LEARN TO SWIM – Review by Leslie Combemale

Director/co-writer Thyrone Tommy’s debut feature Learn to Swim is just the kind of languid, intense story of love and loss that demands to be watched during sweltering summer days. It follows sax player Dezi as he reflects on his relationship with Latina singer Selma. Questions build up. Why doesn’t Dezi play anymore? Why won’t he get his infected tooth taken care of, instead of worrying it like he deserves the pain it’s giving him? Flashbacks to a year before when he was with Selma allow the viewers to slip into Dezi’s memories with him, experiencing the arc of a love that has left him bereft and hopeless.

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THE LEGEND OF MOLLY JOHNSON – Review by Leslie Combemale

Purcell’s story takes the Australian romantic myth of frontier freedom and egalitarianism for all, and blows it to smithereens, giving audiences a bleak look into the challenges for indigenous people and women of the time. She is also up to the task as a performer to make Molly, a powerful, stoic survivor, completely believable, and her character someone for whom the audience wishes more than just suffering and survival. Molly is the ultimate mother archetype, and as such arouses our deepest feelings of empathy and compassion.

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WOMEN ROCKING HOLLYWOOD at San Diego ComicCon 2022 – Leslie Combemale reports

It’s very strange and a little disconcerting that five months of work is distilled into a panel event that takes less than an hour, but that’s how it goes planning the Women Rocking Hollywood panel for San Diego Comic-Con every year. What borders on surreal is that in 2022, I was working around an ongoing pandemic to do so. In some ways, 2022 was the best event yet, this being the seventh year of the female filmmaker-focused panel. The seven years includes the last two, in which we showed up virtually. Although there were some challenges unique to 2022, “Women Rocking Hollywood: Multi-hyphenate Female Filmmakers” as this permutation was called, featured several exclusive reveals, as well as a worldwide exclusive clip presented by the women participants, and that made this SDCC particularly special.

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SPOTLIGHT August 2022: Haifaa Al Mansour, Saudi Filmmaker and Cultural Activist

Haifaa Al Mansour has a vision and an aesthetic as a filmmaker, to be sure, and she’s bringing it to screens big and small. That’s important, but even more important is the impact she’s having on women around the world. She wants to be inspiring, and she has already proven herself to be as such. Haifaa Al Mansour is an advocate who stands up for women. She has a unique and passionate voice, and we are all lucky she chose to share it with us.

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MY DONKEY, MY LOVER AND I – Review by Leslie Combemale

When teacher Antoinette Lapouge (Laure Calamy) takes the stage with her class of 8-year-olds to sing what can only be described as a completely inappropriate love song to a parent assembly dressed in a low-cut silver lamé gown, it’s clear she’s a bit of an emotional fruit loop. Her students sing the verse, but she joins in, dress clinging, passionately singing the chorus. Boundary-issues alert! This is the opening scene of writer/director Caroline Vignal’s comedy of self-discovery My Donkey, My Lover & I.

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BOTH SIDES OF THE BLADE – Review by Leslie Combemale

Spending time with an old and not entirely extinguished flame when in a supposedly happy relationship is always a bad idea. It will be an ill-advised test of willpower at best, and at worst the height of hubris. That’s what happens in director Claire Denis’s romantic drama Both Sides of the Blade, which Denis wrote with co-screenwriter Christine Angot, based on Angot’s 2018 novel Un Tournant de Vie (A Turning Point of Life). They’ve created a visceral, intense slow burn about a destructive love triangle that spirals out of control with the help of stars Juliette Binoche, Vincent Lindon, and Grégoire Colin. Denis won the Silver Bear for Best Director at the 72nd Berlin International Film Festival for her work on the film.

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AWFJ Presents: ANTONIA’S LINE – Review by Leslie Combemale

With Antonia’s Line, writer/director Marleen Gorris created a film that is a celebration of life and an unflinching look at the challenges intergenerational women faced throughout the 20th century. The feminist filmmaker achieved what many great female directors before her could not: Antonia’s Line (1994) is the first foreign-language film by a female filmmaker to win an Oscar. That’s almost 40 years after the introduction of the foreign language category. Given the Oscars’ rather spotty history in terms of truly rewarding the best films, the question is, “Is Antonia’s Line really that good?” The answer is a resounding yes.

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HARGROVE (Tribeca 2022) – Review by Leslie Combemale

Perhaps it’s the love first time filmmaker Eliane Henri had for her friend, legendary jazzman Roy Hargrove, that inspired her, but she’s created a film that isn’t just biographical, but also considers things like the predatory nature of the music industry and what art can be in truly collaborative hands. Her choices lead to a beautiful tribute for one of the giants of the musical world.

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CLARA SOLA – Review by Leslie Combemale

It seems Alvarez Mesén and her co-screenwriter Maria Camila Arias aim to articulate the challenge of women living in a society that prioritizes god above man, man above woman, and mankind above nature, all through Clara. They were lucky to find Wendy Chinchilla Araya to collaborate in that articulation. It is a lot of responsibility to put on someone for their first acting role, yet she brings an elemental ferocity and tenderness to the character. Chinchillla Araya shows us Clara’s internal dance, in her fearful interactions with humans and her fearless interactions with animals. Her connection to the elements is always in evidence. She is not just of nature, but is nature. In that way, both the character and the film as a whole are a powerful expression of the divine feminine.

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BEBA – Review by Leslie Combemale

Beba presents a woman of color who is neither famous nor infamous, searching for her identity in her own voice. What makes Beba watchable is viewers get the sense that she is examining her mistakes and her significant role in familial conflict in a multi-dimensional way. That is best exampled by the last lines of the film. She seems genuine in wanting to get her head out of her own ass and take responsibility for her place in the world, something that makes her perspective, and the way she chooses to tell her own story, truly compelling.

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