MY LIFE AS A ZUCCHINI

Perfectly told tale of a French boy who is sent to a group home after his mother dies. Screenplay by award-winning filmmaker Céline Sciamma, best-known for her 2014 film Bande de filles (called Girlhood in English although Girl Gang would be a better translation), is based on Gilles Paris' 2002 novel Autobiographie d'une Courgette. Animated with dazzling style and state of the art technique by Swiss director Claude Barras (making his feature film debut).

Although Switzerland nominated My Life as a Zucchini for the 2017 Best Picture Oscar, AMPAS "only" nominated it for Best Animated Film. I think it deserves both! (JLH: 5/5)

NOTE: Since the runtime for My Life as a Zucchini is only 70 minutes, it is being shown in the USA in conjunction with Barras's adorable 8 minute short The Genie in a Ravioli Can from 2006. Some American theatres are offering both the French version (shown with subtitles) and a dubbed version (in English). I am glad I chose the French version so that the accents match the affects, but I have no doubt that the dubbed version (voiced by well-known actors like Will Forte and Ellen Page) is great too.

WARNING: Stay in your seat when the credits begin to roll. There's a little treat at the very end 🙂

© Jan Lisa Huttner (2/25/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: Altho his mother calls him "Zucchini," the boy's real name is "Icare." When the film opens, Icare lives alone with his mother. His father, who left them years ago, left no forwarding address...

Bottom Photo: Zucchini (the kid with the blue hair) finds a new family after his mother's death.

Q: Does My Life as a Zucchini pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

Only kinda sorta.

Some of the girls in the group home clearly have relationships with one another, but we don't ever see them have "conversations" per se. And the headmistress has a few interactions with Camille's aunt, but neither of these women every get names.

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KIKI

To everyone and anyone who has ever felt like an unsafe outsider, know that you are not alone. Know that underneath the hustle and raucous of New York City is the throbbing heartbeat of the Kiki scene singing “you’re safe, you’re safe, you’re safe” to any and all young adults who will listen. With help of director Sarah Jordenö, the Kiki community has its story told on the silver screen. Written by Sarah Jordenö and Twiggy Pucci Garçon, KIKI is the cultural documentary New York City has craved. With beautiful cinematography, heartbreaking stories, and hope, the community wants to remind all of New York’s children that you are welcome and you are safe and to never be ashamed of who you are. (LMB: 5/5)

Review by FF2 Associate Lindsy M. Bissonnette

The Kiki community is a sublet of the Harlem Drag Circuit, where members of the community come together and compete under different categories like runway, vogue, femme for a chance to win cash prizes. But not only is the Kiki scene a way for communities to connect, it is a necessary outlet for teens in New York City, and anywhere else the subculture pops up.

The community is made up of several symbolic houses and within each house is a mother and father, or captain. These captains act as guardians, both emotionally and sometimes financially, to the other members of the house. They create a safe haven for the ethnically diverse LGBTQ who are fighting HIV/AIDS, have been kicked out of their homes, or just need a safe place to express themselves. The captains preach self-confidence, healthy communication, and self-love while the competitions provide a chance for friendly rivalry, promote awareness for local causes, and encourage teamwork within each house.

Director Sarah Jordenö masterfully creates a unique and honest lens, through which she delicately portrays each character, as she interviews various members of houses, and sometimes their parents. Between heart-wrenching stories of children kicked out of houses, living with diseases, and learning to accept who they are regardless of age, gender, and race, KIKI will both break your heart and make it sing. In a world determined to hold power over those who stand out, KIKI reminds us that fitting in means giving up a sacred part of yourself, and instead of giving into fear, embrace your differences and have confidence that we all find our tribe.

© Lindsy M. Bissonnette FF2 Media (2/24/17)

Top Photo: A sneak peek into one of the Kiki shows.

Middle Photo: A Kiki event.

Bottom Photo: Two members of the community dancing on the pier.

Photo Credits: Sundance Selects

Q: Does KIKI pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

YES!

