroli, Wedigo Von Schultzendorff and Debora Vrizzi)Film Forum synopsis: “Christo and his late wife/partner Jeanne-Claude (1935-2009) created some of the most visually breathtaking art installations of the postwar era, including Running Fence in Sonoma and Marin counties (1976), Wrapped Reichstag in Berlin (1995), and The Gates in Central Park (2005). The Floating Piers—an ambitious effort to create the effect of walking on water via a 3-kilometer walkway over Lake Iseo in Northern Italy—is Christo’s first large-scale project since Jeanne-Claude’s passing (the two conceived of the idea together). Filmmaker Andrey M Paounov has rare access to Christo’s process, from inception to completion of the installation: thorny negotiations with local government, engineering challenges, crowd control, logistical nightmares and the sheer force of nature, captured through breathtaking aerial views and fly-on-the-wall cameras.”

MAY 17: The Wandering Soap Opera (dirs. Raúl Ruiz and Valeria Sarmiento)Anthology Film Archives synopsis: “Raúl Ruiz passed away in 2011, but it should come as little surprise that a filmmaker as mind-bogglingly prolific, subversive, and mischievous as Ruiz wouldn’t let that get in the way of releasing a new film. The footage that comprises The Wandering Soap Opera was the result of a 6-day workshop that Ruiz gave for actors and technicians in his native Chile in 1990, during his first return visit since his departure for France following Augusto Pinochet’s 1973 coup d’état. Restored and completed by Valeria Sarmiento – Ruiz’s wife and editor, and an accomplished filmmaker in her own right – The Wandering Soap Opera turns out to be far more than a curiosity. Its status as Ruiz’s first post-dictatorship Chilean film would alone qualify it as an important film within his vast oeuvre (Ruiz made more than 100 films over the course of his career), but above and beyond that historical significance it proves to be a typically dazzling and inventive work that embeds a penetrating portrait of a society transfigured by the effects of almost 20 years of a repressive dictatorship into the form of a Borgesian parody of telenovela conventions. The Wandering Soap Opera contains passages that are as deadpan funny and astonishingly resourceful as anything in Ruiz’s body of work, while Sarmiento’s elegant assemblage (she bookends Ruiz’s own material with footage of him leading the workshop) renders the final product a moving tribute to an extraordinary filmmaker for whom even a hundred films wasn’t enough.”

MAY 17: We Have Always Lived in the Castle (dir. Stacie Passon)Cinema Village synopsis: “Merricat (Taissa Farmiga) lives with her sister Constance (Alexandra Daddario) and her Uncle Julian (Crispin Glover). The trio are survivors of an arsenic poisoning that killed everyone else in the family five years prior. Merricat is bold and imaginative, and protects the property with ‘spells.’ Despite being hated by the townspeople, the sisters live an idyllic life, until cousin Charles (Sebastian Stan) arrives. Charles offers to help around the house, and inquires about the family’s finances. Constance is charmed by Charles, and Merricat resents Charles’ intrusion. As Charles and Merricat battle for control, tragedy threatens to strike again. Based on the 1962 novel by Shirley Jackson.”

MAY 24: Booksmart (dir. Olivia Wilde)Variety’s SXSW review by Peter Debruge:Booksmart besties Molly and Amy pretty much aced high school: Valedictorian and student-body president Molly (Beanie Feldstein, who is Jonah Hill’s sister) got accepted to Yale, her top-choice university — and the first step in her goal of becoming the youngest Supreme Court justice — while study buddy and super-activist Amy (Kaitlyn Dever, ‘Justified’) plans to spend some time volunteering in Botswana before continuing her studies at Columbia. Looks like all those late nights at the library paid off! Except that somewhere along the way, these two were so busy worrying about their futures that they missed out on being teenagers.

“That realization strikes when Molly, ducking into a super-skanky school lavatory where the graffiti is funnier than your average high school movie, overhears three presumed burnouts trash-talking her. Confronting them, she discovers that through some grave karmic mistake, two are headed to top schools and the other has landed a mid-six-figure job at Google. ‘This is not possible!’ Molly protests. ‘You guys don’t even care about school!’ To which the more popular girl snaps back, ‘No, we just don’t only care about school.’

“And so, now, on the last night of their high school careers, Molly and Amy aim to cram everything they missed into one, unforgettable night: crashing a wild house party, taking hallucinogenic drugs, projectile vomiting on a possible soul mate, and — for one lucky overachiever — spending the night in jail. None of this is what you’d expect from the directorial debut of actress Olivia Wilde, who cracked Harvard grads Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins’ script, which had been kicking around Hollywood for nearly a decade (it was featured on 2009’s Black List, and has since been finessed by Katie Silberman, Susanna Fogel, and the director).

“Comedy is hard, and doesn’t get a lot of respect within the industry, but Wilde saw that something was missing from the crowded field of R-rated end-of-innocence comedies: These high-scoring young ladies not only routinely ruin the curve for their fellow students, but they also pass the Bechdel Test with ease. Instead of reinforcing the same tired values that male directors have been peddling for years — where boys obsess about losing their virginity, freely objectifying the girls in their class — Booksmart matter-of-factly introduces one of its leads as a lesbian while presenting a view of female sexuality in which men are incidental. What’s more, the film rejects the notion that conquests ought to be so central to coming-of-age stories, delivering a romp that’s every bit as outrageous as American Pie or Porky’s while shifting its focus away from hookups (these ladies will undoubtedly find far more deserving partners in college) to whether their friendship can withstand such a wild and crazy night.

“Not since Superbad has a high school comedy so perfectly nailed how exhilarating it feels to act out at that age, capturing the thrill of making a series of potentially irreversible mistakes with the person who’s always been there for you, even as it acknowledges the inevitability that said confidante can’t be your wing-woman forever. Granted, the all-summer-in-one-day device has been done before, and Booksmart is hardly the first film to portray such adolescent recklessness from a female perspective: Clueless and Easy A gave classic literature a contemporary spin; Mean Girls and Blockers revealed just how much dudes like Cameron Crowe and John Hughes didn’t know about women.

Booksmart fills in those gaps, and also gives the good girls a chance to act out. Besides, every generation needs its own rowdy high school comedy, and millennials deserve one that treats the anxieties teens have been grappling with for millennia with the same urgency that Jerry Bruckheimer would bring to a high-stakes action movie. Once Molly and Amy commit to crashing the night-before-graduation party where all the cool kids are going, Booksmart takes off with the nitro boost of a Bad Boys sequel — leaning on a hip-hop soundtrack that’s infinitely cooler than its characters to supply much of its energy. Like Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, or any other pair of wisecracking BFFs, these two young women totally have each other’s back — and good thing, too, since most of their classmates find their brainier-than-thou attitude insufferable.

“Rather than admonishing nerds with some lecture about priorities, or coming straight out and telling teens that it’s OK to make mistakes en route to responsibility, Booksmart demonstrates that even know-it-alls like Molly and Amy have a lot to learn. That’s what’s so endearing about the film’s central pair: They use their intelligence to overcompensate for an assortment of other insecurities, rapid-firing the kind of useless trivia that would make them ideal ‘Jeopardy!’ contestants, but confess ignorance when it comes to the basics — like the birds and the bees, or what to wear to a house party.

“Determined to figure out where the event is happening, Amy suggests, ‘Let’s do what we do best: homework!’ And it’s off to the library to find the address based on the available clues. Still, it doesn’t take a perfect SAT score to realize that these two use humor, and a certain snarky condescension toward everyone else, to make up for their own social awkwardness. There are no bullies at Crockett High School. If anything, Molly and Amy are the ones who routinely make others feel inferior, and their stream of put-downs — directed at mouth-breather Nick (Mason Gooding), or snappy overdresser George (Noah Galvin), or slut-shamed Triple A (Molly Gordon) — are both uncalled for and hilarious.

“Still, for all their book smarts, Molly and Amy may actually be remedial when it comes to common sense, scoring far higher in IQ than EQ. That makes for some pretty entertaining situations, whether trying to sneak past Amy’s folks (Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte) or attempting to extort a pizza delivery guy (Michael Patrick O’Brien) for directions to the party. Other familiar adult faces in the cast include Jason Sudeikis as the principal who supplements his income by driving a Lyft and Jessica Williams as the teacher everybody loves who crosses a line with one of her students.

“There’s not a weak link in the ensemble, although none of it would have worked if not for the chemistry between the two leads. Feldstein, who was one of the highlights of Lady Bird, shares older brother Jonah’s gift for physical comedy. Dever’s past credits have been more dramatic in nature (Short Term 12, Detroit), but her more introverted performance offsets Feldstein’s energy nicely. Dever also sells the emotional dimension of two key scenes without her co-star in which her groundbreaking character, who came out her sophomore year, finally musters the courage to flirt.

“Credit Wilde — who quietly practiced on a couple of shorts prior to this — for sustaining both the laughter and the energy throughout, and for pulling off several bold surprises along the way, including a stop-motion sequence that employs Barbie-like figurines to unexpectedly empowering effect. In this year’s class of first-time feature directors, Wilde handily earns the title of Most Likely to Succeed.”

MAY 24 (streaming on Netflix): Joy (dir. Sudabeh Mortezai)Museum of Modern Art’s New Directors/New Films 2019 synopsis: “A staggering work of compassionate realism, Sudabeh Mortezai’s second fiction feature follows Joy (Joy Anwulika Alphonsus), a young Nigerian sex worker living in Vienna, struggling to simultaneously create a better life for her family and pay off her madame. Joy finds herself increasingly implicated in the vicious cycle of human trafficking, and when she is tasked by her madame with mentoring a teenage Nigerian girl, she begins to understand her role within this dehumanizing machine and consider the possibility of a life outside of it. Sensitive yet unsentimental, intelligent and viscerally affecting, Joy is a politically incisive work and a moral act.”

