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.
Beginning in an almost-real version of the real world, The Congress centers on Robin Wright, playing struggling actress Robin Wright, once-beloved star of The Princess Bride whose career has gone sour after years of missed roles and bad film choices. Now in her 40s, Robin devotes much of her time caring for her sick teenaged son (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who is slowly losing his hearing and sight. When a cruel producer (Danny Huston) offers her an unbelievable contract, she decides to take it, resulting in her entire self being digitized. Her digital likeness is taken over by a studio conglomerate, which uses it to make new movies starring a younger, malleable, no-personal-melodrama version of Robin Wright, while the real one is no longer allowed to act.
The great Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook) is revered for his elegant and moving ballet productions. He is so dedicated to staging perfect ballets, he views everyone around him merely as tools working towards his own illustrious goal. He has no patience for relationships, or emotional hangups, or anyone who doesn’t commit themselves fully. When he discovers young dancer Victoria Page (Moira Shearer), he believes he can mold her into a larger-than-life presence on his stage. At first she is completely dedicated to ballet, performing mind-boggling feats in an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s story, “The Red Shoes.” But after traveling around Europe with Lermontov’s company for some time, she falls in love with his principal composer, Julian (Marius Goring).
When fresh-faced small-town radio personality Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal) interviews a disheveled crooner in an Arkansas holding cell, she is convinced she’s discovered a new star. Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes (Andy Griffith) is a charismatic-beyond-belief hooligan with a ratty guitar and a drinking problem, and the magical ability to get people to listen to him. Marcia gives him a radio show, and from there his career soars higher than anyone could have imagined, leading to multiple nationally-televised talk shows that primarily involve Lonesome effortlessly spewing his own brand of folk wisdom and political commentary.
Set in a dystopian version of 1994, The Apple offers a twisted take on the Adam and Eve tale set to a host of dazzling disco dance sequences. In a world controlled by music producer Mr Boogalow (Vladek Sheybal) and his glammed-up music group BIM, folk singers Bibi (Catherine Mary Stewart) and Alphie (George Gilmour) dream of sharing their nostalgic love songs with the world. Instead, Bibi falls under Mr Boogalow’s spell against Alphie’s better judgment, and in a haze of glitter and drugs she rises to stardom while he sinks into poverty. After a few musical montages they realize they still love each other and Bibi attempts to break away from the totalitarian music industrial complex with the help of some magical hippies.