BEYOND THE EDGE

EdmundHillaryBeyond the Edge commemorates the 60th Anniversary of the conquest Mount Everest by Sir Edmund Hillary (of New Zealand) and Tenzing Norgay (of Nepal). This Leanne Pooley-directed film about their treacherous journey up the mountain is interesting for its historical details, albeit lackluster in excitement and suspense. Notably missing is an answer to the question: “Why?” (JLH: 3/5)

Click HERE for our FF2 Haiku.

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Opening in America after its 2013 New Zealand release, Beyond the Edge centers on “Edmund Hillary” (reenacted by Chad Moffitt) and “Tenzing Norgay” (reenacted by Sonam Sherpa) trudging up Mount Everest under horrendous weather conditions until they finally reach the peak on the historic day of May 29, 1953.

Director Leanne Pooley (winner of the Best Documentary Director at New Zealand’s 2013 Film and TV awards) includes a breathtaking 360-degree camera turn on the tippy top of Mount Everest’s highest peak. The stunning shot shows that Edmund and Tenzing are certain that they have reached “the top” because they are able to look out at the whole world now lying beneath them.

But the film ends when they get there, so a certain amount of delight is lost because we know exactly how their journey ends. And how on earth did they get down anyway?!? Suffice it to say that we know they did because they both lived to tell about it—and to show their own photos—but still…

The strength of Beyond the Edge lies in the admirable effort made by Pooley and her crew to recreate all of the equipment that was considered “state-of-the art” in the 1950s. The replicas are almost identical in appearance to the actual equipment that Edmund and Tenzing had available to them at the time (oxygen tanks, clothing, tents, etc). Everything they put on screen is very closely modeled on what is now on display in various New Zealand museums and at the Royal Geographic Society in London.

With his image gracing the $5 commemorative banknote because of this triumphant feat, Edmund Hillary is considered one of the greatest heroes in the history of New Zealand. But once he and Tenzing did it, others felt compelled to follow, and now people regularly die in their own foolish quests (often taking poorly-paid Sherpas with them).

But although I personally do not see the point of trudging up this treacherous mountain, I can certain appreciate that Beyond the Edge is beautifully-realized. So there is no other way to say it: If this is the kind of film you like, you will definitely like this film.

FromTheTop

Review © Jan Lisa Huttner (7/11/14)

Top Photo: Chad Moffit as “Edmund Hillary” in reenactments filmed in New Zealand.

Bottom Photo: Mark Whetu looks down from the peak of Mount Everest.

Q #1: Does Beyond the Edge pass the Bechdel test?

 No.

There are no women on screen in Beyond the Edge (although many women worked behind-the-scenes to help Leanne Pooley achieve her vision).

Q #2: Is the 360 degree turn real??? Yes! This is the real deal!!!

The climax of Beyond the Edge is a stunning shot showing that Edmund and Tenzing are able to look out at the whole world and see that it is all now lying beneath them. As soon as I got home, I set about learning if that shot was real, and, if so, how they got it.

The answer is that Leanne Pooley hired Mount Everest Cinematographer Mark Whetu!

According to the press kit: “Mark Whetu is a New Zealand mountaineer specializing in high altitude filming, rigging, and crew safety. His filming exploits have put him in the wildest locations possible providing exclusive footage for productions internationally. He has climbed in the Himalayas since 1983, including two ascents on whatever Summit. Mark has summited Everest seven times from Nepal and Tibet filming on the planet’s high point five times and capturing unique footage for various production companies.”

Yowza!

Fit and handsome though they may be, the actors Chad Moffitt (as young Edmund Hillary) and Sonam Sherpa (as Tenzing Norgay), did all their scenes in the rugged mountains of Southern New Zealand. But when the time came to shoot from the tippy top of Mount Everest, that job went to a pro named Mark Whetu!

Q #3: Where is Mount Everest?

NepalEtc

 

 

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GABRIELLE

GabyTopWonderful French Canadian film by writer/director Louise Archambault about a high-functioning, developmentally disabled woman (Marion-Rivard). Now 22, Gabrielle wants her loved ones to respect her need for some autonomy – including love – in her life.  Serious yet upbeat, and full of gorgeous music provided by Canadian Superstar Robert Charlebois. (JLH: 4.5/5)

Click HERE for FF2 Haiku.  NOT YET SEEN BY RICH.