MAY 24: The Proposal (dir. Jill Magid)IFC Center synopsis:Known as ‘the artist among architects,’ Luis Barragán is among the world’s most celebrated architects of the 20th century. Upon his death in 1988, much of his work was locked away in a Swiss bunker, hidden from the world’s view. In an attempt to resurrect Barragán’s life and art, boundary redefining artist Jill Magid creates a daring proposition that becomes a fascinating artwork in itself – a high-wire act of negotiation that explores how far an artist will go to democratize access to art.

MAY 24 (in theaters), MAY 28 (airing on HBO at 8:00 PM): Running with Beto (dir. David Modigliani) (DPs: Ellie Ann Fenton and Kelly West)HBO synopsis: “David Modigliani’s behind-the-scenes documentary Running with Beto follows Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke’s rise from virtual unknown to national political sensation. Modigliani embedded with the O’Rourke campaign for a year as O’Rourke staged a bold, grassroots attempt to unseat Ted Cruz and represent Texas in the U.S. Senate. The film draws on intimate access to O’Rourke, his tight-knit family and his team of political newcomers, who champion a new way of getting to know a candidate — one Texas county at a time.

“As a Democrat in the historically Republican stronghold of Texas, the El Paso native’s journey was unique, as he traveled to all 254 counties in Texas, using social media in unconventional ways to bring his message to the masses and refusing to accept PAC money or corporate contributions along the way. The result was the best-funded grassroots campaign in U.S. Senate history.

Running with Beto presents O’Rourke in a way that he has never been seen before. The film gives viewers unprecedented access into the personal and political toll that running for office can take on a candidate and a family, capturing revealing moments with his wife and three young kids throughout the grueling journey.

“The film offers an inside look at his unorthodox staff and a number of passionate, diverse supporters helping to spread a new message in Texas. Revealing the challenges of the campaign trail, Running with Beto documents Beto’s battles with an onslaught of negative advertising, the inevitable strain on his family, and the pressure of delivering for those he inspires.”

MAY 24 (WASHINGTON, D.C.), MAY 31 (NYC), JUNE 7 (LA & SAN FRANCISCO), JUNE 21 (CHICAGO): The Spy Behind Home Plate (dir. Aviva Kempner)Synopsis from the film’s offficial website: “As Spring Training begins so does the countdown to Opening Day for the 2019 Major League Baseball season and the release of The Spy Behind Home Plate, the newest film about an unknown Jewish hero from award-winning documentary filmmaker Aviva Kempner. The Spy Behind Home Plate, set for national release on Friday, May 24, is the first feature-length documentary about Moe Berg, the enigmatic and brilliant baseball player who turned spy for the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II. The film will play film festivals and theaters across the U.S. and internationally.

“Berg not only played for the last Washington Senators team to play in a World Series (1933), but he also trained with the OSS not far from the D.C. team’s home, Griffith Stadium. The Spy Behind Home Plate features rare historical footage as well as revealing interviews with an All-Star roster of celebrities and other individuals from the worlds of sports, spycraft and history. Interviewees include Berg’s relatives, fellow baseball players, biographer Nicholas Dawidoff, authors David Ignatius and Thomas Powers, film professor Dr. Annette Insdorf, playwright Michael Frayn, sports commentator Larry Merchant, sports columnist Ira Berkow, OSS Society president Charles Pinck, Los Angeles Angels manager Brad Ausmus, U.S. Senator Ed Markey and baseball executives Jerry Reinsdorf and Bud Selig.

“Kempner, who produced, wrote and directed the film, describes it by saying, ‘Moe Berg is finally achieving the recognition he so deserves as a World War II hero. This full-length feature documentary explores the broader landscape of his immigrant Jewish upbringing, why he was called the brainiest man in baseball, and his many courageous OSS missions geared towards preventing the Nazis from developing the atomic bomb. Berg is the American hero we all need to know more about!'”

MAY 28 (VOD): Zoo (dir. Antonio Tublen) (DP: Anna Patarakina)Cleveland International Film Festival synopsis: “The zombie apocalypse couldn’t have come at a worse time for John (Ed Speleers) and Karen (Zoë Tapper). Just as Karen is about to ask John for a divorce, all hell breaks loose. Not only are there flesh-eating zombies wandering the streets, but the unhappy couple is now stuck at home indefinitely while they wait to be rescued… and Karen forgot to go grocery shopping. But having all this time together gives the couple an opportunity to finally talk things out. And as the challenges before them become greater, this duo will prove to be a pretty good team. While the outside world continues to spiral out of control, John and Karen rekindle their romance as they stock up on weapons and supplies, and train to fight the undead. If they can survive it, the end of the world might be just what John and Karen need to fix their marriage. A highly entertaining hybrid of genres, Zoo is a romantic love story, quirky comedy, and gory horror movie all in one.”

MAY 31 (streaming on Netflix): Always Be My Maybe (dir. Nahnatchka Khan)Variety synopsis by Dave McNary: “Ali Wong and Randall Park star in the feature as childhood sweethearts who have a falling out and don’t speak for 15 years. They reconnect as adults when Wong’s character — a celebrity chef opening a restaurant in San Francisco — runs into Park’s character, a happily struggling musician still living at home working for his dad. The old sparks are still there, but can they adapt to each other’s world?

“Additional cast members include Keanu Reeves, Daniel Dae Kim, Karan Soni, Charlyne Yi, Michelle Buteau, Vivian Bang, James Saito, Lyrics Born, and Susan Park. Nahnatchka Khan, who worked with Wong and Park on ‘Fresh Off the Boat,’ is directing the feature from a script by Wong, Park, and Michael Golamco.”

MAY 31: Ma (dir. Tate Taylor) (DP: Christina Voros)Synopsis from the film’s official website: “Everybody’s welcome at Ma’s. But good luck getting home safe. Oscar® winner Octavia Spencer stars as Sue Ann, a loner who keeps to herself in her quiet Ohio town. One day, she is asked by Maggie, a new teenager in town (Diana Silvers, Glass), to buy some booze for her and her friends, and Sue Ann sees the chance to make some unsuspecting, if younger, friends of her own.

“She offers the kids the chance to avoid drinking and driving by hanging out in the basement of her home. But there are some house rules: One of the kids has to stay sober. Don’t curse. Never go upstairs. And call her ‘Ma.’ But as Ma’s hospitality starts to curdle into obsession, what began as a teenage dream turns into a terrorizing nightmare, and Ma’s place goes from the best place in town to the worst place on earth.

Ma also stars Juliette Lewis (August: Osage County) as Maggie’s mom, Luke Evans (Beauty and the Beast) as a local dad, Missi Pyle (Gone Girl) as his girlfriend, and McKaley Miller (TV’s Hart of Dixie’), Corey Fogelmanis (TV’s ‘Girl Meets World’), Gianni Paolo (TV’s ‘Power’) and Dante Brown (‘Lethal Weapon’ TV series) as Maggie’s friends. From Tate Taylor, the acclaimed director of The Help and Get On Up, and blockbuster producer Jason Blum (Get Out, Halloween, The Purge series) comes a thriller anchored by a daring and unexpected performance from Spencer, one of the most powerful actors of her generation.”

MAY 31: Mouthpiece (dir. Patricia Rozema) (DP: Catherine Lutes)Cinema from the Spectrum’s Toronto International Film Festival review by Jaime Rebanal: “Patricia Rozema has always been a rather underrated voice in Canadian cinema. When talking about Mouthpiece, it may not be easy to describe this sort of experiment from the get go, but it’s also something so admirable from the way in which it breaks down the psychology of a woman – manifesting from the idea that there’s more going on inside the mind of a single person, so much so it splits them into two. But in these fragments that Rozema makes us aware of on the screen, we also see another understanding of such perspectives that encourages people to see the world through another set of eyes. And through that lens, Rozema’s approach also feels incredibly empathetic, which also makes Mouthpiece resonate all the more. For as slight as its scope may be, you already feel there’s an incredible reach present in Mouthpiece that presents something special on the inside – because sometimes the greatest impact can come forward from an act of understanding.

“Based on the play written by the film’s two lead actresses, Mouthpiece tells the story of the aspiring writer Cassandra – as she tries to come to terms with the sudden news of her mother’s death as she tries her best to take in the sort of person that she was, while also dealing with an internal conflict. The film shows us two sides of Cassandra, fittingly enough played by Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava, as she tries to find a sense of peace with her own mind while trying to remain truthful about how she felt while her mother was around. But of course, there comes another trial in trying to figure things out for herself – something that the outside world cannot see but only she can see. Through viewing a story like such through this lens you’re also watching a film all about the building blocks of what makes any human being the sort of person they are, but there’s a certain sympathy that both sides of the same person can elicit which opens your eyes to something new.

“With the concept of two different sides of the same person being shown on the screen you would already think about a competition for which side feels more rational but in this instance you see confusion manifesting over one’s soul. In the two sides of Cassandra that we’re seeing, that confusion already feels best represented in the performances of both Nostbakken and Sadava – playing ‘short’ and ‘tall’ Cassandra. With the two having written the script upon which the film was based, you still find that the stage roots of this story are present but there’s also a great deal to admire about what the two of them can elicit to create one concrete character trying to figure everything out. It’s intriguing enough watching how both sides interact with their own environments but there’s a new depth that we are made to see on the screen to such a character that only this sort of storytelling can accomplish.

“Although the film’s stage roots make themselves a tad too clear, Patricia Rozema still keeps everything enclosed within her own direction. This isn’t a story that can always hide its own stage roots, but there’s a sense of empathy from Rozema’s direction that makes Cassandra’s confusion feel so much more resonant – because of course trying to write a eulogy for someone that remained so close to yourself through most of life can only shatter you all the more when you seek to stick as close to the truth as possible. Perhaps there’s a limit present to which Rozema can extend this communication to the viewer, because of the extent to which it feels enclosed through the eyes of Cassandra, limiting the background interaction she has – only stoic figures being the most we see there.

