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TIFF: Sea Fever

The ocean depths hold many secrets. Marine biologist Siobhán (Hermione Corfield) has devoted her young career to studying the patterns of ocean life in an effort to take the mystery out of the sea. Little does she know that a sea creature awaits her, beyond the scope of anything she has ever studied or could ever know.

Siobhán joins a fishing trawler manned by married couple Freya (Connie Nielsen) and Gerard (Dougray Scott). Fisherman are incredibly superstitious and Siobhán’s red hair is a sign that they’re in for some bad luck. Also on the vessel are a trio of fisherman Sudi (Eli Bouakaze), Johnny (Jack Hickey) and Ciara (Olwen Fouere) as well as fellow scientist Omid (Ardalan Esmaili). Siobhán is quiet, serious and anti-social and the spirited Johnny starts to bring her out of her shell. The bad luck rears its ugly head when a luminous creature that spews a blue slime, latches its tentacles onto the boat. Siobhán, the only one on board equipped for scuba diving, meets the creature face to face. The shipmates soon learn that the creature has wiped out the crew of another trawler and they’re next. One by one the creature exposes its blue slime into open wounds, laying its eggs that explode out of its victims. Will the crew be able to escape in time before the creature infects them all?

Sea Fever feels both classic and brand new. It’s in the same vein of those classic sci-fi thrillers where the creature serves a vessel to help tell a very human story. Writer and director Neasa Hardiman offers a slick and emotionally devastating story. There are so many themes that come bubbling up to the surface. Man versus nature, fear of the unknown, the importance of social bonds, and self-sacrifice for a greater cause.

There are no stereotypes. Everyone is their own character, true to themselves and not a pawn for the sake of the story. Siobhán is a fascinating protagonist and Hermione Corfield does her justice. Studious, smart and emotionally distant, we see her grow over time as she becomes the film’s hero. It’s great to see what a woman director/writer can do with a science fiction story featuring a strong female lead. Sea Fever had me enthralled. I usually don’t go for this genre but I’m glad I took a chance on this film. It’s thrilling in a quiet way. It’s not splashy, doesn’t depend on elaborate action sequences or fancy special effects (although the special effects it does have are pretty slick). Instead it latches on to its characters and won’t let go.

Sea Fever had its world premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival as part of their Discovery series.

Rafiki

Ever since I missed the opportunity to watch Rafiki at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, I’ve been meaning to rectify that mistake. The good folks at Film Movement recently released Rafiki on DVD, giving me an opportunity to watch this beautiful film.

Directed by Wanuri Kahiu, Rafiki follows the story of two Kenyan girls, Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) and Ziki (Sheila Munyiva). One day Kena spots the stunning Ziki. She stands out with her brightly colored long hair. The pair lock eyes and are instantly smitten. Kena and Ziki come from two different worlds albeit in the same community. Tensions between Kena’s divorced parents heighten when Kena and her mom find out that her dad’s new girlfriend is expecting. Ziki and Kena start dating and soon begin to fall in love. The risk of being caught comes with potentially severe consequences. Homosexuality is illegal in Kenya and looked down upon in the community. Not only that, Kena and Ziki’s fathers are political rivals and in a small town with an election on the horizon, rumors fly and the two must face the possibility of being found out.

Rafiki is a gorgeously haunting film that is equal parts heart-breaking and hopeful. The two stars Samantha Mugatsia and Sheila Munyiva shine and I hope to see much more from them. The actors alternate between Swahili and English and Kena and Ziki mostly speak English to each other. The film has a strong sense of place and beautiful color palette. It’s vibrant and full of life. It’s simple yet bold.

 

The story lingers on Kena and Ziki’s relationship giving the audience an opportunity to spend a lot of time in their world. We develop an appreciation for their attraction to each other on a physical and emotional level which makes their separation all that more painful. Don’t worry. This film will not destroy you. It will fill you with hope for Kena and Ziki and for the future. Rafiki was banned in Kenya and soon became a darling on the festival circuit. We need to keep championing this film. Watch it. Love it. Share it far and wide.

Film Movement’s DVD includes a beautiful presentation of the film and includes subtitles. A bonus short film, Hudson directed by Shae Xu is included. That film tells the story of a divorced mom who struggles to introduce her teenage son to her new girlfriend.

Rafiki is available to purchase on DVD on the Film Movement website.