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Mildly retarded but high functioning, “Gabrielle” (Gabrielle Marion-Rivard) belongs to The Muses, a choir consisting of about a dozen other developmentally challenged adults. When we first meet them, The Muses are practicing for an upcoming music festival to be headlined by Canadian Superstar Robert Charlebois.

Gabrielle, who is 22, has fallen in love with a slightly older and very handsome young man named “Martin” (Alexandre Landry). Martin, another member of The Muses, stands beside her during practice, and the heat of his passion for her is palpable. Like Gabrielle, Martin is also highly functional, with impulse control and cognitive problems, but able to work regularly, first at a pet store and later as a carpenter’s apprentice.

The relationship between Gabrielle and Martin is very beautiful—gentle and affectionate—but their loved ones also find it heartbreaking because both members of this new couple are so comprised physically, emotionally, and intellectually.

Gabrielle’s sister “Sophie” (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) has long been her primary caretaker, shouldering the burden of Gabrielle’s emotional needs long after their mother placed Gabrielle in a residential group home. But Sophie, who is also slightly older than Gabrielle, has her own needs.  Her finance has taken a challenging assignment in India, and he wants Sophie to join him there as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, Martin’s mother, concerned that Gabrielle and Martin are on the verge of a sexual relationship, wants to separate them before any irrevocable consequences can occur. Of course this upsets Gabrielle, and that increases her dependence on Sophie just when Sophie has finally decided to move one with her own life.

The magic of Gabrielle is how well-done it is. The actors, especially Gabrielle Marion-Rivard (who actually suffers from a neurological disorder called Williams Syndrome) are all excellent, and each one of the main character arcs is well-drawn and fully believable. There are no villains here. Even the two mothers, who might have been portrayed as witches, have compelling points of view. It is clear that they are both acting out of a combination of love and concern, and their concerns are very real.

The emotional texture of Gabrielle is pulled aloft by the songs of Robert Charlebois. His music is lush, but his lyrics have a subtle bite. The Muses rehearse and rehearse until, in the grand finale, they are on stage behind him at the big festival, singing back-up. At this point writer/director Louise Archambault transforms Charlebois into a benevolent god-like figure who ensures that somehow, regardless of any pain along the way, all will continue to be right with the world.

Review © Jan Lisa Huttner (7/9/14)

Top Photo: Gabrielle Marion-Rivard as “Gabrielle” and Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin as “Sophie.”

Bottom Photo: Gabrielle Marion-Rivard as “Gabrielle” with Vincent William Otis as “Remi” (music teacher and choir director of The Muses).

Q #1: Does Gabrielle pass the Bechdel test? DigitalStampA

Yes! The depth and strength of the relationship between Gabrielle and Sophie is critical to the success of Gabrielle.

There is also a very important confrontation between Sophie and their mother. Sophie tells their mother that she has basically abandoned Gabrielle’s care to her, and she convinces her (the mother who never gets a name) that Gabrielle is now a woman and she–the mother—must learn to deal with that fact.

Of course this requires that they discuss Gabrielle’s relationship with Martin, but the conversation is not about Martin; it’s about Gabrielle. Sophie convinces their mother that Gabrielle can’t be treated like a child anymore. She has a right to a life that is as autonomous as it can possibly be under the circumstances, but this can only work if everyone agrees to play their own part with an open heart. (This message resonates when the two mothers finally meet-up. We don’t have to hear everything they say. We can guess.)

There are also minor scenes that show Gabrielle in her workplace as she gathers paper from the office wastebaskets and makes sure that all paper waste is shredded before it is taken out to the trash. She works mostly with women and the women in her workplace clearly adore her. And finally there is a sweet little scene at the pet store. Gabrielle goes there looking for Martin but he isn’t there, so she has a chat with another woman who works there. These scenes help round out Gabrielle’s character by showing her as an actor in the world. Gabrielle is challenged, yes, but she is also a full participant in the day-to-day world that surrounds her.

Q #2: Who is Robert Charlebois?

The “big star” who headlines the concert at the end (with The Muses choir—including Gabrielle and Martin—backing him up) is 70-year-old Quebec actor and composer Robert Charlebois, who appears as himself in Gabrielle.