Mouthpiece remains small, but the way in which it defines its environment through Cassandra’s confusion encourages one to look at life through a different set of eyes. Perhaps that’s something that can already be repeated about the very best of cinema, but with Mouthpiece showing its own roots having originated from a stage play, there’s another power that Rozema amplifies from every moment that we spend observing how Cassandra tries to come to terms with her own crumbling world. But even in the moments where it stumbles, it’s never not a fascinating watch – because of course trying to find peace amidst all of this can only mean a messy journey is going through.”

MAY 31: Renegade Dreamers (dir. Karen Kramer)Cinema Village synopsis:Renegade Dreamers is a window into the New York protest poets and folk singers of today who use their art for social change, interwoven with a look back at the Beat poets and radical protest singers of the legendary Greenwich Village coffeehouse scene of the ‘60s that started it all.”

MAY 31: Too Late to Die Young (dir. Dominga Sotomayor)Film Society of Lincoln Center synopsis: “The year 1990 was when Chile transitioned to democracy, but all of that seems a world away for 16-year-old Sofia, who lives far off the grid in a mountain enclave of artists and bohemians. Too Late to Die Young takes place during the hot, languorous days between Christmas and New Year’s Day, when the troubling realities of the adult world—and the elemental forces of nature—begin to intrude on her teenage idyll. Shot in dreamily diaphanous, sun-splashed images and set to period-perfect pop, the second feature from one of Latin American cinema’s most artful and distinctive voices is at once nostalgic and piercing, a portrait of a young woman—and a country—on the cusp of exhilarating and terrifying change.”

Three Reviews: The American Friend + Transit + No Fear, No Die

The American Friend (1977, dir. Wim Wenders)

Last month I attended a screening of The American Friend held at the Museum of the Moving Image, played in tribute to the brilliant Swiss actor Bruno Ganz, who passed away in February. I am a fan of Ganz from way back, having first seen his peerless performance in Wings of Desire on TCM thirteen years ago (I remember distinctly that I was soon to graduate from junior high at the time; I felt as though I were on the precipice of exciting changes in my life). As a devotee of Ganz and Wenders, having seen many titles from both men’s filmographies, it was especially gratifying to see this unique crime drama on the silver screen.

In this adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith novel Ripley’s Game, Ganz portrays Jonathan Zimmermann, an expert art restorer and picture framer in Hamburg, Germany who has been told that he has terminal leukemia. Worried as to how his wife Marianne (Lisa Kreuzer) and son Daniel (Andreas Dedecke) will fare when he is gone, when an opportunity comes along to earn a fortune from mysterious businessman Raoul Minot (Gérard Blain) by acting as a hitman and killing a couple of men, Jonathan reluctantly agrees to the job. Making matters even more complicated, Jonathan is tangled up in shady transactions with Tom Ripley (Dennis Hopper), an American art dealer who traffics in forged works. Eventually, Jonathan’s associations with Minot and Ripley collide in perilous situations, including a pair of murders on a train and a climactic shootout at Ripley’s decrepit mansion.

One could describe Bruno Ganz and Dennis Hopper as the stars of the film, but just as vivid is the cinematography by the late, great Robby Müller, who had already worked with Wim Wenders on a number of previous films and went on to lens many classics/cult classics by Alex Cox (Repo Man), more by Wenders (Paris, Texas and Until the End of the World), William Friedkin (To Live and Die in L.A.), Jim Jarmusch (Down by Law, Mystery Train, Dead Man and Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai), Andrzej Wajda (Korczak), Lars von Trier (Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark) and Sally Potter (The Tango Lesson). I mention all of these directors to highlight how respected Robby Müller was, truly a master of his craft. His technical prowess is evident throughout The American Friend, as in the famous shot of Jonathan trying to match up the edges of a painting’s frame, the incorporation of neon green lighting in shots of Ripley playing billiards in his German countryside home (here and here) and the stunning shot of clouds reflecting in a boardwalk as two vehicles race each other to a beach in the final scenes.

Story-wise, The American Friend’s occasionally confusing plot does not measure up to the all-time best cinematic version of a Patricia Highsmith thriller, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1951 take on Strangers on a Train. Moreover, The American Friend is a little too long, clocking in at 125 minutes. Despite these issues, Wenders’ film establishes a compelling mood for its viewers. And obviously there is a strong draw for cinephiles thanks to his quirky casting of many of the smaller roles, using celebrated directors, actors and even a singer. Appearances include Nicholas Ray (sporting his late-in-life eyepatch), Samuel Fuller (chomping on a cigar, of course), Peter Lilienthal, Daniel Schmid, Sandy Whitelaw, Jean Eustache, Lou Castel, David Blue and Rudolf Schündler. The American Friend is a meditation on the collaborative nature of art – both paintings in the film and, for Wenders, the creation of the film itself – and his use of cult favorite director Nicholas Ray is a tribute to Jean-Luc Godard’s assertion that “le cinéma, c’est Nicholas Ray.”

Transit (2018/2019, dir. Christian Petzold)

Rotten Tomatoes can’t be right all the time. Transit, the latest drama by German filmmaker Christian Petzold and currently the recipient of a 96% Fresh rating on the aforementioned website, was a massive disappointment when I caught an afternoon screening at Lincoln Center recently. Starring Franz Rogowski, whose resemblance to Joaquin Phoenix has been noted by many critics, Petzold’s film (an adaptation of a 1944 novel by Anna Seghers) was designed for our current political climate, yet it never gives the audience the benefit of being able to think for itself.

The Seghers novel follows the tale of refugees trying to escape Europe during World War II, but in recreating this narrative, Petzold made the decision to film it in modern-day settings with clothing, cars and everything else typical of the year 2018. This aesthetic choice is meant to underscore the sad timeliness of Seghers’ story, observing the threat of fascism now as well as then, but one can never entirely get over the not-quite-this, not-quite-that flimsiness of Petzold’s storytelling trying to exist in two time periods simultaneously.

At its core, Transit relates most strongly to the concepts of identity and memory made malleable by circumstance. Rogowski’s Georg, who flees Germany for the sunny port of Marseille, France, assumes the identity of a writer to whom he was supposed to deliver some personal letters, having discovered that the fellow committed suicide only after arriving in France. Posing as the distinguished author, Georg locates the man’s wife, Marie (Paula Beer), who has no idea that her husband has killed himself. The couple fall for one another despite their unusual predicament, with each trying to figure out the other’s plans for obtaining transit visas for Mexico.

Marie and other supporting characters flit in and out of Georg’s daily existence, intended to be important yet never making the requisite emotional connections needed for viewers to care about the outcomes of their subplots. This issue has nothing to do with acting, however; it is due in large part to Petzold’s overuse of narration. He never gives either Georg or the audience a moment to rest. Yes, this is deliberate since our protagonist is a man on the run and therefore Petzold wants to highlight the claustrophobic nature of his stop in Marseille, but it is impossible for anyone watching the film to reach a conclusion about a character’s psychological state when, as soon as the dialogue pauses in a scene, the narrator jumps in to explain what emotion is being depicted and what thoughts are informing a character’s mindset. Even worse, sometimes the voiceover redundantly describes actions we are already seeing unfold unscreen, e.g., “The neighbors stood in the doorway, staring.”

Hans Fromm’s cinematography is often visually appealing, although Petzold’s drab palette interferes with it. At the film’s denouement – a truly memorable last shot – I was glad to be rid of these characters, which is the surest sign of a film’s failure. A viewer should always be intrigued by the question of what might come next. As soon as the credits started, the inclusion of an upbeat rock song felt like one last slap in the face, a suggestion that maybe nothing that had occurred over the past hour and forty minutes should have been taken seriously.

No Fear, No Die (1990, dir. Claire Denis)

Before last Monday night, I had never seen a film directed by one of France’s leading auteurs for the past three decades, Claire Denis. Fortunately, I was able to make time for a screening that was part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s retrospective, “Strange Desire: The Films of Claire Denis.” Hailed as the most complete collection of her work ever to be shown in the United States, No Fear, No Die was a real coup since the film has never been available on Region 1 DVD and I’m not sure how many times, if ever, it has been shown since its New York theatrical run in the summer of 1992.

Two of France’s finest actors, Isaach De Bankolé and Alex Descas, play Dah and Jocelyn, black immigrants – the former from Benin, the latter from the West Indies – who are forced to make ends meet by training roosters for cockfighting in the back room of a shabby restaurants run by a middle-aged white gangster, Pierre Ardennes (Jean-Claude Brialy). Very neo-noir meets Frantz Fanon: the two protagonists struggle against the racial and economic constraints of their situation, including tangling with a blonde femme fatale in the form of Pierre’s alluring wife, Toni (Wings of Desire’s Solveig Dommartin), and more nastiness from Pierre’s son, Michel (Christopher Buchholz), who is having an affair with his stepmom behind his father’s back. Dah and Jocelyn want to last in the racket just long enough to pay off their debts before moving onto the next job, but Jocelyn can’t relinquish his childhood memories of Martinique, where Pierre knew his mother. The scheme unravels for everyone.

I have read that the films of Claire Denis tend to be focused far more on atmosphere than on plot, but I found plenty of both in this drama. The cinematography by Pascal Marti, the jazzy score by Abdullah Ibrahim and the eclectic soundtrack – the best cut being Bob Marley’s “Buffalo Soldier” – perfectly complement the story’s tensions. I can’t wait to try another Claire Denis film as soon as possible, as well as more films featuring Alex Descas, whose performance in No Fear, No Die is riveting and heartbreaking.