Absolutely Kiki passes the Bechdel-Wallace test. Through the expression of self-love, the people in Kiki show the spectrum of sexuality and prove its fluidity. The documentary also follows several men who are now beautiful women, and the struggles they faced during transition.

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LOVESONG

Lovesong’s many excellent performances are both sensitive and satirical at once, and the cinematography, while less flashy than most, is unassuming and soft in its storytelling. Filmmaker So Yong Kim’s latest is a bittersweet, character-driven film about a young mother and the long-time best friend who becomes her lover, with an ending not altogether happy or unhappy. (GPG: 4/5)

Review by FF2 Contributor Giorgi Plys-Garzotto 

With her husband both physically and emotionally distant, “Sarah” (Riley Keough) is struggling to raise her 3-year-old daughter, “Jessie” (Jessie Ok Gray). As Sarah’s postpartum depression flares up, she and Jessie go on a road trip with her college friend, “Mindy” (Jena Malone), who clicks with Jessie instantly, forming the three of them into a little family for the few days they’re on the road. Sarah and Mindy also find a new dimension to their friendship when an unexpected moment of vulnerability leads them to sleep together.

They each struggle with how to react to their night together, and their relationship is both deepened and inhibited by it going forward. While they do not pursue it further, the attraction remains palpable between them in different valences as they each process their feelings while refusing to talk about them. Sarah stays in her marriage, and their friendship suffers as they each resent the other for being distant, while remaining unable to open up emotionally themselves. This comes to a head the weekend of Mindy’s wedding, years after the road trip, after the two have drifted far apart in the wake of what happened.

 Lovesong is meditative even in its most hectic scenes, always conscious of the wounds and longings at the core of its events. It depicts a straight womanhood that leaves friends like Sarah and Mindy without the words to describe the love between them, and that keeps them apart when they might have been together more fully. With minimalistic visuals and mournfully expressive acting, the story flows poetically, with an experimental and cathartic conclusion that resolves the story, while still being true to a narrative that lives in the unresolved.

© Giorgi Plys-Garzotto FF2 Media (2/20/17)

Top photo: Sarah and Mindy share a moment on the day of her wedding.

Middle photo: Sarah and her daughter, Jessie.

Bottom photo: Sarah and Mindy on their road trip.

Photo Credit: Autumn Productions.

Q: Does Lovesong pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

Yes!

All the main characters are women, and it is the complexity of their overlapping relationships, with almost an exclusion of men, that make up the plot! Men are sometimes mentioned but are barely ever onscreen.

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1 NIGHT

Writer/Director Minhal Baig tests the boundaries of time in a reflective drama about young love, fading love and one eventful night at a Los Angeles hotel. Anna Camp and Justin Chatwin star as a married couple who are reminded, by an unlikely source, of why they fell in love in the first place. A sweet theater treat just in time for Valentine’s Day. (BKP: 4/5)

Review by Managing Editor Brigid K. Presecky

“You only get one prom.” 

“You get as many proms as you want. Let's make tonight prom.”

What if we could travel back in time? Filmmakers have brought that concept to life many times. Faded photographs remind us what we were doing and who we were when we were doing it, but if you could go back, would you? 

Thirty-something “Liz” (Camp) and “Drew” (Chatwin) just might. On the brink of their breakup, the married couple find themselves in a fancy hotel the same evening as a Senior Prom after-party, including sadsack “Bea,” (Isabelle Fahrman) who just got dumped, along with her childhood friend/yearbook photographer “Andy,” (Kyle Allen). 

The high schoolers’ blossoming relationship unknowingly throws salt in the wounds of Liz and Drew’s imploding union. He spent too much time working abroad, even cheating while “they were on a break.” (Where have we heard this before?) She didn’t appreciate the time he spent at home … and so on.

What makes 1 Night standout amongst the sea of independent films chock full of unhappiness is the outlook on growing up and holding onto hope even it feels like it’s vanished as quickly as youth. 

