100 Films Made By Women – Part Four

The slight French, sisterly vibe in the fourth part of 100 Films Made By Women is likely not deliberate. Please do continue with us (a great deal of effort has gone into this), and soak up all the contrasting female film-makers, some veterans in their field, some very new to the game:

When You Find Me (2011) – Bryce Dallas Howard — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

I hold my hands high and proclaim I do not watch nearly enough short films. It has to be said that partly the lack of fiction and documentary shorts accessible to the general cinema-loving public. Often touted as a Ron Howard production (he executives produces in truth), When You Find Me is more legitimately the creative child of his actress daughter Bryce Dallas Howard – “She directs?!” I hear many of your gasp. Directing Dane Charbeneau’s tender, family-oriented screenplay, Howard has an affectionate grasp of the content, which tells the story of two sisters in two over-lapping segments – the girls as kids as they lose their mother to an illness, and reuniting as adults to purposefully reacquaint with the tragic past. The youngest girl Lisle (Devon Woods) is not fully aware of the concept of dying, while big sister Aurora (Karley Scott Collins) struggles to halt her need to throw the blame elsewhere. As somewhat estranged adults, Lisle (Erin Way), now expecting her second child, visits Aurora (Jacy King) to eventually reveal something very significant she believes she witnessed the night they both found out of their mother’s death. The delicate drama and low-key sentiment work well to bring to life a film with the weight of a feature (the musical crescendo in particular tries hardest to pull on your heart strings). You invest in the girls’ plights immediately, and want their ghosts put to rest. The four principle actresses are spot-on here, bringing emotions to the brim without ever appearing languid or overdone. Beautifully shot too in the childlike dream images, with glimmering lights and the film’s bookends – a gorgeous, bright white vision of a white-blossomed tree. Howard has put varying emotive and visual pieces together without a hitch here, she has crafted a gulf of repressed grief between loving sisters, and given them a kind of poignant redemption. Wonderful.

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Marie Antoinette (2006) – Sofia Coppola — Henny McClymont @GingerHenny

Sofia Coppola is one of the few celebrated female directors working in today’s masculinized Hollywood. One might argue, of course, that she is playing with a stacked deck given her family connections, but the style of her movies, unforgettable in the arthouse, and counterintuitively uncommercial to the execs, probably null her unfair advantage. One of her movies, which at the time sparked criticism was Marie Antoinette. Coppola consciously chose to exclude politics from the film and acknowledged that the film was not a typical biopic. “It is not a lesson of history, it’s an interpretation carried by my desire for covering the subject differently.” In Coppola’s philosophy, it is not on cinema to tell the world what to think – the world should make its own interpretation of the story – she provides the rhythms and you provide the rhymes. The movie Marie Antoinette shows a historical figure, set to modern imagery, language, gestures, and somehow even the candy colors of the pompous gowns seem post-modern, as if Louis the XVI wanted his girl to dress like Barbie on crack. Coppola tells the story of Marie Antoinette from girlhood to the French Revolution, adding pop under-associations with teen stars and Hollywood celebrities. Wild parties with drugs consumed like candy and endless shopping excesses. Kirsten Dunst, who has previous with Coppola from her directorial debut The Virgin Suicides moves Marie Antoinette from the lost girl to the silly teenager. Dunst juxtaposes naïveté, loneliness and charisma, capturing the essence of a young woman who desperately desires freedom while being burdened with the knowledge that her only value is in her ability to give birth to an heir. She tries to explore her identity as much as she can, though imprisoned by social expectations. Writer and director Sofia Coppola loosely based the film on Antonia Fraser’s biography of the French queen, and mixed the dialogue with actual quotes from her life. Marie Antoinette is unexpectedly deeper and more feminist than one realizes. Sofia Coppola created a luxuriant and beautiful feast for the eyes, but more importantly humanized the “cut down” queen and helps us connect with heavy use of the post-modern. Coppola reminds us of the gender suppression of women throughout history and that this continues even today, perhaps speaking to her own trials. This reviewer for one hopes that she continues to tell the story from a female point of view.