Women-Directed/Photographed Films Coming to Theaters: April 2019

Actress Sheila Munyiva and director/screenwriter Wanuri Kahiu on the set of Rafiki, 2017. (Photo: AwardsWatch)

Here are thirty-two new movies due to be released in theaters or via other viewing platforms this April, all of which have been directed and/or photographed by women. These titles are sure to intrigue cinephiles and also provoke meaningful discussions on the film world, as well as the world in general.

tumblr_pph6hildzu1s5o8nro1_1280

APRIL 5 (NYC), APRIL 19 (LA): Blowin’ Up (dir. Stephanie Wang-Breal)The Village Voice’s Tribeca Film Festival review by Jason Bailey: “‘It’s called blowin’ up when you leave a pimp,’ explains former sex worker Kandie, and it’s easier said than done: ‘You can’t just walk away. There is no walking away.’ This insightful and informative documentary from director Stephanie Wang-Breal intertwines two strands: women like Kandie, telling their simple yet devastating stories, intercut with fly-on-the-wall footage of the human trafficking intervention court in Queens, where sex workers are brought — not to be charged and sentenced, but to receive help and forgiveness. Wang-Breal exhibits a Wiseman-esque institutional curiosity, fascinated by the process of this court and the people who spend their days there. She’s also interested in the exploitation of these young women (all of them Asian American or African American) and in the question of why police so often opt for quick arrests of workers, rather than an actual investigation of their exploiters. The characters are riveting and the photography is casually stylish, but the real highlight is the urgency of the work Wang-Breal captures.”

tumblr_pph6k6njas1s5o8nro1_1280

APRIL 5: Catching Sight of Thelma & Louise (dir. Jennifer Townsend)Cinema Village synopsis: “Powerful, bold, and authentic, Catching Sight of Thelma & Louise captures the truth of women’s experience in the world. It revisits the journey of Thelma & Louise through the lens of viewers who saw that iconic film in 1991 and shared intimate, personal, stories at that time.

“The same women and men were tracked down 25 years later. What has changed in their responses to the film over time? What has changed in the way women are treated by the world?”

tumblr_pph6qmcluz1s5o8nro1_1280

APRIL 5 (in theaters & on VOD): Division 19 (dir. S.A. Halewood)Synopsis from the film’s official website:Division 19 is set in a future where the burgeoning need for social control has led to mass-criminalization. With jails overflowing, Head of Central Control Lyndon (Linus Roache) has brought in a data-warehousing specialist Neilsen (Alison Doody) who has turned the jails into online portals allowing citizens to monitor felons, voting on what they eat, wear, read, watch and when they fight.

“By far the most popular and downloaded felon is Hardin Jones unknowingly utilized 24/7 to sell everything from jeans to beans. When Jones escapes, he wants just one thing: His anonymity. But a group of crypto-anarchists who have taken on the State need his influence to help their cause. Hardin isn’t interested. He just wants off the radar. Until he finds out Nelsen is planning on rolling Panopticon TV out to a whole new town. And the first resident of this new experiment town, will be Hardin’s brother, Nash (Will Rothhaar). Hardin knows his only option is to enter Division 19 and risk recapture in order to save his brother from the kind of scrutinized existence he barely survived himself.”

tumblr_pph6td9taz1s5o8nro1_1280

APRIL 5 (on digital & on VOD): My Days of Mercy (dir. Tali Shalom-Ezer)Variety’s Toronto International Film Festival review by Dennis Harvey: “A lesbian romance stretching across bitterly divided death-penalty political lines might sound like a recipe for case-pleading dramatic contrivance, but it’s handled with plausible restraint and delicacy in My Days of Mercy, Israeli director Tali Shalom-Ezer’s first U.S. feature.

“Her acclaimed prior 2015 Princess was a disturbingly intimate portrait of unconventional domesticity edging toward quasi-incestuous abuse. It showed high promise, but there’s still a sense of surprise in how well Shalom-Ezer navigates the very different focus and milieu of Joe Barton’s astute screenplay here. Produced as a vehicle for co-starring friends Ellen Page and Kate Mara, Mercy serves them both well, with critical support likely to help the film find an audience despite its challenging themes.

“The Moro family are first glimpsed on what appears to be a vacation, but in fact is something very different: driving their ancient RV to yet another vigil amongst death-penalty foes (and advocates) outside a prison where another convict is about to be executed. Maternal eldest sibling Martha (Amy Seimetz) is the literal and figurative driving force behind these road trips, with 22-year-old Lucy (Ellen Page) a more ambivalent participant, while grade-school-aged brother Ben (Charlie Shotwell) is too young to have much opinion one way or the other. It takes a while for us to suss out their mutual dynamics, not to mention what got them here — the longtime Death Row residency of their father Simon (Elias Koteas), who was found guilty of murdering their mother eight years ago but maintains his innocence.

“There’s an uneasy co-existence at such events between the ‘enemy’ camps, with little interaction if little overt hostility. So it seems like an invisible line-crossing when nonconformist Lucy finds herself making friends with cheerleader-ish Mercy (Mara), who’s on the other side: Her father has agitated for the execution of a mentally disabled man who killed his off-duty longtime police partner. The two young women’s fledgling relationship continues later via online contact between their respective Ohio and Illinois homes, then jumps from flirtation to romance when Lucy commandeers the RV to rendezvous at another gathering.

“But there remains something furtive and dangerous about their connection. Shalom-Ezer limns several fairly explicit sex scenes with the tension of possibly getting ‘caught.’ it’s not just that the protagonists are semi-defying their families by seeing one another. Their liaison also reveals how needy small-town outcast Lucy is, while Mercy reveals suspiciously little about her own circumstances. Moreover, the latter is in a position to offer legal advice that might finally exonerate the Moro’s incarcerated dad — or, conversely, might cement his guilt. All these factors, plus the presence of Brian Geraghty as a lawyer who’s become involved with Martha over the long course of Simon’s appeals, exacerbate imbalances in a fragile household that’s been in a kind of suspended animation since one parent died and another ‘went away.’

“Barton finds drama not just in individual characters, but in the variably grieving and/or angry cultures that grow around a hot-button political issue like the death penalty. Wisely, his script defers from stacking the deck in one direction or another, thought the sharply observed dialogue does make room for arguments on both sides. More central, however, are the non-polemical rhythms of Midwestern life, which are captured with assured detail by Shalom-Ezer and her major below-the-line collaborators, notably production designer Maya Sigel.

“Page, in the middle of a very busy year (beyond this premiere and The Cured, TIFF venues are wallpapered with posters for the imminent Flatliners remake), gives one of her best performances in a tailor-made role. Mara is fine as a character whose elusiveness ultimately transcends plot device. Seimetz excels as a woman who’s held it together under duress for so long she may no longer know how to live in a state of non-crisis. Supporting roles are very well cast.”

tumblr_pph6vriktx1s5o8nro1_1280

APRIL 5: PM Narendra Modi (dir. Omung Kumar) (DP: Sunita Radia)AMC Theatres synopsis: “The film showcases Modi’s remarkable courage, wisdom, patience, dedication to his people, his acumen as a political strategist, his leadership that inspired a thousand social changes in Gujarat and later India. It traces his childhood in the 1950s to his meteoric rise in the corridors of politics, as a four-time serving Chief Minister. The film culminates in Modi’s overcoming all the obstacles to create and lead one of the most fascinating and successful election campaigns in world politics in 2013-14.”

tumblr_pph6yromxm1s5o8nro1_1280

APRIL 5: Reinventing Rosalee (dir. Lillian Glass)Cinema Village synopsis: “Rosalee Glass, a former Holocaust survivor taken prisoner to a Siberian gulag during WWII transforms her destiny. In her 80s she begins an acting career, in her 90s wins a Senior beauty pageant and dares to ride Alaskan Sled dogs at 100.”

tumblr_pph73jhaqw1s5o8nro1_1280

APRIL 5 (streaming on Netflix): Unicorn Store (dir. Brie Larson)The Hollywood Reporter’s Toronto International Film Festival review by Sheri Linden: “Fearlessly treading into potential snowflake territory and the perennial American indie theme of Being True to Yourself No Matter How Out of Step With the Mainstream You Are, Brie Larson embraces her inner sparkly child as the star and helmer of Unicorn Store. Beginning with its straight-dealing, truth-in-advertising title, this is a film that takes candy-colored metaphors seriously. But it’s also a deadpan comedy whose droll glance at conformity is heightened by the masterfully off-center contributions of Joan Cusack, Bradley Whitford, Hamish Linklater and Mamoudou Athie.

“Though the screenplay by Samantha McIntyre, whose TV credits include Married and People of Earth, ultimately conforms quite plainly to formula and grows less interesting as it proceeds, there’s a gutsiness to Larson’s headlong leap into material that walks a fine line between risky fantasy and feel-good reassurance. For the most part, she navigates the tonal shifts effectively, but while some pieces of the comic puzzle hit the mark, others — like the titular shop, overseen by a tinsel-adorned Samuel L. Jackson — strain for whimsy. Through it all, though, in Larson’s forthright performance as well as in the movie itself, there’s a percolating intelligence beneath the naïve surface.

“Larson plays Kit, a socially awkward, arts-and-craftsy innocent whose exuberant creations get her tossed out of art school, where minimalism is the inviolable creed. With ace work from production designer Matthew Luem and costume designer Mirren Gordon-Crozier, Larson uses visual schemes to terrific comic effect: Against Kit’s rainbow explosions, there’s the all-black dress code of her disdainful instructors, and then the forlorn earth tones of the parental home where she retreats in disgrace.

“Her parents, nerdy do-gooders who run a program for teens called Emotion Quest, are played by Cusack and Whitford with spot-on fretful cheer. Their gingerly yet intrusive attempts to shake Kit out of her funk are fruitless, but a TV ad does the trick with its promise of Temporary Success — existential joke and the name of the temp agency that lands Kit an office-drone gig at a PR agency.