Click HERE to listen to Robert Charlesbois sing “Lindberg” (a song prominently featured in the film).

Click HERE to purchase CD above which contains “Lindberg” & much more :-)

 

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ME AND YOU

Opens in NYC today. Review coming soon.

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TAMMY

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Oh, my. Regular readers know I wasn’t a big fan of Bridesmaids, but I liked The Heat a whole lot. So in spite of the previews (which I saw again and again for weeks on end), I was hoping for the best. Alas Tammy is an embarrassing mess.

It honestly breaks my heart to say this, because Melissa McCarthy (who not only stars but co-wrote the screenplay) uses her considerable powers as a mainstream star to create roles for some of my all-time favorite actresses (starting with Susan Sarandon, but also including Kathy Bates, Toni Collette, Allison Janney and Sandra Oh). The problem is, she doesn’t give any of them anything interesting to do. And the character she creates for herself pleads so desperately for sympathy that I instinctively turned away.

Better luck next time, Melissa. (2.5/5)

Click HERE for our FF2 Haiku. Never to be seen by Rich.

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Review of Tammy by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

Tammy is everything audiences have come to expect from Melissa McCarthy: a loud, uncensored clown with a heart of gold who provides plenty of laughter with her outrageous personality. Like her breakout role in Bridesmaids and the Sandra Bullock buddy comedy The Heat, her newest role as “Tammy” (a recently fired and almost clueless fast-food worker) is the same-old shtick. Does it make me laugh? Yes. Is it getting a little old? Yes.

Written by McCarthy and husband Ben Falcone (who also directs), the road trip comedy begins with Tammy hitting a deer with her car, resulting in tardiness and termination from Topper Jack’s. Adding to the stress of the day, Tammy comes home to find her husband “Greg” (Nat Faxon) cheating on her with their neighbor “Missi” (Toni Collette).

Fed up, Tammy packs a bag and walks next door to her mother (Allison Janney) and grandmother’s house where she throws a temper tantrum and decides to leave town. Tammy, broke and carless, agrees to let her “Grandma Pearl” (Susan Sarandon) come along in exchange for her car and a road trip to Niagara Falls. Having Allison Janney play McCarthy’s mom and Sarandon’s daughter was a confusing mental mix of “How old are these characters supposed to be?”

Chaos ensues, in typical road trip form, with Tammy skidding the car between trees, wrecking a jet ski and ending up at a bar where Pearl hooks up with “Earl” (Gary Cole), who is called an “old man” at the very elderly age of 57. The film begins to gain life when “Bobby” (Mark Duplass), Earl’s farm boy son, accompanies his father to the bar and starts a cute flirtation with wild and overly confident Tammy. From there, the grandmother-granddaughter trip continues with Kathy Bates coming along as Pearl’s cousin, throwing a festive, lesbian Fourth of July party where family drama and repressed feelings come to a head, giving Tammy the little bit of heart it needs to bring it back down to earth.

McCarthy and Duplass have enough chemistry to make me want a movie solely about them, and less about alcoholic Pearl, her stint in jail, their road trip antics, and cameos of actors like Dan Akroyd and Sandra Oh whose talents are wasted with such little to do. Although many scenes drag and fail to progress the story, there are a few gems placed in the film solely so McCarthy can do what she does so well and what the audience comes to see (i.e. Tammy robbing a Topper Jack’s store to get bail money for Pearl). That uproarious scene, along with some great one-liners are what save this been-there, done-that film, such as Tammy holding up a gas can, saying “Four dollars a gallon? Thanks, Obamacare.”

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One subtle scene, however, caught my eye in a way in which only TV aficionados would appreciate. At the Fourth of July party, Tammy cleans up and dresses in a form-fitting blouse with non-mangled hair … it was like seeing Sookie St. James again, the classy, smart, and relatable every-girl McCarthy played for seven years on the witty dramedy Gilmore Girls. It was as if I was seeing a familiar friend and not the “Melissa McCarthy” that has become so widely known thanks to Bridesmaids.

The untamed act she has perfected, the one that guarantees millions of ticket sales, is an undeniably funny one, but during a quiet scene of Tammy where Kathy Bates tells her she has to fight for what she wants in life, it was like all the noise and craziness of the film had fallen away and for a brief moment I got a glimpse of my old pal Sookie. For seven years it was definitive proof that Melissa McCarthy did not have to be a clueless, dirty slob to be funny and my hope for the next seven years is that moviegoers will get a chance to see that, too.