Thank you to Film Movement for sending me Rafiki to review. 

The Heiresses

Courtesy of 1844 Entertainment
Image courtesy of 1844 Entertainment

Chela (Ana Brun) and Chiquita (Margarita Irun) are heiresses living in Asunción, Paraguay. Over the course of their 30+ year relationship, they’ve enjoyed the comforts of wealth. But lately they’ve fallen on hard times and are forced to sell their antiques in order to pay the bills. Chiquita manages the finances while Chela mostly keeps to her daily rituals and her painting. It’s obvious that Chiquita dotes on Chela and Chela in return depends on Chiquita. Unfortunately when the bills stack up, Chiquita is convicted of fraud and sentenced to a month in jail leaving Chiquita mostly on her own (Chiquita hires a maid to look after Chela). While Chiquita is in jail, Chela begins to drive again and starts a side gig as a freelance taxi driver for the wealthy older women in her social circle. One of her new customers Angy (Ana Ivanova), is a gorgeous younger woman, provocative and sexy, who befriends Chela. Angy refers to Chela as “Poupee” and shares steamy tales of her sexual exploits. Their friendship awakens something in Chela that’s long been dormant.

The Heiresses is a quiet and spare lesbian drama. It will resonate with anyone who has settled into their ways and suddenly finds themselves having to reinvent their life. The protagonists are older women and the film doesn’t shy away from showing them as sexual and emotional beings. The story serves as a glimpse into the life of the Paraguayan bourgeoisie but also showcases some of the absurdity that comes with the lifestyles lived by the wealthy elite. For example, even though Chiquita going to jail for fraud and Chela must sell off some of her valuables to make ends meet, they still hire a maid they really can’t afford. On the flip side, Chela is incredibly proud and won’t accept handouts, even when Angy offers to give her a pair of sunglasses. We see Chela find some independence in her new job. She’s out and about, socializing and earning her own keep.

“I am interested in the everyday life that occurs outside these areas of power, even within the ruling class. And it was irrelevant to place The Heiresses at a specific moment in our political history because the feeling of living in a giant prison remains the same. And this is essentially a film about confinements.”

Director Marcelo Martinessi

The film was written, produced and directed by Marcelo Martinessi, a Paraguayan filmmaker, and is his full length feature debut. Martinessi was inspired to tell a story about income inequality in his country. In an interview Martinessi said, “Paraguay is one of the most unequal countries in the world, and these women belong to that protected / privileged elite that has its roof and food secured. But the story unfolds as they begin to lose those assurances and cannot find a way to adapt to a new reality.” This is a female-centric story with a distinct absence of men. Martinessi said, “I grew up in a world shaped by women: mother, sisters, grandmothers, aunts, ladies in the neighborhood. I wanted my first feature to get into that female universe that interests me…” Would it have been a different story, a different movie had it been written and directed by a woman? Of course. However, Martinessi allows his female characters and his female actresses their time to shine and it never felt like it was weighted by a male gaze or POV.

The Heiresses was released by 1844 Entertainment and is available today on VOD (iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, FandangoNow and Vudu).

Greta

This post is sponsored by DVD Netflix.

It all started with a green handbag left behind in a subway car. Innocent enough. Frances (Chloe Grace Moretz) spots the abandoned bag and looks through its contents finding the ID for one Greta Hideg (Isabelle Huppert) of Brooklyn. The Boston native has just moved to New York City after the devastating loss of her mother. Taking pity on the bag’s owner, she finds Greta, a lonely French widower and piano teacher who is very grateful to be reunited with her bag. The two become fast friends. Frances finds a mother figure in Greta and Greta dotes on Frances like she would her daughter who is away in Paris. Frances’ roommate Erica (Maika Monroe) thinks this is all a little suspicious but Frances shrugs it off as another of her roommate’s quirks. That is until one evening when Frances visits Greta, she discovers a cupboard full of green handbags, each with the name and phone number of other women. The realization of what she’s gotten into washes over Frances but it’s far too late. Greta begins to stalk Frances and the cat and mouse chase that ensues only intensifies the more Frances tries to escape Greta’s snare. 

“The crazier they are the harder they cling.”

