THE NATURE OF LOVE – Review by Leslie Combemale

Love is complicated. Obviously. That’s one of the ultimate messages of Monia Chokri’s The Nature of Love. What she’s also saying is that love and relationships aren’t just complicated, they’re largely classist, and sometimes restrictive to women in a way they aren’t for men. The Quebecois writer/director set about telling a story that examines aspects of sexuality and coupling from a feminist perspective, and the successful cinematic result is funny and painful in equal parts.

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FANCY DANCE – Review by Leslie Combemale

Erica Tremblay’s Fancy Dance has everything a movie needs to win awards: a plot with high stakes, strong performances by Lily Gladstone and ensemble, good character development and interaction, deeper cultural significance, and solid entertainment value. Fancy Dance also features BIPOC female creatives both in front and behind the camera, including the use of music by Choctaw composer Samantha Crain, and cinematography by Latinx filmmaker Carolina Costa.

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Erica Tremblay on FANCY DANCE – Leslie Combemale interviews

When Fancy Dance premiered at Sundance in 2023, it was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize and lauded by critics. The film went on to great acclaim on the festival circuit, including a special mention at Outfest and a win for Best Narrative Feature at the New York’s LGBT film festival, NewFest. The film’s co-writer, director and producer Erica Tremblay had been working on the screenplay with writing partner Miciana Alise for years. They’ve crafted, re-crafted, and tightened the story as they processed it through several writer’s labs, including one at Sundance. The attention to detail and story shows. It has garnered at 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, and its release is much anticipated. AWFJ lead contributor Leslie Combemale discussed the project with Tremblay in this exclusive interview:

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DADDIO – Review by Leslie Combemale

Writer/director Christy Hall has created a very realistic, meaningful and intense film with Daddio, her first feature. It wouldn’t be the powerhouse that it is, however, without the collaboration of stars Dakota Johnson and Sean Penn, DP Phedon Papamichael, and composer Dickson Hinchliffe. Given nearly all of the story happens in one cab. It’s amazing, even given Johnson and Penn’s performances, how our attention never wavers. Clearly Hall has good taste and knows how to collaborate, and that is a great sign of what we might expect in her future.

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JUST THE TWO OF US – Review by Leslie Combemale

Just the Two of Us is a sort of no bullshit, very French profile of one woman’s trauma that brings to mind that slick 90s US studio release Sleeping With the Enemy, which starred Julia Roberts. This new film features an actress who could be arguably labeled the Julia Roberts of France, Virginie Efira. Her character Blanche goes down the rabbit hole of self-doubt, fear, and shame many women suffering abuse go through, and being a French release, it’s not at all certain audiences will get the same kind of slick studio ending, or even whether she’ll survive.

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MISSING FROM FIRE TRAIL ROAD (Tribeca 2024) – Review by Leslie Combemale

If you like fearless, determined, powerful women unafraid of confrontation and passionate about getting answers and making change, you’ll find much to connect with Sabrina Van Tassel’s documentary Missing From Fire Trail Road. For those whose interest is piqued, French American director and investigative journalist Van Tassel’s film tackles the subject of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women through the search for one such loss, Mary Ellen Johnson-Davis from the Tulalip Tribes in Washington State, who disappeared in 2020.

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MADE IN ETHIOPIA (Tribeca 2024)- Review by Leslie Combemale

The film examines the growing industrialization taking place in the country, and the larger impact of China on Africa, through the microlens of what’s happening in one enormous Chinese industrial park located less than an hour outside of Addis Ababa. Made in Ethiopia presents a sort of slow burn in how it reveals issues, in part because it was filmed over the course of 4 years. Those years include the pandemic and a civil war in Ethiopia. What starts out as optimistic devolves and derails before the viewers’ eyes. It’s compelling filmmaking, but unfortunately tragic for the subjects living the experience.

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DRIVER (Tribeca 2024)- Review by Leslie Combemale

Documentarian Nesa Azimi’s alternatively meditative, enraging, and joyful Driver follows Desiree Wood, long haul trucker, educator, and founder of the nonprofit advocacy group Real Women in Trucking, as well as a number of her female fellow truckers. It shows their experiences, which range from struggling to keep their trucks, stay housed, and stay safe, to finding camaraderie, mentorship, and a true sisterhood with each other. The amount of harassment, aggression, sexual abuse, and manipulation by big industry (or what they call “Mega Trucking”) is worse that most people could possibly imagine. Rape culture is alive and thriving all around them.

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BAM BAM: THE SISTER NANCY STORY (Tribeca 2024) – Review by Leslie Combemale

The 1982 Reggae tune Bam Bam is the sort of anthem of female empowerment that transcends time and genre. It represents one of the rare female-led reggae performances of that or any era, making Sister Nancy a star at the tender age of 20. Bam Bam has been used and sampled hundreds of times since its release, by some of the most famous musicians in the business. Royalties that should have gone to Sister Nancy and her collaborators never came her way. Over the years the tune continued to get new fans, but Sister Nancy had to take a job as an accountant to support her career as a performer. Oh, and another thing, for all the time since its original recording, the master tapes have been missing.

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ADULT BEST FRIENDS (Tribeca 2024) – Review by Leslie Combemale

Adult Best Friends stars and is co-written by real life best friends Delaney Buffett and Katie Corwin. Buffett also directs, and Corwin acts as executive producer. This isn’t something I knew going in, but the script is so tight and the performances are so engaging, I wondered if one or both of them were helming the indie in some way. There’s an ease and chemistry between them that seems to go beyond their fearless performances. That’s not to say they aren’t fully invested in their roles. Both have said in interviews that their characters are exaggerations of themselves, and thank Goddess. In the film, Delaney is the sort of disaster area that will make audiences vacillate between wanting to flip her off or give her a hug.

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