Baig communicates a clear message: it’s natural to look back on life and think things were simpler back in the day when, in reality, maybe it wasn’t. Maybe the 18-year-old versions of ourselves were crying in the bathroom after a school dance or trying to anxiously figure out what comes next. It’s okay to want to go back and tell ourselves to not worry so much. An idea that is timeless, really.

All four players engage viewers in their vastly different acting styles, but Allen is a highlight as young Andy, perfectly playing the insecure, adorable photographer. He carries around an outdated camera; “a relic of how things used to be,” he says. This film, too, is a reminder of how things used to be in cinema. 

Sean Giddings score gives viewers a nostalgic feeling of both times-gone-by and the awaiting future. Despite tonal shifts between humorous chit chat and fantastical proclamations is a sweet story, quietly told with heart and humor. At one point, Liz and Drew sit in an empty movie theater and reminisce about the early days of their romance. “You always wanted to see these movies that no one ever heard of,” Drew says. Liz smiles, “I like underdogs.” Thanks to Minhal Baig, so do I.

© Brigid K. Presecky (02/09/17) FF2 Media

Top and Bottom Photos: Justin Chatwin and Anna Camp as married couple “Drew” and “Liz”

Middle Photo: Isabelle Fahrman and Kyle Allen as young couple “Bea” and “Andy”

Photo Credits: Canosa Productions

Q: Does 1 Night pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

Yes!

Feeling like she let her youth pass her by, “Liz” (Anna Camp) gives unwarranted advice to 18-year-old “Bea” (Isabelle Fahrman) in the hotel bathroom. It’s brief, but poignant.

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A UNITED KINGDOM

A United Kingdom, directed by Amma Asante (known for the 2013 film Belle), is based on true events about the love story between Bechuanaland’s former Chief, “Seretse Khama”(David Oyelowo), and his white, English wife, “Ruth Williams” (Rosamund Pike). Their love does not come without a fight as they must both battle against the racism and politics of their time, one that would like nothing more than to keep them apart. (EBT: 4/5)

Review by FF2 Contributor Elyse. Thaler

The first act of the film focuses on how “Seretse” (David Oyelowo) and “Ruth” (Rosamund Pike) meet and fall in love. Seretse is in London studying to be a lawyer so that when he returns to his native Bechuanaland (what is now Botswana), he will be returning with knowledge and education that will help his people. It is the late 1940s, so though as an African man Seretse is able to study law in London, there is still racial friction between blacks and whites.However, the friction is not enough to keep Ruth away from this handsome man who shares a love for jazz and dancing.

But before they can truly fall for one another Seretse must reveal who he really is, which is none other than the heir to the chiefdom of his home, Bechuanaland. Not only that, but he has been summoned home to take over for his uncle, “Tshekedi Khama” (Vusi Kuneni), who has been ruling in his absence. Despite his responsibilities, and knowing there will be sacrifices, Ruth does not hesitate to continue seeing Seretse. When he finally proposes the answer is easy for her; leaving home to go with him to Africa means that they will get to be together, so she does not even pause to think, the answer is “yes”.

Culture shock, not knowing the language, and being treated like a suspicious foreigner who only wants the title of Queen are what Ruth finds in her new home. Even her own family and country shun her because of her choice in husband.

On the other hand, Seretse must fight his own battles to prove to his people that he is ready and willing to lead. Even though not everyone can see past his white wife, including his uncle, Seretse does manage to gain the trust of some. What he does not realize, however, is that even though his tribe might back him, that does not mean England will allow him and Ruth to make, what they believe to be, a political mockery of the new idea of apartheid and of the United Kingdom. The men behind England’s political game of chess will stop at nothing to keep Seretse and Ruth away from each other, even if that means banishing him from Bechuanaland.

