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]

amelie

The director of Delicatessen brings us this delightful fairytale story of Amelie, a shy waitress who plots random acts of kindness. Amelie decides on her mission after witnessing the joy she brings to an older man by anonymously returning a box of his childhood treasures. Other acts include sending a garden gnome on a world tour, matchmaking, videomaking, and bestowing justice on behalf of a slow-moving grocer’s assistant. Finally, karma catches up with her, and Amйlie must decide whether she’s brave enough to realize joy in her own life, not just through creating joy for others. Magic realism and the engaging pixie-like quality of lead actor Audrey Tatou make this perfect holiday fare. [france, 2001]

babette’s feast

A group of religious zealots living in an aging and isolated community discovers a lesson of love and forgiveness when a quiet maid prepares a lavish and extravagant feast for them. The stark, barren landscape, and puritan houses provide bas relief to Babette’s earthy and sensual banquet. 1987 Academy Award winner for best foreign film. [denmark, 1987]

eight women

See the grande dames of French cinema let loose in this cheeky homage to vintage thrillers, musicals, and soap operas. Of note are Catherine Deneuve and Danielle Darrieux as the matriarchs, Emmanuelle Bйart as the maid, Fanny Ardant as the outsider, and Isabelle Huppert as an absurdly uptight aunt. When the patriarch of the home is mysteriously murdered, the octet find themselves trapped in a country house suspecting each other of the deed. Features dark secrets, glamorous outfits, bitchy backstabbing, lesbian subtext, and campy song-and-dance numbers. [france, 2002]

school of flesh

A May/December role reversal, French style. She has polish, financial power, and social standing. He has youth, looks, and a troubled past. Flesh stands out for placing a fortysomething woman, Dominique, at the heart of this story about a muted obsession with a much younger bartender. Despite the slightly twisted nature of the affair and her obvious despair, she never gets trapped or buried by it. Low on action and fireworks, it’s a nuanced dissection of an unconventional relationship. [france, 1998]

osama

This gritty, realistic, depressing, and thoroughly compelling depiction of the life of women under the Taliban is told through the eyes of a young girl whose mother disguises her as a boy. This disguise is not a ruse to get ahead or get her an education, it is a necessity to survive as the girl lives with her mother and grandmother: none of the three are allowed to work or even go out in public alone. Although the story is harsh, and there is certainly no Hollywood ending, it’s still inspiring for a number of reasons: this is the first feature film filmed in Afganistan after liberation from the Taliban; it’s the first film for writer-director Siddiq Barmak, and first film for former street-urchin Marina Golbarhari. [afganistan, 2003]

aimee and jaguar

The affair between a Jewish intellectual and a Nazi housefrau is portrayed without trivializing the enormity of World War ll. The film’s heart (& brain) is Felice (AKA Jaguar) who poses by day as a gentile for a Nazi newspaper and lives it up by night writing erotic poetry and frequenting Berlin’s lesbian clubs. While Berlin collapses into rubble around her and friends “disappear”, she ups the risk ante by falling for a Nazi mother with four children. The film makes for a fascinating and moving portrait of a little known subculture of war-time Berlin. [germany, 1999]

children of heaven

A sweet, affecting tale of a brother and sister who scout the streets of urban Iran in search of a pair of battered sneakers while juggling school and home responsibilities. Despite the shoe-crisis and a basic poverty, they remain respectful, strong, and enchanted by life’s simple joys be they soap bubbles or sparkling goldfish. As do we. Naturalistic performances and a touching portrayal of deep family love rarely seen on this continent make it a movie gem. [iran, 1997]

all about my mother

This film by Pedro Almodovar’s won the Golden Globe for best foreign film, and won the Academy Award for best foreign film. Regardless, it’s an excellent film about the relationships between unrelated women (and former men) who make their own family. In true Almodovar style, the colors are bright and garish, the dialogue is tongue-in-cheek, yet the subjects are weighty. AIDs, prostitution, organ donation, and plastic surgery are all tackled without the usual melodrama. Highly recommended. In Spanish with subtitles. [spain, 1999]

women on the verge of a nervous breakdown

In this delicious screwball comedy, four women struggle with sex, unfaithful men, police, and terrorists. Pepa, a popular television star, is ending a relationship with a suave but philandering co-star–the catch is, she’s pregnant. Add to this problem the fact that her best friend has mistakenly been harbouring Shiite terrorists, and confusion ensues. True to form in this Almodovar film, women who may start out as rivals (for example Pepa and her lover’s insane wife) end up helping each other to a relatively happy ending. It’s the ridiculous details–like the fully equipped cabbie–that make this film a treat. [spain, 1988]