Thursday, April 7, 2011

Film feature: Women's film saluted in first-ever Palm Beach festival

Rachel Weisz in The Whistleblower.

By Hap Erstein

Last year,‭ ‬when Kathryn Bigelow won for‭ ‬The Hurt Locker,‭ ‬that marked the first Oscar to go to a woman for Best Director.‭ ‬Women have made strides in the film industry,‭ ‬however slowly,‭ ‬but to see the range of movies‭ ‬--‭ ‬from deadly serious to downright frivolous‭ ‬--‭ ‬that female directors and screenwriters are generating,‭ ‬there is now the Palm Beach Women’s International Film Festival,‭ ‬opening tonight and running through Sunday.

Director and writer Larysa Kondracki appears tonight at the Muvico complex in West Palm Beach’s CityPlace with her film,‭ ‬The Whistleblower.‭ ‬It is a somber,‭ ‬terribly well-meaning movie about conditions in Bosnia,‭ ‬human trafficking and the dangers of calling attention to government involvement in a corrupt system.‭ ‬It has an impressive cast,‭ ‬including Academy Award winners Rachel Weisz and Vanessa Redgrave,‭ ‬as well as such reliable performers as David Strathairn and Monica Bellucci,‭ ‬not bad at all on an independent budget.

The dour tone suggests the high road artistic director Karen Davis is taking with this festival,‭ ‬even if the opener feels too heavy-handed with the delivery of its message.

Opening night tickets,‭ ‬which include the film,‭ ‬a post-screening Q&A session with Kondracki and a rooftop party afterwards at Roxy’s‭ ‬329,‭ ‬cost‭ ‬$50,‭ ‬and are still available at‭ ‬

In addition to the Muvico,‭ ‬films will be shown at Lake Worth Playhouse’s Stonzek Theatre and the PGA Cinamax in Palm Beach Gardens.‭ ‬By the time this inaugural festival ends Sunday,‭ ‬12‭ ‬feature films,‭ ‬8‭ ‬documentaries,‭ ‬24‭ ‬shorts and‭ ‬16‭ ‬entries in a young women’s film competition will have screened.

Here is a brief look at a few of the features:

LEADING LADIES,‭ ‬Muvico Parisian CityPlace,‭ ‬Sunday,‭ ‬April‭ ‬10,‭ ‬7‭ ‬p.m.‭ (‬Grade A‭) ‬--‭ ‬A cross between all those dance competition reality TV shows‭ (‬but without the reality‭)‬,‭ ‬the Broadway musical‭ ‬Gypsy,‭ ‬and any lesbian coming-out fable you’d care to mention.‭ ‬There is plenty to like about Daniel and Erika Randall Beahm’s first feature film,‭ ‬including an involving story line and several high-energy dance turns.‭

Stage mother Shari Campari dotes on her prettier daughter Tasi‭ (‬Shannon Lea Smith‭)‬,‭ ‬grooming her to be the next ballroom queen.‭ ‬But when Tasi gets pregnant,‭ ‬Shari then focuses on her other,‭ ‬plain-looking daughter,‭ ‬Toni‭ (‬Laurel Vail‭)‬,‭ ‬for the first time.‭ ‬Toni blossoms from the attention,‭ ‬and from her acceptance of her sexual orientation,‭ ‬indoctrinated by more experienced club regular Mona‭ (‬Nicole Dionne‭)‬.‭ ‬All that plus an explosive‭ ‬11‭ ‬o’clock supermarket dance number.

STARRING MAJA,‭ ‬PGA Gardens Cinamax,‭ ‬Friday,‭ ‬April‭ ‬8,‭ ‬5‭ ‬p.m.,‭ ‬Lake Worth Playhouse Stonzek Theatre,‭ ‬Saturday,‭ ‬April‭ ‬9,‭ ‬6‭ ‬p.m.‭ (‬B‭) ‬--‭ ‬Ever seen a Swedish Afternoon Special before‭? ‬Starring Maja,‭ ‬the tale of a clumsy,‭ ‬overweight teenager with aspirations of becoming an actress,‭ ‬is very reminiscent of that lesson-laden televison genre.‭ ‬Of course Maja is socially inept and the butt of jokes from her insensitive fellow students,‭ ‬but deep inside she knows there is a talented girl waiting to be discovered and perhaps loved.

To reaching those goals,‭ ‬Maja allows a untrustworthy wedding videographer-filmmaker wannabe to follow her around,‭ ‬recording her life.‭ ‬Improbably,‭ ‬Maja gets cast on a Stockholm sitcom,‭ ‬but only because the show needs a‭ “‬hideously obese creature‭” ‬to ridicule.‭ ‬The film,‭ ‬written and directed by Teresa Fabik,‭ ‬has a few other predictable twists,‭ ‬but it is saved by an endearing performance by Zandra Andersson,‭ ‬a plus-sized beauty who really can act.‭ ‬Check her out in a brief excerpt from Shakespeare’s‭ ‬Twelfth Night‭ ‬--‭ ‬with Maja as Malvolio,‭ ‬no less‭ ‬--‭ ‬and you too will probably come under her spell.

WOMEN WITHOUT MEN,‭ ‬PGA Gardens Cinamax,‭ ‬Friday,‭ ‬April‭ ‬8,‭ ‬7‭ ‬p.m.,‭ ‬Muvico Parisian CityPlace,‭ ‬Saturday,‭ ‬April‭ ‬9,‭ ‬3‭ ‬p.m.‭ (‬B+‭) ‬--‭ ‬An adaptation of Shahrnush Parsipur’s feminist political novel,‭ ‬Women Without Men,‭ ‬concerns four women of diverse social stations caught in the struggles of‭ ‬1953‭ ‬Iran.‭ ‬First-time director Shirin Neshat invokes the past with this material to illuminate the current situation in her native country.‭ ‬The film is brutal,‭ ‬by necessity,‭ ‬yet acclaimed photographer Neshat contrasts the violence with visuals of striking monochromatic beauty.

The women range from a general’s wife to a lowly,‭ ‬painfully thin prostitute,‭ ‬each taking refuge in a rural orchard,‭ ‬a magic realism safe zone.‭ ‬Much of the time the film seems more interested in the cumulative effect of its imagery than its loose narrative,‭ ‬but if manages to effectively pay tribute to those who have fought in the ongoing struggle for democracy in Iran.

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