Friday September 17, 1999

     Luis Galva~o Teles' "Women" ("Elles") is a woman's film of the old-fashioned variety, affording good roles for five internationally renowned actresses who portray middle-aged women, longtime friends who sustain one another throughout life's inevitable changes and losses.
     The film offers nothing new whatsoever, yet there is much pleasure to be derived in the uniformly impressive portrayals of the actresses and in the level of sophistication of the film's perspective and tone, and in its simplicity of style. The stars of the film, written by Galva~o Teles with Don Bohlinger, are elegant and beautiful--yet again the European cinema reminds us how desirable a woman past 40 can be. The timeless splendor of Lisbon provides a stunning setting.
     Carmen Maura's Linda is a renowned television personality and commentator who sets the film in motion when, for one of her programs, she decides to turn the camera on her own friends to ask them the eternal question: "What do women want?" The answers emerge from what each woman is facing in her life at present. As for Linda herself, her dedication to her high-pressure job is threatening her relationship with her handsome co-worker and lover (Joaquim de Almeida, a mainstay of Spanish and Portuguese films and a familiar face in international cinema), making him vulnerable to the advances of an aggressive younger staffer at the TV station.
     Miou-Miou is Eva, a widowed professor of literature ardently pursued by one of her pupils (Morgan Perez). Eva might not have succumbed to her student if she had known he was the son of Barbara (Marthe Keller), who belongs to her circle of friends. Of the five women, Barbara faces the greatest challenge. Not only has she lost her beloved husband (Didier Flamand), an ophthalmologist, to a much younger woman, but when she goes to him for some tests prompted by dizzy spells, his news is not encouraging. The discovery of her son's affair pales in comparison to this grim diagnosis--which comes just as she's losing the man she loves.
     The radiant Keller is the movie's mainstay, and her intuitive, commanding portrayal epitomizes the filmmaker's ability to avert soap-operatics with in-depth characterization.
     Meanwhile, the gamin Branca (Guesch Patti, a noted European dancer and singer in her film debut), a cabaret performer and stage actress, clutches at youth through a succession of affairs with younger men. She's so distracted that she fails to realize that the teenage daughter she is raising alone has begun using hard drugs. She is grateful that her friend Chloe (Marisa Berenson), a fashionable hairstylist--having overcome addiction herself--can come to her rescue. But Branca is thrown into a dilemma when the bisexual Chloe comes on to her.
     "Women" is as lustrous as its stars and wisely resists neat resolutions, opting instead to leave us with the mature recognition that life goes on relentlessly, whether we're prepared to deal with it or not.


Women, 1999. Unrated. A WinStar Cinema release of a Samsa Film production in co-production with Noe Productions, Artemis Productions, Action Fama Film, RTBF-Belgian Television, Radiotelevisao Portuguesa, Schweizer Fershehen DRS, Teleclub AG. Director Luis Galva~o Teles. Producer Jani Thiltges. Screenplay by Galva~o Teles & Don Bohlinger. Cinematographer Alfredo Mayo. Editor Regina Bartsch. Music Alejandro Masso. Costumes Evelyne Correard. Production designer Veronique Sacrez. In French, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes. Carmen Maura as Linda. Miou-Miou as Eva. Marisa Berenson as Chloe. Marthe Keller as Barbara. Guesch Patti as Branca. Joaquim de Almeida as Gigi.