Review © Brigid K. Presecky (7/6/14)

Photo: Susan Sarandon as “Pearl” and Melissa McCarthy as “Tammy.”

Q: Does Tammy pass the Bechdel Test? DigitalStampA

Most definitely!

The entire movie is centered on Tammy’s relationship with her Grandma Pearl. Sometimes, yes, they do talk about men. But mostly they talk about life.

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WRINKLES

This touching and life-affirming animated film centers on friendship, resistance and life set in an elderly care facility. Goya award-winner for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Animated Film from Spain in 2012, Wrinkles is a wonderful film that deserves the high acclaim. (JLH: 4/5)

Click HERE for our FF2 Haiku. Highly recommended by both me and Rich.

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Based on Spain’s popular graphic novel Arrugas, the award-winning animated feature Wrinkles begins in the seemingly normal setting of a bank. “Emilio” (voiced in the American release by Martin Sheen), is dressed in formal business attire. He is a bank executive, sitting authoritatively behind a large desk, assessing the mortgage papers of two young people who have come to his bank for a loan.

It is soon revealed, however, that Emilio is not in a bank at all – he is actually sitting-up in his bed in the home of his son, and they are not exchanging paperwork, but struggling over a bowl of soup. Emilio’s son has evidently been dealing with his father’s bedridden condition for quite some time, but when the bowl of soup goes flying off the tray, he finally gives up. The reality is that Emilio’s son and daughter-in-law are no longer able to deal with Emilio’s worsening Alzheimer’s disease, so in the next scene they finally move Emilio into professional residential care.

But even once inside the facility (with its ominously locked driveway door), Emilio continues to dress as formally as he did as a bank manager, earning him the nickname “Rockefeller” from his new roommate, “Miguel” (voiced in the American release by George Coe). Emilio, still hanging on to his dignity, wants to subdue his panic and overcome this new obstacle—the move into residential care—as he always did in the past. Isn’t this just the next “challenge” he must meet in his life?

So it is a mixed blessing for Emilio that he now he has Miguel at his side telling him he doesn’t understand where he is and he doesn’t appreciate the rules yet. Miguel thinks “Rockefeller” should consider himself lucky to have a roommate on hand who is eager to teach him the ropes, but Emilio isn’t so sure.

Throughout the course of this heart-wrenching film, however, it becomes clear that as Emilio fades mentally, Miguel becomes the one person who will stay by his side until the end.

With Miguel as our guide, we also come to understand the rules of this new world. In one scene, for example, Miguel walks Emilio past the facility’s indoor swimming pool and Emilio tells him how much he loves to swim. Oh, no, say Miguel with a laugh. This pool isn’t really for swimming. This pool is for the owners, so they can take pictures of it and tell new families that residents will have access to it. But no one ever comes to swim in this pool. It’s just for show…

Wrinkles is a very moving film written by Ignacio Ferreras and Paco Roca (who wrote the original graphic novel) along with co-screenwriters Rosanna Cecchini and Angel de la Cruz. Their collective vision has been beautifully realized in brilliant 2D animation. The touching scenes between Emilio, Miguel, and the other residents reminds you that, though life doesn’t last forever, love can still be triumphant.

DinnerTable

Review © Jan Lisa Huttner (7/9/14)

Top Photo: Dinner at the home of Emilio’s son.

Bottom Photo: Dinner at the residence (from left) = Miguel, Emilio, Antonia, Dolores and Modesto.

Q: Does Wrinkles pass the Bechdel test?

No, not really.

Although there are some women residents and some women on staff, most of the dialogue consists of conversations between Emilio and Miguel. However, Dolores and Modesto also have one magical scene that is not to be missed!

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ARCHIPELAGO

In this scenic Joanna Hogg film, “Patricia” (Fahy) has brought her children to the island of Tresco (just off Cornwall) for yet another family vacation. But this time, despite the natural beauty she works hard to capture with her paint box, there is tension in the air. (JLH: 4/5)

Click HERE for our FF2 Haiku. NOT YET SEEN BY RICH

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Written and directed by British filmmaker Joanna Hogg, Archipelago finds “Patricia” (Kate Fahy) painting stunning watercolors and seascapes while on vacation with her two adult children, “Cynthia” (Lydia Leonard) and “Edward” (Tom Hiddleston). They are on the island of Tresco, in the beautiful Isles of Scilly (just off the coast of Cornwall), but not everything on this family vacation is quite as harmonious as the landscape.

