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March 2023

Class Warfare

Tina Botková

The Chambermaid (2023)

This is the first lesbian film ever made in Slovakia. It is also the story of how class impacts our sexual choices, and also a packaged history of the Austro-Hungarian empire. It is also a very beautiful and beautifully sad story about how one young woman’s life is decided by most of the people around her without it changing who she is one whit. As an ode to self-determination this is a marvelous one.

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Free Berlin


Drifter (2023)

Who wants to be the 22-year-old that has their life completely figured out? While it is old news that a good way to revive a friend from an overdose is to shove a finger up their backside, it’s perhaps only in this pesky modern age that someone will flirtatiously ask for your Instagram details while you are trying to startle them back to consciousness. This is just one of the situations young Moritz (Lorenz Hochhuth) finds himself in after his life plans blow up in his face. On the other hand, he is 22, on his own in Berlin, with no responsibilities, such as having somewhere to live or paying for the electricity that charges his phone. If ever there’s a time in your life for overdoing things, that is it. And “Drifter” is a quietly curious depiction of all the fun one young man can handle.

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Lesbi Friend

Courtesy photo

Egghead & Twinkie (2023)

It is a bold choice to include a racist slur in your movie’s title, even when the reason for it is a key part of the plot. The main character has reclaimed the name for herself as an attempt to build her identity as a transracial adoptee, which is all the more important because she doesn’t know her own precise ethnic heritage. This is a heavy hook for a lighthearted movie about teenage foolishness and personal identity, but writer-director Sarah Kambe Holland is clearly aiming for a cheerful style to mitigate the slightly gloomy substance. For the most part it works, but the slightly false sweetness can be a little tough to swallow.

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Life After Death

Paulo Menezes

Cidade Rabat (2023)

Cidade Rabat is the neighborhood in Lisbon where Helena (Raquel Castro) was born and reared. She is a film producer, which means her life involves solving other people's problems, most of which they have also created, obviously. But after the death of her mother (Paula Bárcia), Helena begins to feel like she can truly chart her own course for the first time. The mistakes she makes, at last, will be wholly her own.

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Occupational Hazard

Jacob Kohl

Nuclear Nomads (2023)

This depressing documentary by Kilian Armando Friedrich and Tizian Stromp Zargari follows some specialist employees of France’s electricity companies. France’s power grid relies on nuclear power, and that power relies on workers who are willing to risk their long-term health to do the maintenance work needed for the plants to operate safely. Messrs. Friedrich and Zargari wisely allow the subject matter to make its own political points, which allows the movie a breathing space most polemics don’t have.

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No Country for Young Women

I Love You Chingos LLC

Hummingbirds (2023)

The recent “Cusp,” another documentary about rowdy Texan teenagers, was directed by adults, and the focus ended up being how sexual violence shapes young lives. In “Hummingbirds,” the directors, Silvia Del Carmen Castaños and Estefanía “Beba” Contreras, are also the stars; and the movie follows them around their adventures in Laredo, Texas, in the summer of 2019. The primary force shaping their lives is the pressure of living in the borderlands, of feeling pulled between nationalities (one of the directors was undocumented at the time of filming) and being more radical politically than many of the neighbors. “Cusp” was told from the outside. “Hummingbirds” is told from the inside, with the decision made to keep the imperfections in; and its considerable charm is due to that rawness.

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The Free World

Courtesy photo

Absence (2023)

As an exercise in nihilism, the scene where a lobster is cooked alive on a grill by being steamed under a silver serving bowl while someone sings "it may seem like utter despair" takes some beating. Unfortunately this nasty little sequence is the best thing about “Absence,” a grotty Chinese movie about second chances, how a lack of housing warps lives and the different forms betrayal can take. Its concern with affordable housing and the weather brought it to the Berlinale, but unfortunately it doesn’t know how to answer any of its own questions.

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Children of Destiny

Hype Studios

The Cage Is Looking for a Bird (2023)

Who knew Chechen cinema was as impressionistic and in love with the natural world as anything by Terrence Malick? This tale of teenage dreams and hard reality is set in a farm valley in Ingushetia, where there are plenty of hills for energetic teenage girls to roam, but limited options for how to live your life. The title gives a clear idea of what the choices are, but writer-director Malika Musaeva is smart enough not to need to show the limits. Instead, they are felt.

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Opposites Attract

Demei Holdings Limited

Green Night (2023)

An unlikely meeting between a drug mule and an airport security agent slowly morphs into a life-changing 48 hours for the two women. Set over Christmas in a South Korean port town and shot in a tense but highly controlled style, “Green Night” has an unusual frankness about violence, freedom and personal choices that rises above the normal thriller cliché. It's an outstanding experience.

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Double Burden


Matria (2023)

Ramona (Maria Vazquez) is one of those women without whom the world collapses. She’s a human whirlwind, forever making herself essential with the cooking, cleaning, washing, drying, packing, lifting, folding, fussing, scolding, usually with a cigarette and espresso in hand. But it’s not all she’s capable of; and the bitterness at how her life is working out is taking over. The hardest part is that, in her Spanish seaside town, work barely pays enough to live. She’s the head cleaner of a fish-packing plant, where she cheerfully rules her team with eagle eyes and filthy jokes. When that shift ends, most days she puts on her waterproofs and goes out on a mussel boat for 50 euros a shift. It’s hard, heavy work, but she still can’t afford to get the fan belt in her car replaced. A new hotel is opening, but housekeeping only pays 3 euros a room. But Ramona can’t stop; the money to send her daughter Estrella (Soraya Luaces) to college is almost there and Ramona is determined. What is all her hard work for, if not to get her daughter an education and a ticket to an easier life? Estrella won’t have to live scrubbing and cleaning and being taken for granted by men, not if Ramona can help it. But we all know wanting something isn’t enough.

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