Review: ‘Beautiful Women’

Held together by a group of talented actresses whose infectious mutual enjoyment transcends the glaringly obvious material, debut helmer-scribe Sathyan Ramesh's all-femme soul-searcher "Beautiful Women" scrapes by on some good lines and solid ensemble work but too often feels caught in an early Agnes Varda moment. Script seems worked up from an overextended improv, throwing together five wildly different character types and having them spend a boozy night discussing life's disappointments with a predictably cathartic finale. Pic's a likely crowdpleaser at feminist fests, but its excellent thesps don't have the name recognition to carry the pic into new territories.

Held together by a group of talented actresses whose infectious mutual enjoyment transcends the glaringly obvious material, debut helmer-scribe Sathyan Ramesh’s all-femme soul-searcher “Beautiful Women” scrapes by on some good lines and solid ensemble work but too often feels caught in an early Agnes Varda moment. Script seems worked up from an overextended improv, throwing together five wildly different character types and having them spend a boozy night discussing life’s disappointments with a predictably cathartic finale. Pic’s a likely crowdpleaser at feminist fests, but its excellent thesps don’t have the name recognition to carry the pic into new territories.

Five struggling actresses answer a casting call for a cheesy cop thriller. Tensely eyeing each other as potential competition, they come to feel trapped in the sterile, overlit room as their endless wait extends beyond reason. The seemingly more confident ones engage their rivals in conversation until sassy lesbian Geno (Clelia Sarto) finally suggests they blow. All but uptight Dana (Julia Jager) agree, though even she winds up back with the group, who’ve decided to drive together to Germany’s northern coast and spend a spur-of-the-moment night together away from quotidian pressures.

During the drive up, personalities are gradually revealed, and thwarted dreams are discussed: Karin (Ulrike C. Tscharre) was a popular child TV star whose adult life is a continual search for the fulfillment of her earlier career; Barbara (Floriane Daniel) is having major b.f. issues; Kandis (Caroline Peters) proudly flaunts her liberated libido.

All the hotels are shut for the season, but they fortuitously stumble upon a couple of musicians (Edda Schnittgard and Ina Mueller of the folksy/feminist group Queen Bee) who allow them to bunk down in the empty hotel they use for rehearsals. As the night wears on and alcohol gets downed, the women hash through their careers, their love lives and their feelings about their own bodies.

Witty repartee is scattered among the more predictable confessional moments, including a marvelous description of Dana as “a run in the stocking of film history,” but too often the nuggets are embedded in a standard “we’ll be friends forever” format following a night of group therapy. There’s a passing resemblance to Henry Jaglom’s gabfest “Eating,” though less focused on one issue and minus the direct-to-camera confessions.

Thesps, best known to German TV auds, bring a fullness to their characters that belies the underwritten nature of some of their roles. Best of all are their ease and the pleasure they take in the pic’s ensemble nature.

Lensing is crisp, with some nicely edited short scenes used to quickly introduce the women. Queen Bee’s music veers dangerously at times into a cross between “I am what I am” and a Helen Reddy anthem, but it’s tuneful enough to be forgiven the occasional lapses.

Beautiful Women

Germany

Production

A D&D Film- und Fernsehproduktion production in association with NDR, ARTE. (International sales: Media Luna Entertainment, Cologne.) Produced by Roland Willaert. Executive producer, Markus Gruber. Directed, written by Sathyan Ramesh.

Crew

Camera (color), Thomas Merker; editor, Andrea Mertens; music, Stefan Hiss, Queen Bee; production designer, Thomas Moeller; costume designer, Carola Neutze; sound (Dolby Stereo SR), Michael Kunz. Reviewed at Turin Gay & Lesbian Film Festival (Panorama), April 23, 2005. Running time: 88 MIN.

With

Floriane Daniel, Julia Jager, Caroline Peters, Clelia Sarto, Ulrike C. Tscharre, Edda Schnittgard, Ina Mueller.
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