“The movie puts a mildly distinctive spin on the endlessly fertile subject of the idiocy of office life. Kit’s co-workers include the requisite meanie (Annaleigh Ashford) and, less predictably, a sweetly supportive assistant (Martha Macisaac). Linklater’s leering oddball of a VP, taking an intense interest in Kit and her career advancement, ups the unreality quotient with his bizarre intensity and the lightning speed with which he promotes Kit; in no time at all she’s got her own office and has been tapped to make a presentation for the Mystic Vacuum account (sometimes this PR company seems more like an ad agency).

“Kit may give that presentation her multicolored, glitterific all, but none of this corporate creativity makes her heart sing — especially not after she’s summoned by a mysterious invitation to a place called The Store, and offered the chance to realize a childhood dream by becoming the proud owner of a single-horned mythical beast.

“Marked by a pink neon sign, devoid of merchandise and manned by Jackson’s cartoonish huckster, The Store is a warehouse space with a low-rent Lynchian vibe, occupying a zone somewhere between the id and the ego. If the execution doesn’t quite live up to the concept, that’s probably because the bewigged Salesman, with his unmistakable SLJ-ness, appears liable at any moment to veer into a Capital One spiel. But Kit’s visits there set in motion the suspense factor, such as it is, over the reality of the promised pet.

“To claim her unicorn — a creature who will ‘love you forever’ — Kit has to prove herself worthy by building a proper stable for it, and enlists the help of a seemingly random hardware store employee, Virgil. Played by Athie, who lent a note of gentle mystery to Patti Cake$ and portrayed Grandmaster Flash on the recently canceled series The Get Down, Virgil is a character so offhandedly real that he makes many of the plot’s more canned twists and reversals work. Through Kit’s friendship with him, the story’s concerns with trust, leaps of faith and the importance of creative connection find their most persuasive expression.

“Larson, who first encountered McIntyre’s screenplay as an auditioning actor (she didn’t get the part; the production never got off the ground), effectively draws out the story’s comic oddities and poignant undercurrents. Brett Pawlak’s fuss-free camerawork and Alex Greenwald’s score, with its touches of melancholy carnival jangle, are in sync with the director’s straightforward approach. But as the movie proceeds, a lot of the observational satire, wonderfully precise in the early going, gets stuck in neutral, the jabs not landing. As punchlines, the kale and quinoa of Kit’s health-conscious parents are as stale as last year’s groceries.

“In Mom and Dad’s therapy-speak, though, and their expectation that a group of Emotion Quest campers will ‘sit in your truth,’ McIntyre and Larson tap into territory that’s not only zingier but also more complex and rewarding: fiction as a way into the heart of things. As flat or unwieldy as Unicorn Store can be at times, Larson invests Kit’s love of all things bright, pastel and shiny with an affecting urgency, and ensures that her spirit animal is no gimmick.”

tumblr_pph76htx1k1s5o8nro1_1280

APRIL 5 (in theaters & on VOD): The Wind (dir. Emma Tammi)Nitehawk Cinema synopsis: “A devastating scene sets the stage for a haunting account of demonic terror on the American frontier in the 1800’s. Lizzy (Caitlin Gerard) and Isaac (Ashley Zukerman) welcome a couple, Emma (Julia Goldani Telles) and Gideon (Dylan McTee) from Illinois, who take up residence in a nearby abandoned cabin. Not long after, Emma fears she is being hunted down by an evil spirit who wants her unborn baby and violently succumbs to her mania. This event reawakens Lizzy’s buried memories of her encounters with the demons on the land and when Isaac leaves to accompany Gideon back to Illinois, Lizzy is left alone to wage battle against the evil on the land.

“Emma Tammi’s narrative feature debut makes astoundingly effective use of the American Western frontier. The wide open, barren and desolate wastelands combined with the atmospheric sounds of the elements and unrelenting gusts of wind (or are they whispers from the dead?) create a sense of helplessness unmatched by the claustrophobia of a haunted house and makes a strong case that we need more western horror films in our lives.”

tumblr_pph7b1vloj1s5o8nro1_1280

APRIL 7: Mistresses (dir. Elena Hazanov)AMC Theatres synopsis: “One day three girls – a nurse, a student and an actress – accidentally met in a bar. They found out that all of them just broke up with their boyfriends, who happened to be married. At first they decided to take revenge. But when they reach their goal, the girls have an idea: they would use their wit and skills to help other women and punish their husbands who cheated on them. Because there are thousands of girls just like them.”

tumblr_pph7ogkgnv1s5o8nro1_r1_1280

APRIL 9 (on digital & on VOD): Savage Youth (dir. Michael Curtis Johnson) (DP: Magela Crosignani)Slamdance Film Festival synopsis by Craig Parish: “The lives of six troubled teens in a racially-divided small town take a violent turn over drugs and broken hearts. Based on true events.

“Michael Curtis Johnson’s explosive follow-up feature to 2016’s Hunky Dory is a brutal examination of doomed youth exiled to society’s edge. Laced with expressive tirades turned performance art and tortured moments of intimate despair, this painfully truthful portrait of scorched America devours itself fully, without looking back.”

tumblr_pph7wjxhcv1s5o8nro1_1280

APRIL 12: After (dir. Jenny Gage)Voltage Pictures synopsis: “Based on the internationally best-selling novel by Anna Todd and read over 1.6 billion times, After is the newest YA phenomenon in the vein of Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey.

“A dedicated student, dutiful daughter, and loyal girlfriend to her high school sweetheart, Tessa Young (Josephine Langford) enters her first year of college with grand ambitions for her future. She lives a controlled life with a strong sense of who she is, and who she ought to be.

“Her guarded world opens up when she meets the dark and mysterious Hardin Scott (Hero Fiennes Tiffin). With his tousled brown hair, cocky British accent, and plentiful tattoos, Hardin is the wild, brooding rebel that Tessa would typically shun. And she does – until she finds herself alone with him late one night at the lake, drawn by his magnetic energy…

“As Tessa experiences her first taste of freedom, she embarks on a journey of self-discovery and sexual awakening that will change her forever. Finding her voice and an inner passion she never knew she had, Tessa realizes there will always be the life she had before Hardin, and then everything…AFTER.

tumblr_pph7yizggp1s5o8nro1_r1_1280

APRIL 12: Girls of the Sun (dir. Eva Husson)Landmark Theatres synopsis: “Somewhere in Kurdistan, Bahar (Golshifteh Farahani, Paterson, About Elly), commander of the ‘Girls of the Sun’ battalion, is preparing to liberate her hometown from the hands of extremists, hoping to find her son who is held hostage. A French journalist, Mathilde (Emmanuelle Bercot, My King, Polisse), comes to cover the attack and bear witness to the story of these exceptional warriors. Since their lives have been turned upside down, the Girls of the Sun find themselves fighting for women, life and liberty. Inspired by a true story, this suspenseful drama is written and directed by Eva Husson.”

tumblr_pph98owd761s5o8nro1_1280

APRIL 12: High Life (dir. Claire Denis)The Guardian’s Toronto International Film Festival review by Charles Bramesco: “In 2001, the French film-maker Claire Denis performed a full vivisection of the vampire film with Trouble Every Day, a philosophical, ambiguous take on the usual tropes of horror. She rendered the building blocks of an often schematic genre frightening and alien through novel formal techniques. Instead of lurking monsters jumping out to spook the audience, the camera often sneaked up on its subjects, while her narrative resisted convention at every turn in pursuit of loftier ideas about existence and transformation. The average Dracula fan might have thought they had wandered into a parallel dimension.

“Seventeen years and six features later, and everything old is new again. Denis has turned her sights on sci-fi, reconfiguring its familiar components to create a startlingly fresh engagement with the question of what it means to be human. It’s the genre’s most done-to-death topic, yet she brings something truly original to the conversation. Her answer, as the spectacular High Life tells it, has a lot to do with achieving orgasm.

“Bodily functions abound in this captivating journey through the void of space. Lactation, ejaculation and gestation clue the viewer in on what Denis might be getting at through an elliptical story, in which an eclectic cast play a collection of death-row inmates forced to cohabitate on a self-sustaining station in orbit. Their assignment – to explore black holes in the hopes of harvesting their rotational energy for the citizens of Earth – is sold to them as an opportunity for heroism. However, it’s not long before they realise that they’re all but guaranteed to perish in the process. Mission drift sets in, and the on-board doctor, Dibs (Juliette Binoche in a French braid of Rapunzelian proportions), starts conducting experiments of her own with captives Monte (Robert Pattinson) and Boyse (Mia Goth).

“This film’s fleet 110 minutes contain too many shocks and amazements to be spelled out here. Suffice it to say that Denis proposes the erotic drive as the fuel to use when there’s nothing left to live for. In the negative zone beyond the stratosphere, depicted as a physical glitch humankind was never meant to explore, severe isolation returns the brain to its basest biological capacity. Every day is a battle to stay sane (less apparent among Denis’ feats here is that she has casually constructed a remorselessly honest look into the psychological ramifications of incarceration), so extreme, bizarre measures must sometimes be called on. With an achievement of this calibre it’s hard to resist hyperbole: High Life contains the single greatest one-person sex scene in the history of cinema.

“The brilliance of Denis’ films, with their arresting imagery, tends to creep up on viewers hours or even days later – the film critic Manny Farber dubbed this class of work ‘termite art.’ But her astral epic also offers a more immediate appeal – situated, as it is, in the iconic corridors of Alien and the like. Using faintly retro technological interfaces and sleek production design she smuggles in her musings on memory and being. If Tarkovsky got away with it in Stalker, then why not her? She courts the comparison early on, reproducing a noted shot of a dog in a river, and then amply earns it by establishing a fluid slipstream between Monte’s past, present, and future. Where does Denis get off, making a film so densely theoretical and superficially satisfying? Though, on second thought, High Life is a thesis on exactly where (and how) Denis gets off.

