5:19 PM EDT, April 18, 2013
From Sierra Leone, from Peru, from Nepal and elsewhere, the nine lives at the heart of "Girl Rising" are impossible to ignore. This consciousness-raising documentary from filmmaker Richard E. Robbins risks making the harsh conditions these girls have conquered a little too poetically photogenic. The movie's color palette is so gorgeous, you may find yourself spacing out on the beauty rather than focusing on the stories.
But the message is clear regarding the importance of education for girls in developing nations. School, as narrator Liam Neeson says in prosaic but factually persuasive lines, combats everything from illness to poverty to inequality.
"Girl Rising" matches each female subject with a well-regarded writer from the same nation. In some vignettes, the girls re-enact their own stories; in others, they're played by actresses; in others still, the animated segments offer another cinematic way in.
The chronicle of a Haitian earthquake victim, determined to continue school, is followed by (among others) stories of an Andes poet on the rise. Suma, from Nepal, was "bonded" as a servant to a "master" at age 6. "I write songs," Suma says, "to remind myself that my memories are real."
"Girl Rising" is clear-eyed about its accounts of sexual exploitation and rape. (One statistic cited on screen: 50 percent of sexual assaults committed worldwide are on girls younger than 15.) Each of the nine portraits features a different narrator, among them Meryl Streep, Salma Hayek and Kerry Washington. The film's limitations as documentary are what they are, but if the movie wises up even a few hundred or thousand more people, its value will be clear as well.
'Girl Rising' -- 2 1/2 stars
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for thematic material including disturbing images)
Running time: 1:41
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