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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LEAVE NO TRACE (Tribeca 2022) – Review by Leslie Combemale

When Norman Rockwell began his long association with The Boy Scouts of American, he couldn’t possibly have imagined how much his romanticized, clean-cut, patriotic representation of the organization would aid in building a system tailor-made for pedophiles. The dozens of art images shown as part of the new documentary Leave No Trace are only one way filmmaker Irene Taylor lays out how the once storied, now infamous boy’s club promoted and branded itself as a safe, wholesome way to create a strong, healthy, loyal, and obedient young man. Leave No Trace recounts, often in shocking ways, just how far from the truth that really is, and has been nearly from their inception. Only in February 2022, the Boy Scouts of America reached a 2.7 billion agreement over sexual abuses that occurred over decades.

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WE MIGHT AS WELL BE DEAD (Tribeca 2022) – Review by Leslie Combemale

Paranoia and tribalism reign supreme in writer/director Natalia Sinelnikova’s debut feature We Might As Well Be Dead, a satire about how fear is leading to chosen isolation, elitism, and a general inclination to cocoon with the like-minded, rather than consider alternate points of view. The elite family at the center of the tory faces an undefined outside threat that symbolizes the paranoia of the unknown and xenophobia that have been fomented by politicians across the world in recent years. We Might As Well Be Dead leverages that dread to great effect, showing a promising start to Sinelnikiva’s career.

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IN HER NAME (Tribeca 2022) – Review by Leslie Combemale

There are some deep subjects examined in writer/director Sarah Carter’s relationship dramedy about family dynamics, In Her Name. Questions like, “Who told you who you are, and how attached to that are you?” and “Do you want to hold on to your anger more than you want to be free?” haunt the characters. Viewers could hardly be blamed for questioning whether Carter and her cast will be able to perform the exorcism required to release them from their possession. That they achieve a sort of release, and find forgiveness, gives the film its power.

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GOOD LUCK TO YOU, LEO GRANDE – Review by Leslie Combemale

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is full of talk (with a little sex thrown in), but becomes incredibly meaningful, layered, and ultimately life-affirming. This is all within the context of sexually unfulfilled widow ‘Nancy Stokes’ (a never better Emma Thompson) hiring sex worker ‘Leo Grande’ (up-and-coming Irish actor Daryl McCormack) to take him through the sexual paces on a list she’s put together of sexual experiences. She is a retired teacher and mother of two grown, seemingly needy children. She reveals early on that she’s has never had an orgasm. He presents himself as a professional with a job to do, a job he does well. Nearly the entire film takes place in one hotel room, and through their interactions and intimate conversations they are both changed in profound and fundamental ways.

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THE JANES – Review by Leslie Combemale

Co-directors Tia Lessin and Ema Pildes remind viewers of the importance of knowing our collective history in their timely new documentary The Janes. The film profiles the Jane Collective, a fearless, radical group of underground activists that believed in reproductive freedom, and came together to aid women of the pre-Roe V. Wade era in getting safe abortions. Between 1968 and 1973, they were able to make 11,000 safe abortions happen, when, without them, long term negative consequences or death was a distinct possibility for those who sought to end their pregnancies.

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