Tension brews between Edward (who is fresh out of university and preparing to leave soon for a “Gap Year” as a do-gooder in Africa) and Cynthia (who is older and already working at a “real” job).

So Edward turns to “Rose” (Amy Lloyd), who is there in the house to cook for them.  Much to Cynthia’s dismay, Edward insists on treating Rose more like a family member than as someone hired to serve meals for the duration of their vacation. And his presence in the kitchen, where he even insists on helping with the after dinner clean-up, is equally disconcerting for Rose.

Patricia, burdened by a husband who keeps calling but never shows up in the flesh, escapes from her fussy children by focusing on her painting, working under the tutelage of an instructor — and now friend — named “Christopher” (played by Christopher Baker who really is a well-known painter). Through painting, Patricia does achieve some of the peacefulness that comes along with it, if only temporarily.

This is a quintessentially British drama, so sometimes it is slow, dry, and oblique. A lot of things are left unsaid and a lot of background is never provided. But the silent stretches of the film lend themselves to elegant storytelling, moving the film along without any of the usual dialogue that is often unnecessary anyway. Sometimes it really does ring false to the ear when characters known for their stiff upper lips are forced to speak their inner thoughts out loud for our benefit but not their own. So although Archipelago often feels very cold to the point of frigid, I was hypnotized by what was not said in the spaces between the lines that are.

Which brings us to the deliberate art of it all.

Archipelago is beautiful to look at, with people in nature carrying around the canvases on which they plan to paint. Landscapes are being painted by the various people who are painting them (usually Christopher, sometimes Patricia, and occasionally Cynthia), and each one is different.

The scenes of Christopher painting juxtaposed with what he is actually seeing in the landscape are fascinating. His paintings are abstract, figurative, and expressive. The way Christopher picks up on the colors of nature clearly depicts the metaphorical relationship between “art” and “reality.”

Joanna Hogg sees the colors of the relationships that are unfolding before her eyes, and she puts them on screen in the same way that Christopher takes the colors he sees in the natural world around him and transports them onto each canvas. Brava!

Review © Jan Lisa Huttner (7/4/14)

Top Photo: Kate Fahy as “Patricia” sketching with “Christopher” (played by British painter Christopher Baker).

Bottom Photo: “Edward” (Tom Hiddleston) comes to chat with Christopher while he as at work on one of his canvases.

Q #1: Does Archipelago pass the Bechdel Test? 

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Yes, but barely.

Although little conversational scenes between Patricia, Cynthia, and Rose (in some combination or another) are peppered through-out, at one point Cynthia has a meltdown, runs to her room, and slams the door shut. That’s when Patricia follows her up the stairs…

Q #2: Where is this gorgeous place?

Tresco (in the Isles of Scilly) just off the tip of Cornwall, England.

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BOUND BY FLESH

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EXHIBITION

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SCHEHERAZADE’S DIARY

OneScheherazadeZeina Daccache is a Lebanese Drama Therapist who took cameras into a Beirut prison where she filmed women who were accused of crimes, and then held for years with no trial dates, and therefore no convictions. Meanwhile their children grow up with no mother, and their mothers grow old without the support of their daughters. A stunning, heart-wrenching, and beautifully told documentary! (JLH: 4.5/5)

Click HERE for our FF2 Haiku. Rich like this film too :-)  

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Scheherazade’s Diary is a new film by Lebanese filmmaker and drama therapist Zeina Daccache.  Unlike the first part of Daccache’s proposed Lebanese prison-system trilogy (12 Angry Lebanese: The Documentary), Scheherazade’s Diary is all about women. It is set in Baabda, (a women’s prison in Lebanon), which is why it is also known by the alternate title Scheherazade in Baabda .

Scheherazade’s Diary follows a group of women telling their heartbreaking stories while participating in a drama therapy project. They are accused of crimes ranging from adultery to drug trafficking to killing their husbands. But in most cases, even though these women have already been in prison for two or three years (or more), they have never been tried, let alone convicted! They are stuck in limbo, waiting in Baabda pending legal proceedings which never seemed to occur.

