New York

Lady Killer of the Night

Profile Pictures and One Two Films

Holy Spider (2022)

It’s 2001, in the Iranian city of Mashhad, the nation’s spiritual capital. At first we follow a drug-addicted sex worker (Firouz Agheli) as she leaves her little daughter asleep in bed and goes about her unhappy trade. Her only comfort comes from smoking opium with a friend; the johns she meets cheat her of money and physically abuse her. Then she is murdered in shocking close-up by a man who wraps her body in a carpet, lays it across the back of his motorbike and rides out of the city to dispose of her in the hills.

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Misery Loves Company

Carole Bethuel/Sony Pictures Classics

One Fine Morning (2022)

Pity the poor Parisian bourgeois bohemian, whose lives are full of nothing but booklined apartments, interesting careers and family nearby. Pity harder the daughters of elderly Parisian intellectuals, who must put their freelance work and artistic endeavors on pause when their daddies develop the cinematic version of old age and infirmity that requires only the most mild care. But pity the most the Parisian boyfriends of these Parisian daughters, who must provide emotional support to these women instead of just getting to cheat on their wives scot-free. This low-stakes emotional merry-go-round so beloved of French cinema can be both relaxing and irritating to watch, and as shown at the Toronto International Film Festival “One Fine Morning” breaks no new ground. At least everything is beautifully and expertly done. If you like this sort of thing, you’ll love it.

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The Handmaids' Tale

Women-talking-movie-review-michelle-mcleod-sheila-mccarthy-liv mcneil-jessie-buckley-claire-foy-kate-hallett-rooney-mara-judith-ivey
Michael Gibson/Orion Releasing

Women Talking (2022)

The subject of “Women Talking,” the phenomenal new movie from Sarah Polley which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, is so bleak it’s hard to talk about. We are in Canada in 2010 – the unwelcome presence of a census truck blasting “Daydream Believer” as it drives through the rural farming community goes to necessary trouble to establish this – but we could be up to 200 years ago. The women all wear modest hand-sewn dresses, with caps over their hair. There’s no technology in their farmhouses and the men are all gone. Why are the men gone? To bail one of them out of jail. Why is he in jail? Because Salome (an outstanding Claire Foy) attacked him with a scythe and he was arrested for his own protection. And why did meek farmwife Salome attack a man with a scythe? Because all the female members of the community were, over months, repeatedly dosed with animal tranquilizer (a knockout spray) and while unconscious raped by the men of the community. All of the female members of the community. All of them. Including Salome, and Salome’s four year old daughter.

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The King of Queens

Ilze Kitshoff/TriStar Pictures

The Woman King (2022)

There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned Hollywood blockbuster to really make for an enjoyable evening at the cinema. Fight scenes, women in peril, countless evil enemies and the right amount of nudity to maintain a PG-13 rating: “The Woman King” has it all. And better still, it uses this standard blockbuster template in an entirely fresh setting: the kingdom of Dahomey in west Africa in 1823. It’s plagued by the slave trade, where innocent villagers are kidnapped and sold to disgusting white men, here personified by the cocky Brazilian Santo (Hero Fiennes Tiffin). The new king, Ghezo (South London’s favorite son John Boyega, getting to do something different from his previous blockbuster fare and have a great time doing so), has pledged to stop selling his own people, if nothing else. And he has the manpower to put his money where his mouth is. Well, womanpower, actually. He has an elite squad of soldiers, the Agojie, all women, and all the stuff of nightmares.

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Reality Bites

Adriel Gonzalez

Subject (2022)

Movies about movies are rarely a bad idea, especially when shown as part of the Tribeca Festival. And producer-directors Camilla Hall and Jennifer Tiexiera hit on an extraordinary idea with “Subject”: revisit the subjects of famous documentaries and discuss how the experience of being captured on screen affected their lives. They also scored a great coup with the participation of Margie Ratliff, i.e., one of the daughters from “The Staircase,” which is currently having another moment. But in its analysis of how their participation in a documentary altered their lives, they equate two kinds of participants; and their choice to do so is a misdirect from a very serious mistake.