Films based on true stories can sometimes be the hardest ones to successfully make, because in many cases the filmmakers add drastic changes to the plot to appeal to a “general audience.” While it would be surprising if parts of the plot of A United Kingdom were not tampered with to make the story more theatrical, as a viewer I couldn’t care less because the filmmaking, story, and acting beautifully held their own while keeping the message of love and unity despite differences clear.

Watching Oyelowo and Pike fall in love as Seretse and Ruth, set the tone for the whole movie. You truly felt like you were paying witness to two people feeling the flutter of butterflies from the first meeting, liking one another, and then falling for each other. The performances were natural and honest, the chemistry between the actors apparent. In fact, the chemistry was so believable that I searched the Internet to find out whether the pair had or have a real-life romance. Turns out, Oyelowo has been married to one of his other co-stars (Jessica Oyelowo who plays “Lady Lilly Canning”) in the film since 1998.

Another relationship that stood out was the one between Seretse and his Uncle. Their love and respect for one another despite any disagreements played towards the broader theme the film represents: acceptance for one’s beliefs is not always immediately received, but through persistence and setting of examples, we all have the power to change even the most stubborn of minds.

Ruth spends a lot of time proving herself to her home country of England, her adopted country of Bechuanaland, her family (both biological and marital), and also to herself. Ironically, her true strength forms when circumstances unwillingly force her to be separated from her husband. The literal distance between them forces Ruth to go from a shy, timid Englishwoman to a Queen who is not afraid to stand up for her beliefs and her people. This notable transition proving that a powerful love story does not mean the woman has to play a damsel in distress or lack a voice.

Racial division is, of course, where almost all problems stem from in the film. The director, Amma Asante, balances this theme and the romantic storyline well by emphasizing the juxtaposition of Ruth and Seretse in private, against their public lives. There is also a stark contrast between shots in England and Africa. Asante makes England look dark and mysterious; the English actors overly formal and stiff compared to the scenes in Bechuanaland where there is a unity among the people that feels unparalleled.

What is the purpose of film if not to affect its audience? Falling in love with Ruth and Seretse is easy as their characters are both real and endearing, their flaws making them that much more relatable. The difficult part of this film is the empathy and forgiveness that it asks the audience to have for those who would wish harm on the beloved couple.

A United Kingdom tells a beautiful and well thought out love story from the 1940’s while still being relevant for today’s time and audience. Superb acting, visually appealing shots, and also a lovely notion that even if we disagree in the beginning, that does not close all the doors to one day coming together side by side as members of the human species. Especially in today’s political atmosphere, I think we could all use a little hope and love.

©Elyse Bunt Thaler FF2 Media (02/20/17)

Top Photo: Seretse and Ruth in love.

Middle Photo: The real Seretse and Ruth overlooking Bechuanaland.

Bottom Photo: Ruth, Seretse, and their daughter home at last in Bechuanaland.

Photo Credits: Andreas Burgess

Q: Does A United Kingdom pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

Yes!

There are multiple scenes between Ruth and Seretse’s sister, “Naledi Khama” (Terry Pheto) where Naledi expresses her opinion on why Ruth does not belong in Africa.

There is also a scene where Ruth is sick in hospital and Lady Lilly Canning attempts to persuade her to leave the village for a larger city with better facilities.

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KEDI

Kedi takes the Internet's fascination with cat gifs and videos to an extreme level, following the stray cats that inhabit the streets of Istanbul and become quiet allies to its residents. (GEP: 3.5/5)

Review by Social Media Manager Georgiana E. Presecky

Montages of cats of all sizes, ages and colors wandering the streets are depicted in this documentary, directed by Istanbul native Ceyda Turon. The director wrote in a letter to the film’s audience, “I wanted to explore philosophical themes that would make an audience ponder about our relationship to cats, to nature, to each other.” But with most documentaries, the human angle is ultimately the most important. These men, women and children have a connection to the cats that have become part of their culture - they're part of what make this place home, love them or hate them (but there's no hate here, refreshingly).