“It’s always risky when an overseas master tries their hand in English language with Hollywood actors. Denis surmounts the challenge with exemplary finesse, holding on to her intelligence and the skill with which she executes it, while playing to the flashier pleasures of big-budget American product. No matter where she goes – to the furthest reaches of the known universe, or the fringe boundaries of semi-reputable genres – a Claire Denis film is a Claire Denis film. Accept no substitutes.”

tumblr_pph944wvdg1s5o8nro1_1280

APRIL 12: Little (dir. Tina Gordon Chism)Universal Pictures synopsis:Girls Trip’s Regina Hall and ‘Black-ish’s’ Marsai Martin both star as Jordan Sanders — Hall as the take-no-prisoners tech mogul adult version of Jordan and Martin as the 13-year-old version of her who wakes up in her adult self’s penthouse just before a do-or-die presentation.

“‘Insecure’s’ Issa Rae plays Jordan’s long-suffering assistant April, the only one in on the secret that her daily tormentor is now trapped in an awkward tween body just as everything is on the line. Little is an irreverent new comedy about the price of success, the power of sisterhood and having a second chance to grow up — and glow up — right.

“Will Packer, blockbuster producer of Girls Trip, the Ride Along franchise, and ten movies that have opened No. 1 at the U.S. box office, including Night School, No Good Deed and Think Like a Man, brings an all-new perspective to the body-swap comedy.

Little is directed by Tina Gordon (writer, Drumline) with a story by Tracy Oliver (Girls Trip) and a screenplay by Oliver and Gordon, based on an idea by teen actress Martin. The film is produced by Packer and his producing partner James Lopez and by Kenya Barris (Girls Trip, ‘Black-ish’), and is executive produced by Preston Holmes (Night School), Hall, Marsai Martin and Josh Martin.”

tumblr_pph18su8941s5o8nro1_r1_1280

APRIL 12: The Most Dangerous Year (dir. Vlada Knowlton) (DP: Lulu Gargiulo)City Cinemas Village East Cinema synopsis: “As a dark wave of anti-transgender ‘bathroom bills’ began sweeping across the nation, The Human Rights Campaign called 2016 the most dangerous year ever for transgender Americans. Filmmaker Vlada Knowlton captured the ensuing civil rights battle from the perspective of a group of embattled parents – including herself and her husband, parents of a young trans girl — fighting to protect their children from discriminatory laws in their home state. While Knowlton passionately follows the story of anti-transgender legislation, the heart of the film lies in the stories of the families who accept and support their kids for exactly who they are.”

tumblr_pph8y25ygt1s5o8nro1_1280

APRIL 12: Teen Spirit (dir. Max Minghella) (DP: Autumn Durald)Bleecker Street Media synopsis: “Violet (Elle Fanning) is a shy teenager who dreams of escaping her small town and pursuing her passion to sing. With the help of an unlikely mentor, she enters a local singing competition that will test her integrity, talent and ambition. Driven by a pop-fueled soundtrack, Teen Spirit is a visceral and stylish spin on the Cinderella story. The film also stars Rebecca Hall, Zlatko Buric, and Agnieszka Grochowska.”

tumblr_ppgtihiux01s5o8nro1_1280

APRIL 12 – APRIL 18 (U.S. premiere engagement of a 50th anniversary 2K restoration, screening in the retrospective “Wild Things: The Ferocious Films of Nelly Kaplan” at NYC’s Quad Cinema): A Very Curious Girl (dir. Nelly Kaplan)Quad Cinema synopsis: “Also retitled Dirty Mary, Kaplan’s breakthrough film engages in dark and surreal humor and showcases Bernadette Lafont (The Mother and the Whore et al.) as Marie, a suddenly orphaned young woman who learns to use her village’s hypocrisy to her own advantage—sexually and otherwise. As Kaplan notes, the movie is ‘the story of a modern-day witch who is not burned by inquisitors; it is she who burns them.’ With Michel Constantin (The Inglorious Bastards).”

tumblr_pph8rklorn1s5o8nro1_1280

APRIL 12: Wild Nights with Emily (dir. Madeleine Olnek) (DP: Anna Stypko)IndieWire’s SXSW review by Jude Dry: “Madeleine Olnek’s movies may be an acquired taste, but the woman knows how to write a catchy premise. Her three feature films — all madcap comedies with absurdist leanings — include lesbian aliens looking for love, lesbian hustlers picking up women outside Talbot’s — and now, lesbian Emily Dickinson traipsing across her Amherst lawn after a tryst with her sister-in-law, her petticoats flung about her head. That’s the premise of Wild Nights with Emily, and to say that they just don’t make movies like this anymore would be grossly inaccurate: It’s hard to imagine anyone making this movie other than Olnek.

“Using Dickinson’s letters and poems (with permission from Harvard University Press), Wild Nights with Emily paints a much sunnier portrait of the poet than that of the reclusive spinster terrified of publication. Instead, the film imagines a lively woman forced to hide a lifelong love affair whose work was mostly rejected by a literary establishment that would embrace it after her death.

“Continuing a fruitful post-‘Saturday Night Live’ indie film career (she won an Indie Spirit Award last year for Other People), Molly Shannon is brilliant and warm as the literary icon. The movie begins with a lecture given by Dickinson’s first publisher, Mabel Todd (Amy Seimetz, in a rare comedic turn), who spins the yarn of the reclusive Dickinson with a syrupy grin and pink flat-top hat. Mabel’s narration is a necessary reminder of the Dickinson that the world knows, and its inaccuracy is hilarious when juxtaposed against this vivacious and joyful version, known here simply as Emily.

“Though it is certainly a comedy, Wild Nights with Emily is anchored by a surprisingly touching love story between Emily and her friend from childhood, Susan Gilbert (Susan Ziegler). Their teenage romance develops during 19th century sleepovers that would make 21st century parents blush. (Young Emily and Young Susan are played by Dana Melanie and Sasha Frolova.) Soon, Emily is heartbroken to learn about Susan’s secret engagement to her brother, but softens when Susan explains her plan for them to be together. Sure enough, Susan and Austin (Kevin Seal) build their house right next door to Emily’s, and a lifetime of early morning scurrying across the lawn ensues.

“Olnek takes every opportunity to showcase Emily’s poetry, sprinkled into the film in voiceover and graphic text. We see Emily scribbling lines on the back of a cake recipe that she stows away in her hair, and sending missives across the lawn to her constant champion and reader. The notion that she never sought publication is challenged by a meeting with the editor of the Atlantic Monthly, the bombastic blowhard T.W. Higginson (a note-perfect Brett Gelman), who dashes her hopes by suggesting she title her poems and use more rhyme. Meanwhile, it appears that ‘reclusive’ Emily was really only reclusive around Mabel, and that was because she was having sex with Austin in Emily’s drawing room.

“Olnek’s films are feminist statements on several levels, most significantly in the way that she casts so many compelling women, from romantic leads to character bits. The young actresses Melanie and Frolova are both excellent, and Olnek secured memorable turns for Jackie Monahan and Lisa Haas, stars of the only true lesbian hustler comedy, The Foxy Merkins.

“Shannon keeps her natural zaniness just below the surface as Emily, but brings ever so much mirth to Olnek’s humorously formal 19th century dialogue. An accomplished theater actress and repeat player in Olnek’s films, Ziegler is the perfect match for Shannon, and their chemistry elevates the comedic premise into an undeniably compelling romance. It’s a joy to watch them fall sideways into bed together, tumbling on guests’ coats while hiding from the party downstairs. Their devotion drives home the film’s ultimately political message, and elevates the poignant final image to poetic heights.

Wild Nights with Emily may be Olnek’s most political film to date, one that could forever change the narrative of the world’s most famous woman poet. In her director’s statement, Olnek writes: ‘The idea that she wrote without wanting to be published exonerates the world that prevented her voice from being heard and also plants the idea that for women, it is wrong to desire recognition.’ With that in mind, here’s hoping for many more movies like Wild Nights with Emily—though Olnek is definitely one of a kind.”

tumblr_pph8p6py5c1s5o8nro1_1280

APRIL 17: Breakthrough (dir. Roxann Dawson)20th Century Fox synopsis:Breakthrough is based on the inspirational true story of one mother’s unfaltering love in the face of impossible odds. When Joyce Smith’s (Chrissy Metz) adopted son John (Marcel Ruiz) falls through an icy Missouri lake, all hope seems lost. But as John lies lifeless, Joyce refuses to give up. Her steadfast belief inspires those around her to continue to pray for John’s recovery, even in the face of every case history and scientific prediction. From producer DeVon Franklin (Miracles from Heaven) and adapted for the screen by Grant Nieporte (Seven Pounds) from Joyce Smith’s own book, Breakthrough is an enthralling reminder that faith and love can create a mountain of hope, and sometimes even a miracle.”

tumblr_ppgr9nkssd1s5o8nro1_1280

APRIL 17: Hail Satan? (dir. Penny Lane) (DP: Naiti Gámez)IFC Center synopsis:What is The Satanic Temple? Is it a religion? A cult? Performance? Acclaimed filmmaker Penny Lane (Our Nixon) gains unprecedented access to this enigmatic movement, which has grown to over 100,000 members around the world in just five years. Hail Satan? explores the Temple’s fight for equality, its focus on community, and its devilish sense of humor. In an era when founding principles and institutions can’t be trusted to work on behalf of all people, these progressive Satanic crusaders advocate to save the soul of a nation.

tumblr_ppgrjfwkzx1s5o8nro1_1280

APRIL 19 (LA), APRIL 26 (NYC): Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché (dir. Pamela B. Green)Zeitgeist Films synopsis: “Alice Guy-Blaché was a true pioneer who got into the movie business at the very beginning—in 1894, at the age of 21. Two years later, she was made head of production at Gaumont and started directing films. She and her husband moved to the United States, and she founded her own company, Solax, in 1910—they started in Flushing and moved to a bigger facility in Fort Lee, New Jersey. But by 1919, Guy-Blaché’s career came to an abrupt end, and she and the 1000 films that bore her name were largely forgotten. Pamela B. Green’s energetic film is both a tribute and a detective story, tracing the circumstances by which this extraordinary artist faded from memory and the path toward her reclamation. Narration by Jodie Foster.”