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Something Borrowed, Something New

Lukasz Dziedzic

Roving Woman (2022)

“Roving Woman” is dedicated to Connie Converse, a singer-songwriter who spent nearly a decade trying to make a name for herself and her music in 1950s Greenwich Village, except she was a woman ahead of her time so nobody cared. She gave up in the early 1960s, around the time Bob Dylan strode into the limelight, and in 1974 packed up her car and disappeared. She’s never been seen again, probably a suicide, but also because (according to her Wikipedia page) her family decided to “respect her decision” to vanish and never searched for her. It’s exceedingly unlikely she is still alive, but her music survived due to the protection of a friend and was discovered by the wider world about 20 years ago. The movie is named after one of her songs, about a woman’s use of cards and drink to be led astray. But this beautifully sad little film, shown at the Tribeca Festival, is instead about how easy it is for a life, in the words of Britpop favorite Pulp, “to slide out of view.”

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Break the Routine

Tribeca Festival

Woman on the Roof (2022)

It’s late summer 2021 in a small town in Poland. A sad middle-aged woman lives in a cramped apartment with an unkind husband, Julek (Bogdan Koca), and a permanently shirtless adult son, Mariusz (Adam Bobik). As the movie begins, she’s in the laundry room when she notices the rungs in the wall go up to a hatch on the roof. She climbs slowly; the crocs she’s wearing are not designed for this. The hatch isn’t locked. On the roof she pauses to feel the sun on her face, and then goes to peek over the edge. From where she stands it’s not such a long way down, not at all. Her life is on the edge of a precipice, which her men have utterly failed to notice, but why would they? She is there to cook their meals and iron their clothes and what else is a mother and a wife for? Well, when she does something that surprises even herself, everyone finds out.

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And Then There Were Two

Sara Larrota

Petit Mal (2022)

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a group of people living in a so-called alternative arrangement, must never shut up about it. Most of them don’t make movies screened as part of the Tribeca Festival about themselves set in their own home, which is generally a big loss; there’s little more enjoyable than being nosy and/or judgmental about how other people live. The bourgeois bohemians of “Petit Mal” are a trio of Colombian lesbians who live in a huge rural house and are pretty pleased with themselves. This is not necessarily a complaint. Laia (Ruth Caudeli, the writer-director) is a movie director; Martina (Silvia Varón) is a film editor who works at home; Anto (Ana María Otálora) does the dishes. They all sleep in a big bed in a big bedroom in matching teddy-bear onesies. When all three of them are together the rest of the world vanishes into nothing. But right from the start there’s a burbling concern that paradise was only built for two.

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Reappraisal of a Radical

Jerry Bauer

My Name Is Andrea (2022)

Andrea Dworkin has always been a divisive figure, within feminism and without. She’s best known for spearheading, alongside Catharine MacKinnon, legal attempts to ban pornography in the 1980s, seeing that as the first step to ensure equality between the sexes. That goal has been comprehensively lost, but her wider point – the threat of sexual violence is a cultural whip used to keep women in line from girlhood, and women should unite to fight back against that by any means necessary – was often lost in the fuss. Pratibha Parmar’s biographical story of Dworkin, as shown at the Tribeca Festival, isn’t quite either a biopic or a documentary. Unfortunately its message is lost in the fuss.

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Marriage Minded

Zelma Cutout

My Love Affair With Marriage (2022)

For a movie that was never officially distributed, “Sita Sings the Blues” has had an incredible influence. “Sita Sings the Blues” combined uncombinable things into a work of beauty: director Nina Paley’s lousy marriage which fell apart between San Francisco and Trivandrum, a Hindu myth about the mistreated wife of a prince, and the jazz-era songs of Annette Hanshaw (the cost of the rights to which meant the movie was released under a creative commons license, instead of regular copyright). There is no way that movie should have worked and yet all the pieces somehow melded together perfectly. Did I mention it was animated? “My Love Affair with Marriage,” a Latvian-Luxembourgish coproduction shown at the Tribeca Festival, uses the same template to tell a similar story. A woman’s romantic relationships in a strange and alienating society with a heavy mythic past are explored through animation and commented on with voiceover and song, but it’s unfortunate the overall effect is less powerful, possibly because the songs were composed for the film instead of a serendipitous back-catalog discovery. They are sung by a Greek chorus of winged bird-women (the band Trio Lemonade: Iluta Alsberga, Ieva Katkovska and Kristine Pastare) who hammer home the life lessons Zelma (Dagmara Dominczyk) learns growing up in the U.S.S.R. Writer-director Signe Bauman also added a highly original twist – Zelma’s story is narrated by Biology (Michelle Pawk), as in the literal and differing neurons in her body which are fired up every time she experiences an emotion. But this unusual combination of narrative choices unfortunately depersonalize a very personal story.

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