While the filmmakers do their best to keep the audience engaged, this is unmistakably a film for cat lovers. If you ooh and ahh and how adorable these animals are, Kedi is a moving story about how animals can assimilate to the lives of humans and become an important part of their narrative. Each cat has a unique background and identity that is memorable and well-told - almost well enough to make you forget that, yes, this is a movie about cats. Only cats.

If you're not a fan of four-legged fare, the documentary is at the very least a scenic look at Istanbul, its customs and inhabitants. Turon manages to tell the story of a variety of people through feline eyes.  The film harkens back to the memorable 2014 Disney short film, Feast, in which a man’s adult life is portrayed from the point of view of his beloved dog. Turon’s documentary is essentially a prolonged version of that, but from a variety of cats who have made a playground of a vast urban setting.

When the cats' journey starts to venture into the boring, the viewer is given time to ponder how difficult a film this was to make - getting down on the level of a small creature, entering its world and seeing an entire city through its eyes? Not an easy feat.

© Georgiana E. Presecky FF2 Media (2/12/17)

Photos: Cats in the streets of Istanbul.

Photo Credits: Termite Films

Q: Does Kedi pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

No.

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RUNNING WILD

When widow Stella Davis is left with a sea of debt, she enlists the help of convicts to rehabilitate a herd of wild horses and bring life back to her ranch. Sharon Stone stars as the greedy activist opposite Dorian Brown in this feel-good, sometimes preachy Running Wild. (BKP: 3.5/5)

Review by Managing Editor Brigid K. Presecky

Genre labels can be easily applied feature films: action/adventure, romantic comedy, drama. With Wild, a cable television channel, rather than a genre, comes to mind: Hallmark. If you view first-time writer Christina Moore and Brian Rudnick’s film through that lens, this morality lesson with a beautiful view will make you want to save a horse just to spite Sharon Stone.

When “Stella Davis” (Brown) hears there’s been an accident via a man walking into her house and saying, “There’s been an accident,” (accompanied by an unnecessary flashback of a truck driving into a tree) she’s left without a husband and a hefty debt for her horse ranch. To make matters worse, Stella and handsome ranch-hand, “Brannon Bratt” (Jason Lewis) happen upon wild, weak horses scavenging for food and water. “It’s illegal [to help them],” Bratt warns. But Stella has been doing what people tell her to do all her life and she’s tired of it.

Now, her mission is to rehabilitate the wild horses and save her ranch, just as her strong female ancestors had done four generations prior.

Brannon has an idea: convicts. A busload of non-violent offenders walk off a bus and get to work, training the animals and, in turn, rehabilitating themselves. Tommy Flanagan heads the pack of redeemable convicts who form a strong bond with Stella over the course of 90 days. The obvious irony is actually beautiful; as these free horses are now confined, these confined people are now free.

The opposition comes into play in the form of Sharon Stone, playing a non-so-genuine activist for free horses, “Meredith Parish.” Stella better set the wild horses free: or else (.... we aren’t really sure). She plays a typical, but believable antagonist to Brown’s strong, lovable leading role. 

Writer Christina Moore (who plays a small part as Parish’s younger sister) layers Running Wild with multiple conflicts, from the initial death of Stella’s husband and the rehabilitation of the animals to activists protests and Brannon’s heartbreaking backstory. The film, shot in the beautiful landscape of Napa, California, almost feels like it was based off of a novel and condensed to fit a different medium. Maybe that’s a positive attribute, when the audience can picture this story continuing, page after page. When they can imagine future stories in this world, the writer has done their job well.

For either the horse-loving community or those unfamiliar with ranch operations, this personal project is a heartwarming, if at times amateur, treat for the soul. A message about trying to help the helpless? Nothing wrong with that.

© Brigid K. Presecky (02/10/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: Jason Lewis as ranch-hand “Brannon Bratt”

Middle Photo: Dorian Brown as widowed ranch owner “Stella Davis”

Bottom Photo: Writer Christina Moore and Sharon Stone as the Parish sisters

Photo Credits: ESX Entertainment/SONY Pictures Home Entertainment

Q: Does Running Wild pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

With flying colors!