Sister (2012) – Ursula Meier — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

As a sister, an older sibling, I the guess the natural law is you do what you can to take care of your little twelve year old brother – make sure he has what he needs. In the bold, absorbing Swiss film Sister, director Ursula Meier (co-written with Antoine Jaccoud) turns that notion on it’s head as it is the young boy Simon (Kacey Mottet Klein) who steals ski equipment from the nearby resort to sell on and provide for his much older sister Louise (Léa Seydoux) so she can have nice clothes and meet boys. The bred-winner role reversal makes for convincing, compelling story-telling, as the level-headed Simon tries to keep them on track, while Louise behaves like a troubled, spoiled teenager. There is heart in both of the characters, and a longing for escape or a better way of life. Themes of abandonment and responsibility are solidified with a revelation late in the movie. Simon and Louise are family after all, and their so-called individual goals have to be consolidated for the greater good. Their relationship though can’t help but be both loving and fragile – demonstrated directly by an early scene of them play-fighting, and then a moment towards the end were they roll around aggressively like kids trying to throttle one another. Klein, as the boy, holds his own surrounded by adults, he is both endearing and strong in what is essentially the lead role. Sharing most of his screen time, the gifted Seydoux (for whom I have my own personal adoration) is consistently admirable, even playing a character you often want to implore to just wise up. Meier is the mother of the ship, cradling the siblings in her directorial grasp, shaking them up, and seeing how they fall. It’s grounded, honest film-making, evoking and true right until the very final frame.

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Europa Europa (1990) – Agnieszka Holland — Daniel Smith-Rowsey @smithrowsey

Europa Europa is a Holocaust bildungsroman that still feels as fresh and delicate as a just-bloomed orchid. Based on the stunning, twist-laden memoir by Solomon Perel, these are the adventures of a teenage Jew using his good looks and skill with languages to hide in wartime Germany. One thing we often see from female directors is a certain non-judgmentalism, where instead of heroes or villains we simply get characters. Indeed Agnieska Holland brings that sort of equanimity to this film, and most Americans aren’t accustomed to it in a Holocaust narrative: Germans and Jews both behaving in good and bad ways from time to time. But the film is really about Solomon and what he will do to survive – most anything, we learn. And it turns out that joining the Hitler Youth and falling in love with a young, pre-Before Sunrise Julie Delpy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be when you have to hide your circumcised penis. Delpy and the astonishing lead, Marco Hofschneider, don’t seem to be acting, but instead robustly living through a time of tremendous fear, regimentation, and love. Never less than unexpected, the story nevertheless feels relentlessly organic, as though it couldn’t have happened any other way.

The Holiday (2006) – Nancy Meyers — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

Writer-producer of such prominent female-centric movies like Private Benjamin, Baby Boom, and Father of the Bride, Nancy Meyers strolled into feature film directing with ease. The Parent Trap and What Women Want were pretty good starts, before seemingly making comedies utilizing similar generational female performers from earlier works in Something’s Gotta Give and It’s Complicated. What Meyers achieves with The Holiday is take a well known crop, and accentuate particular qualities they have on the big screen with eye-catching results. Sporadically irritating Cameron Diaz is extremely funny here, Kate Winslet too proves she is charmingly good in light comedy. Jude Law is sensitive enough to warm to, while Jack Black appears very competent at playing it a lot more straight. This film now appears more bittersweet with the loss of Eli Wallach, who plays a sympathetic veteran Hollywood writer. The Holiday has good spirit, and is down-to-earth and engaging enough to be many a film fan’s guilty pleasure.

Respire (2014) – Mélanie Laurent —– Asif Khan @KHAN2705

Mélanie Laurent is the French actress mostly known internationally for her Hollywood films, Inglorious Basterds and Now You See Me. Before Tarantino gave her that tremendous role, she acted in French films and won accolades. Some of those who have seen Respire, the intense 2014 feature were surprised by the face that Laurent directs films too. Or was it just me? This is her sophomore film and it was screened at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival in the International Critics’ Week section. Laurent co-wrote this drama based on the novel of the same name by Anne-Sophie Brasme. It stars Joséphine Japy as Charlie, a somewhat naive but not entirely clueless teenage student. She is surrounded by her dear friends in school while there are some parental issues at her home. A good student leading a typical life. Then enters Sarah, played by Lou de Laâge in a truly breakthrough performance. Sarah is the exact opposite, strong-minded, open to anything, sharp-tongued and very self-confident. There is an allure to her personality, a pull that Charlie can’t escape from. Essentially what seems like friendship turns into a dangerous match of psyches and emotions. Jealousy, ignorance, needs, wants – Sarah overpowers Charlie’s life. Her presence or absence always turn into something complicated. Respire is a suspense drama that is psychologically impacting as well as efficient in its approach and focus on these characters and what their relationship yields.

