Two foreign films focus on the lives of women

It's always encouraging when movies put female characters in the spotlight, since around the world women are often relegated to second-class positions on both sides of the camera. Two new arrivals do their bit to rectify this situation, although their status as foreign-language films will limit their box-office prospects.

The Dreamlife of Angels has already earned many honors. Its stars, Elodie Bouchez and Natacha Rgnier, shared the best-actress prize at last spring's Cannes filmfest and in the European Film Awards, and the picture went on to become France's official entry in the recent Oscar race.

While it's a well-made movie, its stellar performances are certainly its strongest asset. Bouchez plays Isa, a resourceful young woman who wanders into a small French city with few possessions and no particular plans. There she meets a factory worker named Marie, played by Rgnier as a touchy 20-year-old with an introspective nature. They move into an apartment together and build a complex relationship.

Paulina uses documentary techniques to unravel the history of a Mexican woman who returns to her poverty-stricken hometown for confrontations with various people who either wronged her or helped her during her troubled youth. We hear the fundamental facts of this biography from the main character, Paulina Cruz Suarez, who tells how a childhood accident led her family to believe she had been raped and then brought about a forced relationship with a macho landowner who treated her more as a possession than a human being. She escaped to Mexico City, where she built a new and independent life.

"Paulina" is not a "pure" nonfiction movie, since it supplements its documentary scenes with stylized reenactments. It packs great emotional power, though, and has much to reveal about the horrifying effects produced by sexist attitudes on private and public levels.

*'The Dreamlife of Angels,' not rated, contains sex, nudity, and violence. 'Paulina,' also not rated, contains explicit verbal accounts of sexual violence.

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