Greta is a psychological thriller that taps into the innate fear of intimacy gone wrong. The vulnerability of letting someone into your private world already exposes us to potential hurt. Frances is already in a weakened emotional state after the loss of her mother and her move to a new city. Her friend, the worldly Erica tries to be her support system but Frances has serious mommy issues that Erica can’t help her with. Relationships between women, whether romantic, familial or platonic, are a different beast and this film explores that on a surface level but could have gone much deeper into the psychology of those bonds. The relationship between Frances and Erica borders on the romantic and I wish it had explored that potential not necessarily for curiosity’s sake but as a potential threat to both Frances’ emotional wellbeing and fuel for Greta’s psychosis. Erica was only slightly at risk and even though she’s not our main focus, having her be in significant danger would have turned up the tension several notches.

With that said, the film is incredibly tense and I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. I was emotionally invested in Frances and what became of her and Moritz and Huppert play off each other beautifully. Huppert as Greta is absolutely terrifying. Greta is a great villain but we don’t know much about her. We get little hints about her background but the audience doesn’t get much insight into her game and her other victims. While Greta was written by two men and directed by a man, Neil Jordan, it didn’t fall into the usual trappings of a male POV and I was grateful that it wasn’t a man who comes to a woman’s rescue. In fact the men in the film are fairly useless (for example, Stephen Rea plays an investigator who is no match for Greta) and the woman have to support themselves and each other. The film had potential. By not taking a deep dive into the psychology of the characters it just remains in the shallow end leaving viewers wanting more.

As a DVD Nation Director, I earn rewards from DVD Netflix. You can rent Greta on DVD.com

The Fever and the Fret

High school student Eleanor Mendoza (Adelina Amosco) is tormented by her peers. Why? Because of large birthmarks on her face. They taunt her, harass her, spread rumors about her and physically abuse her. One student in particular, Carly (Vanessa Carmona), really has it out for Eleanor. As a result Eleanor has become incredibly withdrawn and barely speaks to her peers. Ms. Gutierrez (Kathleen Changho) reaches out to Eleanor but can’t help her to the fullest extent because of Eleanor’s lack of communication. To escape the torment, Eleanor finds solace working on her art at home where she lives with her grandmother (Shirley Cuyagan O’Brien) and in her affair with an older man, Alex (Rod Rodriquez) who runs the restaurant where Eleanor works part-time. As things escalate, Eleanor is overwhelmed by the pain and enters an altered state. In this alternate world, she imagines herself in a desolate and beautiful natural space. She’s essentially alone but is joined by an imaginary child who represents her younger self in various stages of development. When a confrontation with Carly turns ugly, Eleanor world starts to fall apart. Will she be able to find her voice again and stand up for herself? Can she find any semblance of happiness in the real world?

Directed and written by Cath Gulick, The Fever and the Fret is a powerful anti-bullying tale that isn’t afraid to dive into the pain and the torment victims suffer and the feeling of helplessness as those who hold social power continue to victimize them. Adelina Amosco delivers a powerful yet subdued performance as Eleanor. The camera spends much time on Eleanor’s face which is marked also her countenance carries a map of the world. We see the inner turmoil through her eyes, through her tears and through her silence. Every minute of this film is powerful. For anyone whose been the victim of bullying, myself included, you’ll be able to relate to Eleanor even if your situation wasn’t as dire as hers. 

The film’s villain Carly is played by Vanessa Carmona who delivers a seamless performance as the privileged bully who expects to get away with her bullying because Eleanor is “weird.” Her lies eventually catch up to her and I found that resolution so emotionally gratifying. 

Gulick imagined her 76 minute low-budget indie film as a fairy story where realism meets dark magic. She say “I imagined a girl who was tormented during the day but who could travel to another dimension at night… The story of a young girl who is discounted by other people in the ordinary world, but has her own secret reality is something that has always resonated with me.” 

Eleanor’s world is black and white yet when she escapes to this alternate world the film switches to color. To me The Fever and the Fret was more realism than magical realism. Eleanor’s escape into the altered state felt less like fantasy and more like self-preservation.

The Fever and the Fret has a diverse cast and crew. It’s directed, written, edited and produced by women, features mostly Asian-American actors. One of the producers, Victoria Negri is one of my favorite up-and-coming filmmakers. She wrote, directed and starred in one of my favorite indie films, Gold Star.

The Fever and the Fret is available to watch on Amazon Prime. It’s screened at the Queens World Film Festival, LA Asian Pacific Film Festival and Lighthouse International Film Festival and has received jury prizes and honorable mentions. Visit the official website for more information.

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