A highlight of Moore’s film is just how much the film passes the Bechdel-Wallace test. In the wake of her husband’s death, Stella is left to save her ranch from financial implosion as well as saving wild horses and fending of threats. Brown is engaging from the start and a fitting leading lady opposite Sharon Stone.

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SEX DOLL

Written and directed by Sylvie Verheyde, Sex Doll is surprising in its poignant and raw take on modern day romance. Set in London, the film follows “Virginie” (Hafsia Herzi), a high class call girl, as she begins to question her life and career when a handsome stranger, “Rupert” (Ash Stymest), enters her life and turns the world she’s known on its head. (JEP: 4/5)

Review by Executive Editor Jessica E. Perry

“Virginie” (Hafsia Herzi) is a prominent member of London’s world of high class call girls. Her apartment is spectacular, her clothes are glamourous, but she has fallen into routine, seemingly dissatisfied in her line of work. Does anyone besides her loyal four-legged companion truly know her? Her family back in France believes the story she’s crafted as a hard-working Estate Agent. Her best friend “Electre” (Lindsay Karamoh) is a hairdresser who talks boys and clubs, blissfully unaware that Virginie spends her days pleasuring men who have paid quite a sum for her time.

One night while out at a club, Electre meets handsome bad boy “Rupert” (Ash Stymest). They make small talk, but Rupert has eyes for Virginie who dances by herself across the club. He offers to drive the girls home, dropping Electre off first. Rupert speeds away, Virginie in the passenger seat, as Electre is once again overshadowed by her beautiful, uninhibited, wild friend.

But Virginie, no matter how seemingly free, believes herself to be toxic to others. She finds herself expressing these truths to Rupert, overwhelmed by his probing, and the reality of her life as she feeds him her rehearsed “Estate Agent” story. But Rupert has secrets of his own, his true intentions blurred as we learn things about him that remain hidden to Virginie.

Rupert works to rescue trafficked underage girls, and his initial interest in Virginie is getting access to her world. But when their paths continue to cross, they both wrestle with their growing feelings for one another and their obligation to their respective lines of work. A tangled web is woven as obstacles are thrown up at every turn.

Don’t let the film’s title keep you from giving it a fair chance, as Sylvie Verheyde’s Sex Doll is a quiet force that may just surprise you. Verheyde successfully balances her provocative subject matter with a more grounded narrative thread in this dramatic thriller. Cesar Award-winner Hafsia Herzi perhaps unsurprisingly stuns as Virginie. However, she is successfully matched by Ash Stymest as Rupert, who gives a commendable performance in his film debut. While Sex Doll may be a unique take on the modern love story, audiences root for Rupert and Virginie even as they are confined by their circumstances, delving further and further into the dark world of London’s call girl society.

©Jessica E. Perry FF2 Media (2/12/17)

Top Photo:“Virginie” (Hafsia Herzi) leaves a client.

Middle Photo: “Rupert” (Ash Stymest), “Electre” (Lindsay Karamoh), and Virginie leave the club.

Bottom Photo: Rupert and Virginie drive together.

Photo Credits: IFC Midnight

Q: Does Sex Doll pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

Yes.

Sex Doll boasts unique and original female characters who share numerous conversations together.  In particular, Virginie and her madam, “Raphäelle” (Karole Rocher), share numerous, and pointed, conversations about responsibility, work, and the threat of it all falling apart.

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SPEED SISTERS

In this fast-paced documentary, director Amber Fares gets up close and personal with the members of the Speed Sisters, the first all female car racing team in the Arab world, as they struggle with their identities as women, Muslims, athletes, and Palestinians. (EML: 3/5)

Review by FF2 Associate Eliana M. Levenson

Meet the Speed Sisters, the first women’s only team in Middle Eastern car racing. The women, who race as individuals but train as a group, all come from varying backgrounds within the Palestinian landscape and come together for their love of racing. As they race throughout the year, they are in direct competition with each other as only the two top female racers are given spots to represent Palestine at the race in Jordan.

