Once in a while I remember my ancient quest to see a film from every country with a film industry, a goal I very, very gradually work toward. A few months ago I found out about Wadjda, the first film directed by a Saudi woman, and likely the first feature shot entirely within Saudi Arabia. Pioneering filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour was inspired by her spunky niece to craft this tale about a bold schoolgirl, Wadjda (Waad Mohammed), who dreams of getting a bicycle so she can race against a boy in her neighborhood (Abdullrahman Al Gohani). She schemes to make the money to afford it, selling contraband jewelry at school and eventually competing in a Quran-recitation contest for the top prize.
Every year the Somerville Theatre hosts the Boston Science-Fiction marathon: 24 hours of straight sci-fi, including films, shorts, trailers, contests, and tv episodes. It’s one of my favorite times of year (this was my sixth in a row!) and I was happy to not have schoolwork hanging over me this time around. The line-up was about half and half films I’d seen and films I hadn’t, but there were some festival films and shorts concurrently screening in the basement micro-theater, so I had a place to hang out during films I didn’t feel like re-watching. It was a pretty solid selection of movies, some good classics along with lesser-known gems, and I stayed awake through all but one!
As focused on visuals as I typically am, it’s no surprise that I am a complete mess for experimental animation. If a film toys with stop-motion, or time-lapse, or imaginative cel animation, or cut-outs and silhouettes, I tend to be automatically entranced and very forgiving of narrative/thematic faults. Terence Nance’s An Oversimplification of Her Beauty uses several animation techniques, to gorgeous effect, blended with live action sequences. The project started as a short film inspired by Nance’s real-life relationship with Namik Minter, who plays a version of herself. They are close friends whose dynamic borders on romance, but she remains committed to her relationship with another man, who is never named.
Loosely based on the real-life singing group (and written by the lead singer’s son), The Sapphires follows four musical Koori women- three sisters and their cousin- who tour Vietnam in 1968 to perform for American troops. They are accompanied by their drunken manager, Dave Lovelace (Chris O’Dowd), who is generally useless but seriously believes in their talent. While traveling the young women experience various ups and downs: the oldest, Gail (Deborah Mailman), fights to protect everyone else in an unfriendly environment; her sister Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell) embarks on an affair with a handsome soldier; Julie (Jessica Mauboy), the youngest, suddenly finds herself in the spotlight…
Growing up I was a bit of a fairy tale nerd, and Hans Christian Andersen was one of my favorite storytellers. Mostly because of how much I adored his story “The Snow Queen,” an exciting adventure wherein a brave girl journeys across the land to rescue her male best friend, who’s been captured and brainwashed by the titular evil queen. I’d followed the ups and downs of Disney’s adaptation of the story, which radically changes the central plot and only includes white people, and of course is titled Frozen, something ambiguous and un-girly. The marketing was terrible but Idina Menzel and positive reviews had me curious.