By Andrea Burzynski
NEW YORK (Reuters) - As women increasingly press for greater equality in countries around the world, filmmakers are breaking barriers too, making their female protagonists as strong and varied as the characters they meet in everyday life.
New York's Tribeca Film Festival, which draws to a close this weekend, has shown its spotlight on several foreign-made movies that feature strong women roles, from the Israeli military drama "Room 514" to Mexican border thriller "The Girl."
"In Israeli films, I found that women's parts are always prostitutes or some secondhand old woman nobody wants. I said, ‘What's going on?,' Sharon Bar-Ziv, director of "Room 514" told Reuters. "This is not reality. We have F-16 pilots who are young women. In the Supreme Court and everywhere, women are strong."
He said that simple fact of life made him want to create a female protagonist that was more in line with reality.
"Room 514" has drawn comparisons to 1992 Hollywood drama "A Few Good Men," which starred Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise and Demi Moore and told of U.S. marines accused of murder and the attorney who defended them.
Yet the focus of "Room 514" is on a lone woman, Anna. She is a military investigator who takes the case of a celebrated soldier accused of brutality against a Palestinian civilian, and she relentlessly digs for the truth despite attempts by her male colleagues to thwart her efforts.
"She's brave, she's strong, determined, independent ... In a mainly male area - an army male area - she's moving forward with her loyalty to her morals," Bar-Ziv said.
U.S.-Mexican border drama "The Girl" follows Ashley (Abbie Cornish), a single mother who loses her son and becomes involved in trafficking illegal immigrants to raise money and get him back. In the process, she finds herself responsible for a young Mexican girl, leading Ashley to fend off alcoholism and re-learn the importance of motherhood.
The approach toward his protagonist taken by director David Riker, whose previous work includes "La Ciudad," is more subtle than Bar-Ziv but nonetheless effective in depicting a woman who takes control of her life during a time of crisis.
"The metaphor I use is that she's in quicksand," he told Reuters TV. "Everything she does to try and get out just sends her deeper into the kind of train wreck of her life. And Abbie, over the course of the film, has to come out of that, and she does it in the most subtle, nuanced ways."
The depiction of strong women is not confined only to tough or gritty films. It also shows up in British manners comedy "Cheerful Weather for the Wedding," which features an ensemble of female characters ranging from a bride who disregards her guests to look inward, to her mother who confidently doesn't mince words with guests she perceives as interfering.
A frank younger sister crosses class lines for a stealthy fling, an elderly aunt trades playful barbs with her husband and a best friend advises the bride's ex-lover. They round out a cast of characters who refuse to fade into the background.
"There was a big range of female characters," director Donald Rice told Reuters. "There's six or seven really good female roles and that's unusual."
Based on a 1932 novel of the same name by Bloomsbury writer Julia Strachey, "Cheerful Weather for the Wedding" takes place in an English country house and sees bride-to-be Dolly (Felicity Jones) swigging rum as she reminisces about her summer romance with ex-lover Joseph.
Elizabeth McGovern, currently starring in TV hit "Downton Abbey," plays Dolly's mother in the movie, and she said she took the role because it reflected her own experience.
"(She) is allowed to speak for herself and what she feels, in a way that isn't always perfectly motherly," said McGovern. "So much of the time, the mother character in movies and TV is painted into the background, and there's an immediate assumption she's not a character with desires or much interest."
"Since I'm a mother, I have a different feeling about it," she said. "Just because I'm a mother doesn't mean that the rest of me has died and gone to sleep."
(Reporting by Andrea Burzynski; additional reporting by Reuters Television; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)