tumblr_pph5jzzyqz1s5o8nro1_1280

APRIL 19: Daddy Issues (dir. Amara Cash)Synopsis from the film’s official website:Maya (Madison Lawlor), a 19-year-old queer pixie, spends her days working on her art and cyberstalkng her insta-crush, the sexually fluid fashion designer, Jasmine (Montana Manning). One night Maya boldly meets Jasmine IRL, there’s an insta-spark and the two begin an inspiring romantic relationship that gives Maya her first taste of true love and Jasmine the inspiration she needs to jump start her career. It’s all gumdrops and fairytales until Maya discovers Jasmine’s in a co-dependent relationship with a neurotic sugar daddy (Andrew Pifko). What started as a dream come true turns into a beautiful nightmare.

tumblr_pph8m5pfxl1s5o8nro1_1280

APRIL 19: Family (dir. Laura Steinel)The Hollywood Reporter’s SXSW review by John DeFore: “A self-improvement-through-childcare comedy exposing the hitherto unknown potential of the Insane Clown Posse to enable young girls’ emotional growth, Laura Steinel’s Family introduces an 11-year-old girl ready to run off and join the Juggalos. Playing the career-minded jerk stuck temporarily with caring for the kid, Taylor Schilling colors within the lines of the Bad Fill-in-the-Blank misbehavior genre, with a performance that is less debauched than self-centered to the point of criminal negligence. Enjoyable despite its familiarity, the pic has commercial appeal well beyond the Faygo-guzzling demographic.

“Schilling’s Kate is her workplace’s requisite pariah — the one who says what she thinks without checking to see who might be standing behind her. Her tactlessness is so extreme she isn’t even welcome at office celebrations (though the call of cake is too strong for her to ignore). She’s the kind of career striver who has not only rejected the notion of starting her own family but has practically deleted siblings from her memory banks as well. When she gets an emergency call from her nearby brother (Eric Edelstein), she has to be reminded where he lives, and she certainly doesn’t remember the name of his pre-teen Maddie (Bryn Vale). But Maddie’s grandmother is dying, and her parents need one day to go move her into hospice; though Kate puts up a fight, she agrees to watch Maddie for the night while they’re away.

“Even the briefest stay away from her tidy apartment life requires suburban compromises Kate is unwilling to make: She can’t bring herself to shut the garage door at the request of the family’s next-door neighbor Jill, the kind of capital-M Mom who has the neighborhood association’s bylaws memorized. (A high-strung Kate McKinnon is ideal here, over-friendly with an undercurrent of I will rip your eyes out.)

“Kate is late to pick Maddie up from ballet, of course, and catches the stout child, in her ballerina garb, practicing kicks in the dojo next door. Sensei Pete (Brian Tyree Henry) has been happy to have her as an unofficial karate student for weeks; over dinner, Maddie explains that her parents are pushing her to be more feminine and fit in at school, where she is bullied.

“This is a topic on which Kate can commiserate without feeling she has made an emotional investment. Asking to see pictures of the girls who torment her, Kate has fun eviscerating them: This one has boobs but will be fat before long; that one has a lazy eye — who the hell are they to mock a chubby nonconformist?! Cautiously questioned by the girl, who admires this confidence but feels nothing of the sort herself, Kate reveals a baseline truth: ‘I hate myself, but I still feel like I’m better than everybody else.’

“When this overnight babysitting gig stretches out to a week, Kate has to juggle watching the kid with her work responsibilities, seeing for the first time what life is like for the colleagues she disdains. Steinel succinctly justifies some of Kate’s antisocial behaviors with scenes at the office: When she invents a ‘family emergency’ to excuse being late for a meeting, the men in the room look sideways at her, as if she might be about to go baby-crazy on them; and an enthusiastic young hire who wants Kate to mentor her (Jessie Ennis) is all too ready to go drinking with clients if Kate needs to meet with Maddie’s teacher at school.

“One of Kate’s neglectful moments leaves Maddie in the company of a kid (Fabrizio Zacharee Guido) who calls himself Baby Joker and loves the Insane Clown Posse. As he tells her about the Juggalos, who have formed an entire society-rejecting lifestyle around the band, Maddie decides she has found her people. Soon she’s putting on scary facepaint and doing tricks with spit.

“Vale has a plainspoken stubbornness that highlights the unreasonableness of the rules Maddie’s expected to live by, making it easy for Schilling to connect the kid’s plight to Kate’s. Their quick but incomplete bond is easier to buy than the adult/kid pairings in some similar films, and Steinel doesn’t push it until a climax set at the infamous Gathering of the Juggalos. There, the film has fun with the subculture’s notoriety in funny if credibility-stretching ways, concluding that, whatever their outward signs of mayhem, ‘once you get past all that, they’re really kind of sweet.’ Mini-interviews with real-life Juggalos over the closing credits cements the film’s obvious message: When the world treats you poorly, Family is wherever you find it.”

tumblr_pno9eyhcm31s5o8nro1_1280

APRIL 19: Fast Color (dir. Julia Hart)RogerEbert.com’s SXSW review by Brian Tallerico: “One of the big stories on the first Saturday of the 2018 SXSW Film Festival was that the biggest theater at the event featured four films in a row that were introduced by their female directors. Uncoincidentally, I was there for all four—having already covered the fourth, Blockers, in a separate review—and it was a rollercoaster of a day in terms of quality, but there was a definite buzz in the spacious, historic Paramount Theater. Most refreshingly, all of the films—even Blockers—felt like the product of confident, empowered voices that had something to say that you might not have heard before. One film in particular reworks arguably the most glutted genre of the modern era into something new, empowering, and original. It’s a remarkable, important piece of work.

“That film is Julia Hart’s stunning Fast Color, a tightwire-act of a film that’s ostensibly a superhero origin story while also feeling like it’s about us mere mortals at the same time. Fast Color isn’t quite post-apocalyptic but it’s near-apocalyptic. Hart’s script (co-written with Jordan Horowitz) imagines a world in which it hasn’t rained in years. We finally did it. We broke the planet. Crops have died. Water is more expensive than lodging. Everything looks broken. In this world, we meet Ruth (the radiant Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a woman on the run. She has bloody marks on her wrists as if she’s been restrained, and she hides from human contact. She checks into a seedy motel in the middle of nowhere and has a terrifying seizure. As she does so, a part of the world that never has earthquakes feels the plates shift.

“It turns out that Ruth comes from a legacy of women who have what could be called superpowers. On the run from people who want to exploit her powers—the authorities/chase aspect of the film reminded me of Midnight Special at times, another emotional sci-fi movie that I love—Ruth makes her way to a home she fled years ago, where we meet her mother Bo (Lorraine Toussaint) and Ruth’s daughter Lila (Saniyya Sidney). We learn that Ruth left when her powers became too dangerous for her stay, keeping the seizures at bay with drugs and booze. And we learn that Bo and Lila have powers too.

“As a parent of three, I can attest that children create a stunning mix of empowerment and abject fear, often in the same moment. As cheesy as it sounds, you can look into your child’s eyes and feel like you can do anything. They will give you the strength to do anything. You can also be stricken with fear that you will do something wrong. That you will misuse this power you have been granted. In a nutshell, this is Ruth’s story—that of the power given her by motherhood and how she runs from it, only to realize how important it is in the end. As Hart pointed out in her Q&A, and the film makes crystal clear, Fast Color is a superhero film about creation and not destruction. Nearly every MCU movie ends with a massive battle that takes hundreds of lives and destroys cities—destruction for arguable salvation. Fast Color imagines a world in which power heals and creates instead, and it’s beautiful to behold.

Fast Color comes from a lineage of masterful films that uses sci-fi to tell relatable, emotional stories, but it also feels remarkably fresh. Much has been written recently about how films like Wonder Woman and Black Panther have redefined the superhero genre and forever changed the landscape. My hope is that enough people see Fast Color to include it in the conversation in the same way.”

tumblr_pph8ggrhm31s5o8nro1_1280

APRIL 19 (NYC/LA), APRIL 23 (on VOD): Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse (dir. Lukas Feigelfeld) (DP: Mariel Baqueiro)BFI London Film Festival synopsis by Michael Blyth: “A haunting meditation on witchcraft and insanity, set in 15th century Austria, which offers a visceral and truly unique horror experience. Young Albrun lives with her mother in an isolated mountain hut. Life is hard enough, but when her mother falls gravely ill, Albrun is left traumatised and alone. 15 years later, Albrun has a child of her own, but with no husband in sight she is ostracised from her small community. As she forms a tentative friendship with a local woman, dark memories and psychotic delusions infiltrate Albrun’s thoughts and the line between fantasy and reality begins to blur. Although reminiscent of acclaimed period chiller The Witch in its heady fusion of mounting paranoia against a pagan backdrop, this hypnotic debut is quite a different beast. More abstract in its storytelling and lyrical in its approach, it owes as much to the cinema of Tarkovsky as it does the horror genre.”

tumblr_ppgvwa71ex1s5o8nro1_1280

APRIL 19: Little Woods (dir. Nia DaCosta)Tribeca Film Festival synopsis by Cara Cusumano: “Ollie (Tessa Thompson) is just getting by in economically depressed Little Woods, a fracking boomtown in North Dakota. She has left her days of illegally running prescription pills over the Canadian border behind her, eyeing a potential new job that would finally break her out of the small town. But when her mother dies, she is thrust back into the life of her estranged sister Deb (Lily James), who is facing her own crisis with an unplanned pregnancy and a deadbeat ex (James Badge Dale). On top of everything, the two find they have only one week to settle the mortgage on their mother’s house or face foreclosure. As both bills and pressure mount, Ollie faces a choice: whether to return to a way of life she thought she’d left behind for just one more score. Writer-director Nia DaCosta’s debut is an emotionally-charged small-town thriller that weaves timely themes of economic downturn and the opioid crisis into its intimate story of two sisters just trying to get by. A lived-in film anchored by an authentically drawn sibling bond, Little Woods speaks to both the big and the small of the working class struggle in rural America.”

tumblr_ppgq5tylzl1s5o8nro1_1280

APRIL 19 (NYC), MAY 3 (LA): Rafiki (dir. Wanuri Kahiu)Film Movement synopsis: “Bursting with the colorful street style & music of Nairobi’s vibrant youth culture, Rafiki is a tender love story between two young women in a country that still criminalizes homosexuality. Kena and Ziki have long been told that ‘good Kenyan girls become good Kenyan wives’ – but they yearn for something more. Despite the political rivalry between their families, the girls encourage each other to pursue their dreams in a conservative society. When love blossoms between them, Kena and Ziki must choose between happiness and safety.”