Marah has always loved racing, even stealing her mother’s car as a kid to drive around neighborhood kids. Raised in a supportive, but religious family, Marah is the reigning champion and is consistently a top competitor. Despite her talents, Marah is incredibly type-A and, when Betty beats her despite a rule violation, Marah decides to sit out the next race, disqualifying her from competing in Jordan.

Betty, Marah’s main competition, is Brazilian born and Palestinian raised, straddling both a Latina and Palestinian identity. Unlike the other women, Betty sees herself not just as a car racer but as a brand. She isn’t interested in hiding her femininity, despite her place in a “man’s” sport and works hard on her public image. However, her behavior and self-confidence can cause her to be at odds with other women and often get her into trouble.

Noor is an athlete through and through, trying everything until she landed on racing as her main passion. Though she often doesn’t place as well in competition, her fierce focus and desire to improve makes her someone to watch for the future.

Mona seems the least dedicated of the group, especially when she admits that if her fiance made her choose between racing and him, she would chose him. Still, Mona is an aggressive competitor and a dedicated member of the team, supporting the other women and working with them to push the boundaries of what women can do.

Lastly, there is Maysoon the team captain and the driving force behind the Speed Sisters. Intelligent and well-spoken, Maysoon is dedicated to keeping the women together as a team and feels it is important for them to continue to change how people view women in the Arab World. Still, Maysoon is a pragmatist, and while she resists their situation when she can, she is also happy to pick her battles which some of the women don’t agree with.

Structured around their race schedule, Speed Sisters takes the audience on a journey through the ups and downs of each of the women’s lives, both in and out of racing. Each of the women struggles against the traditionalism of the Arab culture and the expectations set upon them as women in a male-dominated society. While most people seem to be accepting of the women racing, the women still find themselves trying to balance their female identity with their “male” occupation.  

One of the most interesting aspects of the documentary is the difference in what racing looks like. Unlike Nascar, which boasts souped up, branded, exclusive and expensive vehicles, the women are responsible for providing their own vehicle, often piecing them together from things they find in junkyards. Furthermore, rather than an specific racing track, the races take place on regular streets, with simple cones added for maneuvers. The lack of glamour adds a grittiness to the sport, however, and enhances the overall understanding of the women’s experience in Palestine.

Heartbreaking and raw at times, Speed Sisters does not shy away from addressing the tense political climate that these women face living in the West Bank. Addressing the women’s experiences and concerns with military occupation at times is uncomfortable, especially as they often represent a narrow and one-sided view of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. While their experiences are important and should not be negated, there are moments when the documentary seems to steer toward an anti-Israel agenda by completely disregarding the other half of the equation. This makes the film difficult to stomach at times, and has the Israeli supporter in the audience wanting to yell at the screen the perspective of the other side. Still, Speed Sisters does a good job of balancing the politics with the racing, and there is definite value in hearing, however biased, a differing opinion on the occupation that may not always be given a voice.

Overall, Speed Sisters provides an exclusive look at a world that is often left in the dark. While the stories are interesting, the narrative style feels stale and doesn’t keep the audience as engaged as the concept would suggest. Though the political, personal, and athletic are well-balanced, there is a lack of depth to all of the narratives, leaving the audience with only a surface understanding of all three aspects.

© Eliana M. Levenson FF2 Media (2/9/16)

Top Photo: Poster for the documentary, Speed Sisters, directed by Amber Fares.

Middle Photo: Maysoon in the center, sporting her business blazer, with her team surrounding her, decked out in racing gear.

Bottom Photo: The Speed Sisters in their racing gear showing solidarity and strength as the only all female team in Middle Eastern car racing.

Photo Credits: First Run Features

Q: Does Speed Sisters pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

Absolutely!