Ravenous (1999) – Antonia Bird — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

Other than the cannibalism bedlam on show in the late Antonia Bird’s Ravenous, for me the stand out haunting is the psychedelic, brilliant score. An unorthodox, but effective, collaboration between Damon Albarn (of Brit-pop Blur / dance-funk Gorillaz) and Michael Nyman (The Piano), using banjos, electronic beats, and who knows what else. Ravenous is a wild animal of a motion picture, a cocktail of comedy, horror, gore-fest, satire etc. Guy Pearce, Robert Carlyle, and company are soldiers at war in California sometime around the mid-1800s, and with mysterious encounters and starvation looming it is not long before cannibalism shows up on the menu. A gripping kind of entertaining madness this, director Bird forgets the rules of morality and goes for the throat instead, really enjoying herself it would appear, following more composed British efforts like Face and Priest. By the final bloody conflict you find you are laughing, your stomach is churning, you’re all tensed up, or even all three – but enjoying it shamelessly all same.

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Bright Star (2009) – Jane Campion — Jade Evans @enchantedbyfilm

Feminist filmmaker Jane Campion follows the success of her previously directed costume films The Piano (1993) and The Portrait of a Lady (1996) with Bright Star (2009). This glorious biographical focus on Romantic poet John Keats is a dream-like, sunlit poem in itself. As Campion draws the viewer into the story, in true Romantic tradition, the tale of John Keats and his muse Fanny Brawne is reflected in the idealistic backdrop. From the neutral shades of brown and blue present throughout the house at the start, John and Fanny become closer as his spool of poetic prose achieves its purpose in winning her heart. Campion projects their developing romance in the saturated shades of purple and green in the beds of bright flowers and the woodland paths. Much like nature, which provides us with bright blossoms that wither and die, so does Bright Star’s imagery transition into shades of white, grey and black as winter falls. Campion’s stark contrast in color conveys Fanny leaving her idealized fantasy of her childhood and experiencing the bleak realism and melancholy of her adulthood. Every image in the film is a work of art and is a testament to Campion’s strong eye for detail and love of artistic imagery.

Firaaq (2008) – Nandita Das — Asif Khan @KHAN2705

Firaaq is the directorial debut of the prominent Indian actress, Nandita Das. She has worked in many acclaimed, multilingual films and won awards from around the world. Das has continuously advocated for human rights, gender equality and taken public stances against many social injustices. Hardly a surprise that she would make a film around one of the biggest problems that India has faced. Violence against minorities. Firaaq is a Hindi political thriller rooted in much more realism and a sense of narrative importance that is not often seen in movies there. A fictional film set a month after the horrific 2002 violence in Gujarat against Muslims. Aptly titled Firaaq, which means quest as well as difference. Difference of religion, values and perspective. Quest for tolerance, acceptance and belonging. This is a film that stands for the many true stories, unspoken, forgotten or never really given acute focus. A great ensemble (featuring some of the most talented actors), the characters in the film are either victims of violence or assault, the perpetrators and those who watched all of this silently without doing anything. It’s a well-written and focused film with dramatic tension that rarely goes into the melodramatic or problematic territory. Das’ competent and well-edited feature is the story of ordinary people affected by violence.

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You’ve Got Mail (1998) – Nora Ephron — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

Now, I love a good laughfest, and am a bit of a sucker for romance, yet romantic comedies are generally not my bag. So let me tell you why I like You’ve Got Mail. Firstly, I have little issue with ever-so-slight regurgitation of the love from a distance notion Nora Ephron explored in her writing so brilliantly in Sleepless in Seattle and most notably When Harry Met Sally. You’ve Got Mail, the movie, is echoed deep, deep in my subconscious whenever I find it charming or amusing to repeat the phrase of the title in the style of AOL, perhaps. The soundtrack is very much up my street with the likes of The Cranberries, Harry Nilsson, and Carole King. Seeing Tom Hanks playing a character with a bit of ruthless business gusto, and still finding I like him. Meg Ryan’s ‘Shopgirl’, fighting the cause for the tiny, family-run, traditional bookshops against the more corporate mega bookstores. That Ryan and Hanks continue to prove their irresistible chemistry (Joe Versus the Volcano, Sleepless in Seattle). That love over the internet is possible, no matter how far away they feel or which neighborhood they live in. The line “I wanted it to be you.”. The main reason though, well, that would Nora Ephron, who owned the romantic comedy genre, and gave it some real depth, a kind of comfort we happily embrace, and genuine wit we simply adore. God rest her soul.

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