“Initially banned in Kenya for its positive portrayal of queer romance, Rafiki won a landmark supreme court case chipping away at Kenyan anti-LGBT legislation. Featuring remarkable performances by newcomers Samantha Mugatsia and Sheila Munyiva, Rafiki is a hip tale of first love ‘reminiscent of the early work of Spike Lee’ (Screen Daily) that’s ‘impossible not to celebrate’ (Variety)!”

tumblr_pph8byg2du1s5o8nro1_r1_1280

APRIL 19 (streaming on Netflix): Someone Great (dir. Jennifer Kaytin Robinson) (DP: Autumn Eakin)From a Refinery29 article by Kaitlin Reilly: “Written and directed by Sweet/Vicious creator Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, Someone Great stars Gina Rodriguez and Lakeith Stanfield as a couple dealing with the end of their nine-year relationship. As Rodriguez’s Jenny looks back on the end of an era, and prepares to move for a new job in San Francisco, she recruits her best friends Blair (Brittany Snow) and Erin (DeWanda Wise) for a wild night out in New York City.

“For those who know the LCD Soundsystem track ‘Someone Great’ (about a breakup with, well, someone great) you may think you know where this movie is going. While most romantic comedies (including Netflix’s To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, Set It Up, and The Kissing Booth) are about the couple finding their way back to one another, Someone Great is about Jenny finding herself.

tumblr_pph88k4b3k1s5o8nro1_1280

APRIL 24: Carmine Street Guitars (dir. Ron Mann) (DPs: Becky Parsons and John M. Tran)Film Forum synopsis: “The mystique of the Greenwich Village as a haven for bohemians, artists, and musicians lives on (just steps from Film Forum) at Carmine Street Guitars: Rick Kelly and apprentice Cindy Hulej build handcrafted, one-of-a-kind instruments from wood salvaged from the city’s defunct buildings. (Unfazed 93-year-old mom Dorothy keeps the books and answers the phone.) Nothing looks or sounds like Rick Kelly’s guitars, which is why they’re embraced by Bob Dylan and Patti Smith, among others. A week in the life of the shop features visits from its devoted clientele: Lenny Kaye (Patti Smith Band), Kirk Douglas (The Roots), Eleanor Friedberger, Nels Cline (shopping for Wilco bandmate Jeff Tweedy), jazz guitarists Bill Frisell and Marc Ribot, and filmmaker/composer Jim Jarmusch.”

tumblr_pph84npc7r1s5o8nro1_1280

APRIL 26 (in theaters & on VOD): Body at Brighton Rock (dir. Roxanne Benjamin) (DP: Hannah Getz)Magnolia Pictures synopsis: “Wendy (Karina Fontes), a part-time summer employee at a mountainous state park, takes on a rough trail assignment at the end of the season, trying to prove to her friends that she’s capable enough to do the job. When she takes a wrong turn and ends up deep in the backcountry, she stumbles upon what might be a potential crime scene. Stuck with no communication after losing her radio and with orders to guard the site, Wendy must fight the urge to run and do the harder job of staying put — spending the night deep in the wilderness, facing down her worst fears and proving to everyone – including herself – that she’s made of stronger stuff than they think she is.”

tumblr_ppgubgaodq1s5o8nro1_1280

APRIL 26: Chasing Portraits (dir. Elizabeth Rynecki) (DPs: C. Peter Dutton Jr., Catherine Greenblatt, Slawomir Grunberg, Dave Hynek, Tony Kaplan, Alex Maroney and Don Moran)New York Jewish Film Festival synopsis: “After the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, artist Moshe Rynecki left his collection of more than 800 paintings and sculptures notable for portraying the everyday life of Polish Jews with friends around Warsaw for safekeeping. But after he was killed in Majdanek, the Rynecki family lost track of the vast majority of them, and they were dispersed among collections around the world. Decades later, his great-granddaughter Elizabeth enlists the help of historians, curators, and private collectors to uncover the extraordinary path of Moshe’s collection. Chasing Portraits is a rich and compelling documentary about one woman coming to terms with her family’s legacy and her place within it.”

tumblr_ppgq9engsk1s5o8nro1_1280

APRIL 26: If the Dancer Dances (dir. Maia Wechsler) (DPs: Eric Phillips-Horst, Alex Rappoport, Victoria Sendra and Scott Sinkler)Quad Cinema synopsis: “Choreographer Merce Cunningham profoundly influenced dance through his boldly experimental productions. On the eve of his centennial, several of his former collaborators continue his legacy by producing a new staging of his dramatic 1968 piece RainForest with members of the Stephen Petronio Company, imbuing it with a contemporary freshness. This documentary reveals the intricacies of staging Cunningham’s work and his enduring influence amid the personal stories of those who give their lives to the dance.”

On Surrealism, Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon and Toshio Matsumoto’s Funeral Parade of Roses

 

tumblr_pokv362eds1s5o8nro1_1280

Last month, the Brooklyn Academy of Music screened a pair of films as part of their ongoing series “Beyond the Canon,” intended to start conversations regarding the places that certain features have both in and out of what we consider “mainstream” storytelling. On a double bill with Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game (1992), BAM first showed Funeral Parade of Roses (1969), a unique drama from Japanese director Toshio Matsumoto. The film has the status of a cult classic owing to its central character being a transgender woman (as portrayed by legendary cabaret performer Peter), but the film bears the noticeable influence of avant-garde auteur Maya Deren. Whether deliberate or not, the overlap between Roses and Deren’s landmark short Meshes of the Afternoon (1943) shows the significance of surrealism in twentieth-century cinema.

tumblr_pokvrtpzjr1s5o8nro1_1280

Though Maya Deren died eight years before the theatrical release of Funeral Parade of Roses, I suspect that she would have been totally enthralled by Toshio Matsumoto’s bold, experimental narrative. In both films, a female protagonist lives through events (and relives the memories of events) in a relentless loop. Although Roses has somewhat more structure in the sense that the main character, Eddie, acts and reacts to present-day experiences, her reminiscences of the formative moments that shaped her are observed in a fractured jumble of images. As in Meshes, time is depicted as a fluid concept rather than a chronologically organized record, those remnants of the past resurfacing in Eddie’s mind in juxtaposition with present-tense situations.

tumblr_pokvjhnzbu1s5o8nro1_1280

The fragility of time in Meshes and Roses lends itself to surreal, dreamlike imagery. In the former, the viewer never knows for sure which of the scenarios being illustrated are real or imagined, while in the latter, memories reemerge in flashbacks that might be described as Eddie’s daydreams or, alternately, as the camera’s own vault of recollection. Matsumoto plays with notions of fiction and nonfiction, effortlessly sliding from the performed demonstrations of his written characters to documentary vignettes of the actors and other interview subjects in talking head segments, and then back to dramatizations again.

tumblr_pokunpiytq1s5o8nro1_1280

Murder also connects the two stories, putting violence at the forefront of each protagonist’s personal journey by making her the facilitator of carnage. Although bloody death is the end for both Roses’ Eddie and Meshes’ “Woman,” they similarly wield sharp blades as a means to commit defiant acts. In Meshes, the Woman brandishes a butcher knife to protect herself against a male intruder in her house, but she ends up dead herself; in Roses, Eddie’s final action at the conclusion of a rebellious life is to stab her own eyes out, a nod to the Electra complex given her earlier killing of her mother and a later affair with a man who is revealed as her long-lost father.

tumblr_pokv7vt6gb1s5o8nro1_1280

These protagonists (and actors), raised in two markedly different eras and cultures, explore the possibilities and limitations of depicting female-identified bodies. Deren exerted power over her own image by directing herself (in partnership with co-director and then-husband Alexander Hammid), investigating the boundaries between portraying her imagined self and creating a compelling piece of fiction filmmaking. Presumably, though, Deren had more agency over the her body in Meshes of the Afternoon than Funeral Parade of Roses’ Peter had in character as Eddie – did he ever object to all the shots of Eddie in the shower or in bed with a lover? – and I wonder if any study would (or should) be complicated by how young Peter was during filming, only sixteen; how fine is the line between empowerment and exploitation? Should an appreciation of Matsumoto’s film remark only on its groundbreaking support of transgender characters as human beings rather than stereotypes, ignoring potential concerns over the actual underage (as well as cisgender) body being utilized for trans representation?

tumblr_pokuaxdrqz1s5o8nro1_1280

These questions surrounding Funeral Parade of Roses are not meant to detract from the impact of Matsumoto’s film but to inspire a dialogue regarding its pros and cons. Roses and Meshes of the Afternoon end in tragedy for the women at the heart of their tales, but along the way they encourage discussions about sexuality and gendered violence that continue to be provocative talking points for the more progressive audiences of today.