By Jan Lisa Huttner
(First Posted in 2004)
|SOMETHING OLD:||The PEREZ FAMILY|
|SOMETHING NEW:||MOSTLY MARTHA|
|SOMETHING BORROWED:||UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN|
|SOMETHING BLUE:||The SAFETY OF OBJECTS|
January is the month of new beginnings. In the spirit of change and renewal, here are four films directed by women filmmakers, all of which feature great performances by top actresses. They should all be available at your local video store, and they also appear from time to time on cable movie channels.
The PEREZ FAMILY is set in 1980 when Fidel Castro suddenly allowed approximately 100,000 Cubans to emigrate to the United States, taking our government totally by surprise. Against this historical backdrop, director Mira Nair has created a poignant story told with a light touch and a great deal of warmth. Alfred Molina, who played Diego Rivera in last year’s Oscar-winning film FRIDA, stars, along with Oscar-winners Anjelica Huston and Marisa Tomei. All three leads are sexy and funny in roles that could easily have turned melodramatic.
The PEREZ FAMILY has a wonderful soundtrack, fabulous outfits, and a happy ending. By focusing on the enormous energy of Miami’s Cuban subculture, Nair clearly wants us to appreciate how new immigrants revitalize America, bringing all their hopes and dreams for a better life to our shores.
MOSTLY MARTHA was a major prize-winner last year in Europe. German actress Martina Gedeck stars as Martha, the head chef in an elegant Hamburg restaurant. Flamboyant and autocratic, she runs her immaculate kitchen with the precision of a great general. Like many workaholics, however, Martha lives an otherwise lonely life until fate throws her a curve.
All great film actresses have faces that draw us to them, but Gedeck’s is extraordinary. From scene to scene it’s sometimes difficult to recognize her features as her expression goes from hard to soft, hitting every point in between. She’s a prickly character, but somewhere along the way, Martha becomes a friend.
Like Nair, director Sandra Nettelbeck lightens the mood with a jazzy soundtrack, and she includes lots of cooking scenes. By the time the credits roll at the end, you’ll probably find yourselves as overwhelmed as we were by the urge to eat pasta.
UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN will arrive at your video store on February 3rd. Even though this was a relatively popular movie based on a very popular book, you may not have gone to see it because the reviews were mixed. Unfortunately, I think critics who went in looking for a romance missed the point: the core of this story is the relationship between a woman and her house.
When the film begins, Frances (wonderfully played by Golden-Globe nominee Diane Lane) has just completed work on her new home, investing all the money from her mother’s estate in her remodeling effort. She thinks she’s finally reached a stable point in her life, but she couldn’t be more wrong. A series of nasty surprises literally sends her back to square one.
Although screenwriter/director Audrey Wells takes a lot of liberties with Frances Mayes’ bestseller and invents a “Frances” character very different from the original author, she remains true to the fundamental subject, the ways in which “house” and “home” define most women’s sense of self.
The SAFETY OF OBJECTS is the most downbeat of these four films, but I definitely found it worth the effort. Although it has a great cast of character actors, the film belongs to Oscar-winner Glenn Close. In some ways Esther Gold, the character Close plays here, has a lot in common with the caretaker Meryl Streep played last year in The HOURS. Her son was horribly injured in an automobile accident and now lies in a coma, but Esther can’t let go. Her devotion to her son increases the friction with her daughter Julie, who, unknown to Esther, has more at stake than sibling rivalry.
As different as they are from one another, each of these four films ends on an up note. Come January it’s important to remember something we all know already: whatever happens from one year to the next, life goes on.
© Jan Lisa Huttner (January/February 2004) – Special for The Woman’s Newspapers. Reposted with permission.