MOVIE OF THE WEEK April 19, 2024: WE GROWN NOW

Growing up can be a fraught experience in the best of circumstances, and life in the deteriorating Cabrini-Green public housing project in early 1990s Chicago is far from the best of circumstances. But, in Chicago native Minhal Baig’s moving drama We Grown Now, it’s also a place where friendship and community thrive — until tragic violence attracts the attention of the forces of “law and order,” and everything changes for best friends Malik and Eric.

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK April 12, 2024: SWEET DREAMS

Writer-director Ena Sendijarević’s strange, sumptuous critique of Dutch colonialism Indonesia during the early 1900s is rich with beautifully composed shots but the lacerating tragic tone is mixed with sardonic wit. From the opening shot of a boy killing a tiger that is then carted through the cane fields on the shoulders of Indonesian natives, sugar will be the undoing of everything and everyone by murder or suicide. Central to the action is Siti, the Indonesian housekeeper for plantation owner Jan and his bored wife Agathe. Their days of oppressive rule are quickly wilting in the torrid heat. There is unrest among the exploited indigenous workers; one of whom suggests that Siti poison their overseers. But Jan, we soon learn, is the father of Siti’s young son Karel who is treated as his heir and identifies with the colonizers. It’s Karel, the product of patriarchy, exploitation and greed, who is left with the spoils but at what cost? Full of eerie, surreal beauty and a touch of madness, Sendijarević’s twisted, tragic tale is a stunning film.

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK April 5, 2024: PARACHUTE

Launching into adulthood and finding her place in the world is a messy, challenging process for Riley (Courtney Eaton of the show Yellowjackets) in actor-turned-director Brittany Snow’s thoughtful feature debut, Parachute. As she stumbles toward real maturity after going through rehab for eating and body image disorders, Riley isn’t always easy to like, but Snow and Eaton work together to make you want to root for her to succeed.

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK March 29, 2024: LA CHIMERA

Love and contentment are as elusive as an undisturbed Etruscan tomb in Alice Rohrwacher’s piquant dramedy La Chimera. As it tells the story of a merry group of Italian grave robbers — known as tombaroli — and the inscrutable Englishman who leads them to the caches of objects they happily sell to the highest bidder, the film examines the allure of pursuing something that always seems just beyond your grasp.

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK March 22, 2024: YUNI

If there’s any universal truth about teenagers, it’s that the process of growing up and finding their way in the world usually involves angst, big feelings, and at least a bit of rebellion. Such is the case in Kamila Andini’s poignant coming-of-age drama Yuni, which follows a bright, thoughtful Indonesian 16-year-old who yearns for something other than the traditional path that’s been laid out before her but isn’t sure how to escape living a conventional life.

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK March 15, 2024: FRIDA

The art and experiences of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo come to vivid life in director Carla Gutierrez’s intimate documentary Frida. Told through creative animation, archival images, and first-hand accounts — with a particular emphasis on Kahlo’s own letters and diaries — the film brings viewers inside the mind and heart of one of the world’s most iconic modern artists, empathetically revealing her near-lifelong struggle with both self-criticism and chronic pain.

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK March 8, 2024: CABRINI

The lushly filmed biopic, Cabrini, feels a bit like a callback to earnest mid-19th century movies such as The Inn of the Sixth Happiness and The Keys of the Kingdom. But that approach works for a story like this: Mother Cabrini was an earnest person doing earnest work, and her dedication to that work shines through in every frame of Christiana Dell’Anna’s performance. That, plus the movie’s still-all-too-timely plea to embrace and support immigrants, gives Cabrini the kind of impact that Mother Cabrini would have been pleased to see.

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK March 1, 2024: SHAYDA

Trauma and abuse fuel a Persian woman’s determination to change her life — and that of her young daughter — in writer/director Noora Niasari’s compelling feature drama debut Shayda. Thanks to Niasari’s sensitive script and empathetic direction and star Zar Amir Ebrahimi’s excellent performance, the result is a film that’s likely to leave viewers feeling both rage at misogynistic traditions and hope for the possibility of change, transformation, and renewal.

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SHAYDA – Review by Loren King

In her compelling feature debut about a young mother’s flight from domestic abuse, Australian-Iranian writer/director Noora Niasari creates tension that simmers from the first scene to the last frame. Zar Amir Ebrahimi is superb as the title character, a Iranian woman living in Australia in 1995 with her young daughter Mona (Selina Zahednia). Shayda is attempting to leave her abusive husband, Hossein (Osamah Sami), a medical student who intends to move back to Iran with Shadya and Mona, despite Shayda’s steps to obtain a divorce. Fearful that the angry Hossein will abduct Mona, Shadya and her daughter take refuge in a women’s shelter run by the non-nonsense but compassionate Joyce (the excellent Leah Purcell.

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK February 23, 2024: SEAGRASS

Marriage is hard. Parenting is hard. Growing up is hard. Losing a parent is hard. These human truths are at the heart of Japanese Canadian writer/director Meredith Hama-Brown’s directorial debut, Seagrass. The moody, introspective drama centers on a family that comes to a significant crossroads during their time at a self-development retreat on the rugged British Columbia coast, raising and grappling with complex questions related to identity, connection, and self-esteem.

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