Mother’s Day weekend brings two cinematic love notes about women to the Island.
The Martha’s Vineyard Film Society is showing Irish filmmaker Ken Wardrop’s “His and Hers” at the Katharine Cornell Theatre on Saturday, while “Queen to Play,” a charming French romantic comedy about, believe it or not, chess, will screen at the Capawock Theatre on Sunday, May 8. “My Perestroika” (reviewed 4/7) will play the Capawock on Saturday.
“His and Hers” director Wardrop built his reputation as a documentary shorts filmmaker, winning multiple prizes. He enters the full-length documentary arena with “His and Hers” by expanding his successful shorts techniques, and “His and Hers” won the 2010 Sundance Prize for Best Documentary Cinematography in the World Cinema category.
Starting with an infant and progressing to women in their 90s, Mr. Wardrop builds a sequential portrait of what women think about their fathers, brothers, boyfriends, and husbands by interviewing 70 Irish women. None of the interviews last longer than three minutes, and each operates independently.
The brevity of each individual vignette — one is of his own mother — works to sustain the audience’s attention and to provide a considerable variety of viewpoints. Mr. Wardrop has a knack for getting his subjects to open up in relaxed and honest ways that can be comic, compelling, or poignant, depending on the topic.
“You have to drink your milk,” cautions a toddler, while an older girl quotes her daddy’s warning, “Don’t be kissing any boys.” Twenty-somethings plan their married lives: separate TV rooms for one young woman since her boyfriend likes to watch fishing programs; separate clotheslines for another.
A young mother tells her son, “I’ll give you 10 Euros if you’ll go to sleep.” And the ploy works. Another woman describes how her family’s granddaddy entertains the kids by taking out his false teeth and clacking them.
Almost as if they were characters themselves, the rooms in these women’s houses help define them, the camera always framing them and their household activities with classical balance and a refined sense of aesthetics.
The Irish flavor of the women’s anecdotes adds to the pleasure. For instance, one woman’s married son stops by the house to checks what’s in her pot first, before heading home for dinner.
Not all life deals these women is sweetness and light, but they know how to roll with punches. One who suffered from breast cancer tells her anxious husband, “I haven’t the least notion of dying. You won’t get off that light.”
“Nobody loves you like an Irishman,” proclaims an octogenerian towards the end. Thanks to “His and Hers,” a welcome addendum might be, “Nobody tells it better than an Irishwoman.”
“Queen to Play”
Who would believe such a cerebral game could be the basis for romantic comedy, but a passion for chess indeed drives Caroline Bottaro’s “Queen to Play” (“Joueuse”). Fine acting by Sandrine Bonnaire and Kevin Kline, in his first French-speaking role, help turn this offbeat movie into a deeply satisfying and sophisticated meditation on class, women’s roles, and romance.
As Hélene, Ms. Bonnaire plays a plain-Jane cleaning woman who works at a hotel on gloriously vista-ed Corsica, as well as for the reclusive Dr. Kroger (Kline). Approaching mid-life, Hélene finds her handsome husband Ange (Francis Renaud) neglectful, daughter Lisa (Alexandra Gentile) surly, and her demeaning work unsatisfying.
American lovers (Jennifer Beals is the woman) playing chess on the balcony of one of the hotel rooms Hélene is cleaning inspire her to give her husband a chess set for his birthday. He lacks interest, but Hélene takes to staying up nights learning how to play.
When she sees a chess set at the intimidating Dr. Kroger’s house, she asks him to play with her. Soon everyone in the village, including Ange, thinks they’re having an affair. Only Hélene’s daughter defends her mother’s passion for this “man’s” game.
Dr. Kroger begins teaching Hélene how to play. Before she knows it, she imagines the hotel terrace she mops is a chess board and crumbs on a restaurant table are chess pieces.
Along with many other little touches, Ms. Bottaro artfully intercuts flashbacks to the American lovers with Hélene’s attempts to learn chess. What will happen between her and Dr. Kroger? Will she learn to play well enough to compete in tournaments? What will her husband do about her new passion? Go see “Queen to Play” for the answers. You won’t be sorry.
For filmgoers who missed the April 9 screening of Robin Hessman’s documentary about how five Russians experienced glasnost, “My Perestroika,” the Capawock will offer two additional shows on Sunday, May 8.
“His and Hers,” Saturday, May 7, 7:30 pm, Katharine Cornell Theatre, Vineyard Haven. $8; $5 for MVFS members. Doors open at 7 pm. For more information, see mvfilmsociety.com.
“My Perestroika,” Saturday, May 7, 4 and 7:30 pm, Capawock Theatre, Vineyard Haven.
“Queen to Play,” Sunday, May 8, 4 and 7 pm, Capawock Theatre, Vineyard Haven. $7. For more information, call 508-627-6689.