The way the women in Baabda learned to bond with each other, carving out a zone of safety from their abusive husbands and fathers, was both tragic and fascinating. Most of the women missed not being able to nurture their children and be there for them. They were especially worried about how their daughters were faring in their absence. On the other hand, in many cases, sons had been told that their mothers were dead. When some of the sons were finally convinced to come visit, they confessed that they did not remember their mothers at all.

Daccache’s determination to give these women their own voices back has an amazing effect on their confidence. Individual women come to self-consciousness for the first time when asked who they think they are as people and as women. For the first time in their lives, many of these women realize they actually do have stories to tell.

One of the best aspects of Scheherazade’s Diary is the way Daccache uses the costume function. She had very simple costumes designed for her “Scheherazades” — black jumpsuits with belts around the midriff that were coordinated with turbaned headpieces. The black, flowing jumpsuit with a red belt and a red headdress (or a purple belt and a purple headdress, or whatever) gave the “Scheherazades” a feminine quality, and added a dramatic burst of color into an otherwise drab environment.

In the Q&A after our screening (which was held on the final night of New York’s 2014 Human Rights Watch Film Festival), I had an opportunity to ask Daccache about these costumes. She told me the first issue she had to confront as a filmmaker was head coverings for the Muslim inmates. Because she was filming in Lebanon, her challenge (as she described it) was to bridge the populations: the Muslim women needed to wear costumes that would cover their hair, but the Christian women rejected head coverings for exactly that reason. What to do?

Then Daccache remembered the stories told by Scheherazade in One Thousand and One Nights, which gave her the idea to call her participants “The Scheherazades,” and to costume them in a way that would be remind people of the way that Scheherazade is traditionally depicted in Middle Eastern art. After that, it was simple. All of the women who wanted to be Scheherazades had to wear the costume of Scheherazade.

From my POV, this was an inspired moment of extremely effective filmmaking. The uniformity of costume has a feminizing effect, emphasizing that the common element in this film is not only that all of these speakers are women, but women who have been robed by fate of their essential femininity (especially maternally and sexually).

Scheherazade’s Diary is a very moving film. I urge you to seek it out, and see it as soon as you can. Richard and I agree that while we have seen other documentaries about prison drama therapy programs, we’ve never seen one this well-done before.

TheScheherazades

Review © Jan Lisa Huttner (7/16/14)

Photos: The Scheherazades in performance.

Q #1: Does Scheherazade’s Diary pass the Bechdel Test?DigitalStampA

Absolutely!

Scheherazade’s Diary is totally focused on women telling their personal stories to other women. There are very few men in this film. Sometimes the women talk about their husbands and sons, but more often they express their concerns about their daughters (who are growing up without the protective presence of their mothers), and their mothers (who are growing old without the support of their daughters).

Q #2: Who was Scheherazade?

From Wikipedia: Scheherazade was a legendary Persian queen and the heroine of One Thousand and One Nights.

Every day, King Shahryar would marry a new virgin, and dispatch the previous day’s wife to be beheaded. He had killed 1,000 women by the time he was introduced to Scheherazade, the vizier’s daughter. Against her father’s wishes, Scheherazade volunteered to spend one night with the king. Once in the king’s chambers, Scheherazade asked if she might bid one last farewell to her beloved sister, Dinarzade, who had secretly been prepared to ask Scheherazade to tell a story during the long night.

JulietJonesSculpture

King Shahryar listened with awe as Scheherazade told her first story. The night passed and Scheherazade stopped in the middle of the story. The king asked her to finish, but Scheherazade said there was no time, as dawn was breaking. So, the king spared her life for one day to finish the story the next night.

So the next night, Scheherazade finished the story and then began a second, even more exciting tale which she again stopped halfway through at dawn. So the king again spared her life for one day to finish the second story.

And so the King kept Scheherazade alive day by day, as he eagerly anticipated the end of last night’s story. At the end of 1,001 nights, and 1,000 stories, Scheherazade told the king that she had no more tales to tell him. During these 1,001 nights, the king had fallen in love with Scheherazade, and so he spared her life, and made her his queen.

Sculpture “Bust of Scheherazade” found on Google.

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SIDDHARTH

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