sabah

This endearing little story, stars Arsinee Khanjian, as the title character, a 40-year old Iranian woman who begins an affair with a Canadian man. Sabah reclaims her body by sneaking away from her overbearing mother and brother to swim, something she hasn’t done since she was a child. At the pool she meets a handsome, sensitive, divorced carpenter and tentatively begins a secret relationship with him. This hopeful love story speaks to the power of tradition, family, and finding yourself. [canada, 2005]

the journey (sancharram)

This coming of age story set in rural southern India features three friends and a love triangle, and tackles the often forbidden topic of lesbianism. Kiran, Lila, and Rajan are childhood friends in a Catholic area of Kerla in southern India. As they mature, Rajan and Kiran both discover feelings for Lila. Rajan solicits Kiran, a budding writers help in wooing Lila. The resulting heart-felt letters help Kiran and eventually Lila discover the passionate love she holds for her best girlfriend. [us/india, 2004]

june bug

The premise is simple: big city art-dealer Madeline, goes to meet “down-home” family of new husband George. In a twist on the predictable, the main purpose of the trip is to meet a new artist for her gallery, and the family just happened to be nearby. This small independent film is a secure complex, often comic, story of relations, roots, and folk art, where prejudices on all sides are held up to light. Amy Adams was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance as Ashley, the hopelessly optimistic, and heavily pregnant sister-in-law who believes family is stronger than just about anything. This seemingly simple film grows on you, just as Ashley does. [usa, 2005]

eve and the firehorse

If Jesus dances with Buddha, who leads? This is one of the images and questions that will stick with you after seeing Vancouverite Julia Kwan’s first feature and Sundance hit. A mix of magic realism, 70s nostalgia, death and religion, the story is told by a nine-year-old Chinese-Canadian born in the year of the fire horse (babies born in this damned year were typically drowned in the river). After a string of bad luck, the Buddhist sisters turn to Catholicism to secure some everlasting glory for the family. But when the two young sisters shoot for sainthood to “save” the family, it takes them down a path that irrevocably changes their family. [canada, 2006]

water

Deepa Meetha’s tale of two young widows – an eight-year-old and a 20something woman (the luminous Lisa Ray in a serious role) is as heartbreaking as it is poetic and achingly gorgeous. Set in Varnasi circa 1930, the film takes cues from Romeo and Juliet and Bollywood to explore the cruel realities for widowed women forced into an ashram where they subsist until they are old enough to sell their bodies. With the Ganges as its central metaphor, the film is awash in water symbols: funeral pyres on the river banks, floating candles, morning ablutions, and the purifying monsoon rains. A tragedy at heart, the film is nonetheless full of energetic life-affirming scenes of dance, play and love. [canada, 2005]

personal velocity

Personal Velocity presents three tiny perfect stories of three women, each with their own dilemma. Weaving together flashbacks and narration, each story takes its protagonist past confusion to the first glimpse of clarity. In “Delia” Kira Sedgwick plays an aging “class slut” who finds herself mid-30’s with three kids and an abusive husband. In “Greta,” our indie darling Parker Posey is a privileged Manhattanite, who rebels against her philandering father by underachieving and by marrying the antithesis of him. In “Paula” Fairuza Balk is a pregnant two-time runaway who understands her own doubts by picking up an uncommunicative hitchhiker. Our only wish for this film was that the director had trusted the strong performances of her leads and skipped some of the narration and flashbacks, but see it anyway — highly recommended. [us, 2002]

gabbeh

Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s dreamy tale of a young Iranian girl’s desire to marry a distant horseman hardly seems subversive, and yet it was banned in Iran. Why? Simply because the story centres on a young woman, and is told from a woman’s point of view. And yet the film, which the director dubs “poetic realism”, is a simple lyrical tale that chronicles the day-to-day activities of tapestry-weaving nomads. What really sets the film apart is its startling visual artistry – vibrant, colourful and surreal. [iran, 2002]

frida

A boisterous and colourful biopic, Frida pulls you in right from the vividly represented bus accident that informed her life through to her death at 47. It’s got everything – a fascinating subject, a first-rate performance, a touch of sentimentality, and a visual sensibility that mimics the artist’s own surreal style. Salma Hayek’s injects the iconic painter with a stoic toughness and joie de vivre that belies her character’s immense physical and emotional pain. It’s also a great romance that gives insight into Frida’s on again, off again relationship with the adulterous larger-than-life muralist, Diego Rivera. [us, 2002]

mostly martha

Another fine foodie movie along the lines of Chocolat and Babette’s Feast. Only this time it’s an uptight German chef whose exquisite dishes get screen-time. Martha’s orderly life as queen of the kitchen comes undone when her grief-stricken niece, Lina, comes into her care. The kicker is she won’t eat any of her fine French cuisine. Lina’s appetite shifts when a warm-hearted Italian chef enters the picture with old-style pasta dishes and a way with Tiramisu – and Martha. Features a quirky, toe-tapping soundtrack. Make reservations for dinner after the show. Or better still cook at home. [germany 2002]

my big fat greek wedding

Maybe it’s the samba soundtrack. Maybe it’s the melancholic sweetness of its lead character. Either way, it’s a nice “alone at home without a date movie” (silly Mafia subplot notwithstanding). A single twentysomething woman’s over-zealous mother places a personal ad in the paper for her daughter Erin. Erin, who is smart, well read and emotionally balanced, winds up dating a string of losers. She corrects their misquotes and blows holes in their vapid philosophies until she meets…ah go on, rent it and find out. [us, 1998]