Speed Sisters is the epitome of a girl power movie! In fact, it’s rare for men to even speak at all, except for a few beats of their fathers. The film focuses on the relationships between the women and the women’s relationships to their situation in Palestine, which means that they are almost always speaking to each other and not usually about men.

In fact, one of the most intense scenes comes when Maysoon, Noor, Mona and Betty are discussing Marah’s choice not to race in one of the Jordan qualifying rounds. This scene is a great example of female dynamics, especially in a competitive field that has almost nothing to do with men, since they are technically only competing against one another.

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THE LURE

The Lure is Polish director Agnieszka Smoczyńska’s debut feature-length film. Originally named órki dancingu, which literally translates as “Daughters of the Dance Club”, this horror musical film is about two mermaids, “Silver” (Marta Mazurek) and “Gold” (Michaline Olszanska) who become fascinated with their new lifestyle as humans. They join a family of musicians and explore the world humans live in whilst performing at an adult entertainment club. However, the choice between staying a mermaid and becoming a human begins to create a divide between the sisters, who cannot live without one another. (KIZJ: 3.5/5)

Review by FF2 Intern Katusha Jin

The movie begins with “Gold” (Michaline Olszanska) and “Silver” (Marta Mazurek) in the waters, observing a family of three humans on land singing, dancing, and strumming a guitar. The singing family entrances the two mermaids and curiosity forces them to reveal themselves.

They get taken into the foreign world of adult entertainment where their mermaid identity is exposed, and the “House Manager” (Zygmunt Malanowicz) decides to take them in as performers. They are brought out to buy new clothes and shoes and the shopping mall breaks into dance and upbeat pop music as the mermaids first see the human world outside of the club during the day. The two seductive and fresh young girls are exploited as performers alongside the “Nightclub Singer” (Kinga Preis), the “Bass Player” (Jakub Gierszal), and the “Drummer” (Andrzej Konopka). Everyone around them is dumbstruck and fascinated by their presence and they too enjoy the attention.

Gradually, an attraction between the Bass Player and Silver begins to form and Gold becomes worried about Silver falling in love with him. The divide between the two sisters grows stronger as the more invested Silver becomes in the bass player, the closer she seems to becoming human. Gold, on the other hand, deviates further and further away from being human and begins seducing and eating her human victims.

Gold sings about her worries directly to the camera as she freezes time in the world around her and gently caresses the humans in a devious manner. Soon after, “King Triton” (Marcin Kowalcyzyk) informs her that, should Silver fall in love with a human and the human marry another person instead, Silver would turn into sea foam by the next sunrise. Eventually, because the Bass Player refuses to recognize her as more than a fish, Silver sacrifices her tail in exchange for real human legs, believing that what she had found was true love. Nevertheless, the loss of her voice and a failed, painful sexual experience with the Bass Player seemed to bring his apparent love for her to an end.

This film must be watched with an open mind and the suspension of disbelief. It has moments of excitement, hope, realization, and growth. And the elements of humor in combination with an exaggerated script and serious execution, often left the auditorium ringing with laughter. Although the highly stylized 80’s world of the film may seem puzzling, the story is about the coming of age and growth of individuals in a foreign world. It showed the first smoke, first drink, first love, first heartbreak and many other firsts of the mermaids. Director Agnieszka Smoczyńska pulls at our heartstrings as we are dragged through a very blunt coming-of-age story, where the curiosity and desire for new experiences can be met with disappointment and loss.

Although this is not a film for everyone, I would strongly encourage people to try to watch at least a part of it. Watching The Lure with its colorful, experimental visuals, is in itself an experience worth trying.

©Katusha Jin FF2 Media (2/8/17)

Top Photo: The Lure poster.

Middle Photo: Gold singing about her worries.

Bottom Photo: Gold and Silver performing with the Nightclub Singer.

Photo Credits: Robert Palka

Does The Lure pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

Yes, but only just.

A lady who works at the nightclub encourages Silver to smoke her first cigarette.

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