True Mothers directed by Naomi Kawase

New Shows + Movies by Women — January 29, 2021

There are no new fiction series this week. That’s pretty rare. I’ve only seen one or two weeks like this in the year I’ve been doing this. There are only five films, too, though among them might be two or three of the most important of the year.

The end of January is pretty quiet overall for new releases. Typically, this is when films with Oscar campaigns expand and flood out anything new. Awards show competitions require movies to have come out by December, even if it’s only in a theater apiece in New York and L.A.

Of course, when everything’s streaming, there’s no such thing as expansion. The closest a film can get is what “Promising Young Woman” is doing. It comes out on VOD on a theater-equivalent price at $20. After a few months here, it will either drop to a more traditional rental price, or make a streaming deal with a subscription service.

January is usually where Oscar contenders add 400 screens a week nationally across the month as word of mouth, critical buzz, and awards campaigns help platform them. There’s no real comparison for that when we’re pretty much just streaming. A service can’t only make a film available to a limited number of customers and expand that number every week – customers would simply forget about it.

A $20 rental obviously means something different by economic region, but when most of the Oscar contenders are vying for limited streaming attention, movies are about as accessible going into February as they were in December.


True Mothers (virtual theatrical)
directed by Naomi Kawase

A woman is forced to give up her baby. A couple unable to conceive adopts their new child. Time passes, until the birth mother contacts them asking for her child back. The film is based on the 2015 novel by Mizuki Tsujimura.

Naomi Kawase is a prolific Japanese director, and this is Japan’s submission to the Oscars. Kawase’s experience in documentary filmmaking informs her narrative work. She employs a light, observational touch that enables characters defined as social outliers to instead define themselves. I’ve seen that get dismissed as a lack of capability, but it’s a complex and precise skill. Few directors ever learn how to minimize their ego and focus on empathy and character experience to the extent Kawase can. A few of her films have crossed over successfully to the West, particularly “Sweet Bean” and “Still the Water”.

“True Mothers” is currently playing as a virtual theatrical release. That means you can choose an independent or art theater to purchase a ticket from and stream it at home. This splits the ticket cost between theater and distributor just as if you’d purchased a physical ticket. It’s a great way to help indie theaters stay afloat through the pandemic.

See where to watch “True Mothers”.

Promising Young Woman (VOD)
directed by Emerald Fennell

Cassandra goes to a different club every weekend. She acts drunk. Inevitably, a stranger takes her home with him. At a point, she reveals herself as sober and confronts this week’s “nice guy”. Previews are fuzzy about their ultimate fate, and hint at a larger plot at play.

Emerald Fennell was showrunner for season two of “Killing Eve”. (The series brings on a different woman to showrun every season.) Viewers may be more familiar with her as an actress in “Call the Midwife” and “The Crown”. “Promising Young Woman” is her feature debut as both a writer and director.

This is one I missed last week, as it hit VOD pretty quickly after a theater-only Oscar-qualifying run. Just be aware it’s still at a $20 price point. Some will be more comfortable with that than others. I’ll try to share it again when it drops in rental cost and/or goes to a subscription service.

See where to watch “Promising Young Woman”.

Beginning (MUBI)
directed by Dea Kulumbegashvili

A remote Jehovah’s Witness community is attacked. Yana is the wife of the community leader. The aftermath of the attack begins to dissolve her view of her community and her world. The film is a co-production between the countries of Georgia and France, and is told in Georgian.

This is the first narrative feature film from writer-director Dea Kulumbegashvili. She’s also written on documentary “City of the Sun”.

You can watch “Beginning” on MUBI with a subscription.

Finding ‘Ohana (Netflix)
directed by Jude Weng

Two Brooklynites find a journal that points to a forgotten treasure. The journey to find it leads them to better connect with and understand their Hawaiian heritage.

Director Jude Weng has worked on a number of TV series, including “Black-ish”, “The Good Place”, and “Shameless”.

You can watch “Finding ‘Ohana” on Netflix with a subscription.

My Little Sister (virtual cinema)
directed by Stephanie Chuat, Veronique Reymond

Lisa has given up on being a playwright. She lives in Switzerland, where her husband is enjoying a successful career. Her twin brother falls ill, calling her back to Germany.

Stephanie Chuat and Veronique Reymond have worked as a writer-director team in Germany since 2004. They’ve alternated between documentary and narrative film.

This is another virtual theatrical release. Once again, this allows you to buy a movie ticket at regular price to stream the movie, where the ticket cost is split between the theater and distributor. It’s a way of helping to support local and art theaters during the pandemic.

See where to watch “My Little Sister”.

Take a look at new shows + movies by women from past weeks.

If you enjoy what you read on this site, subscribe to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to continue writing articles like this one.

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