A trio of interesting films playing this weekend includes “Potiche,” a French neo-feminist farce; “The Other Woman,” a Hollywood family drama; and “The Promise,” a documentary about the making of Bruce Springsteen’s 1978 classic album, Darkness on the Edge of Town.
The most powerful and well made of the bunch is “The Promise,” which plays Sunday, May 1, at the Capawock Theatre as a special benefit for the Island Food Pantry. Fifty percent of box office proceeds will go to this charity, and three DVD sets of the film will be raffled off at each screening.
Released in 1978, Darkness at the Edge of Town came after a three-year hiatus in recordings by Springsteen and the E Street Band because of a contract dispute with the musician’s former manager, Mike Appel. Grammy and Emmy award-winning director Thom Zimny plunges the viewer directly into the studio to watch an obsessive, perfectionist Springsteen at work with his band.
Even for non-fans, the film will fascinate viewers with its close attention to how the 50-plus songs that Springsteen wrote for the album got winnowed down to a final handful. Director Zimny alternates his black and white footage of the young musicians at work with interviews of them today.
Coming off the success of Born to Run, Mr. Springsteen refused to give in to the pressures simply to reproduce the sound of that popular album. He was not interested in turning himself into a pop star but wanted to stay true to his working-class roots. The band survived on live concerts.
“I went back to Asbury Park millions of dollars in debt,” he remembers in the film. A recurrent musical motif becomes Springsteen’s efforts to address the challenges of adulthood. The sound picture he wanted to create suggested loneliness and an unglamorized, unsweetened music. In the film he calls it “a leaner sound, a little bit angrier sound, a relentless feeling.”
For three weeks, he spent 10 hours a day working with drummer Max Weinberg to get the drum sound that he heard in his head. Even though, as one of the band members says, Springsteen could have been one of the great pop songwriters of his time, he was more interested in creating a sense of “now” through his music. “Darkness” has no love songs, although Patti Smith talks about a Springsteen songs she turned into a love song in the film.
“I’m beginning to tell the story that I’m telling most of the rest of my life,” this consummate musician says. Even if you aren’t a fan of the raw, apocalyptic Springsteen sound, “The Promise” may turn you into one with its insightful examination of the artistic process.
France’s foremost screen actors, Catherine Deneuve and Gérard Depardieu, headline the comic mousse, “Potiche,” which the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society brings to the Katherine Cornell Theatre on Saturday, April 30. The word translates as “trophy wife,” and the film spoofs the sexist ideas of a 70s umbrella factory owner (Fabrice Luchini) and his wife Suzanne (Deneuve).
Still gorgeous at 67 even if she has lost her waistline, Mlle. Deneuve opens the film jogging in the park. After 30 years of marriage, she sarcastically dubs herself “the queen of kitchen appliances.”
Her husband Robert marches into the house like a little Napoleon, and the couple’s daughter Joelle announces she wants to leave her cheating husband. Son Jérémy is getting serious about his girlfriend Floriane, who, it turns out, is probably his half-sister.
Robert’s secretary Nadege (Karin Viard), who is also his mistress, bursts in to report that her boss has been taken hostage in a strike. Suzanne steps into the fray, enlisting Mayor Maurice Babin (Depardieu), who had a one-night tryst with her years ago.
As Maurice, a paunchy Depardieu, now 67, still carries the torch for Suzanne. Liberté and égalité rule the day once Suzanne takes over the factory from her now ailing husband and enlists the aid of her two children.
The pace stays lively and the plot has enough flips and flops to keep viewers mildly entertained. As fitting for the season and the genre, “Potiche’s” palette stays bright as an Easter bunny, and watching these consummate, aging actors go through their paces is always a treat.
“The Other Woman”
Also playing Saturday, April 30, is the family drama, “The Other Woman.” This Natalie Portman vehicle, directed by Don Roos, will keep fans of the “Black Swan” diva happy, although it is marred by too heavy a dose of Hollywood sentimentality.
Ms. Portman plays Emilia Greenleaf, a law firm associate who falls for a partner, Jack (Scott Cohen) and ropes him in. The catch is that he has an eight-year-old son Will (a cute and perky Charlie Tahan) who can’t stand her.
Even worse, Em and Jack have lost their newborn daughter to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Em has not been able to get over this loss, and Jack’s ex-wife Carolyne (Lisa Kudrow) enjoys rubbing salt in the wound.
The strength of “The Other Woman” lies in Ms. Portman’s performance as the not-very-likeable other woman. She nails the portrait of an impulsive, immature young woman who alienates those around her until she learns through hard knocks to grow up a little. Supporting actors Kudrow, and Lauren Ambrose in the thankless role of Em’s best friend, also lift this film above mediocrity.
“Potiche,” Saturday, April 30, 7:30 pm, Katherine Cornell Theatre, Vineyard Haven. $8; $5 for MVFS members. Doors open at 7 pm. For more information, see mvfilmsociety.com.
“The Other Woman,” Saturday, April 30, 4 and 7:30 pm, Capawock Theatre, Vineyard Haven. $7. For more information, call 508-627-6689.
“The Promise: The Making of Darkness at the Edge of Town,” Sunday, May 1, 2, 4, and 7 pm. $7. To benefit the Island Food Pantry.