100 Films Made By Women – Part Six

Although I never claimed outright each and every one of the 100 Films Made By Women would be rare things, that was kind of the net I was casting. That said, with that extraordinarily laborious problem in the film industry, not having heard of so many female film directors out there means these gems and their makers are likely enigmas by default. And I wonder how many of these movies in this series you knew very well but were still surprised to find they were directed by a woman. Here are ten more: 

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Thou Wast Mild And Lovely (2014) – Josephine Decker — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

Thou Wast Mild and Lovely might appear to be a certain way experimental or haphazard, but I would argue the talented writer and director Josephine Decker knows exactly what she is doing. The hand-held and hovering camera gives the impression of spontaneity, yet the visual splendor suggest this was a well thought out work of art. A floating balloon enveloping all manner of tension and seduction that, true, does seem to drift off and beyond, but not once allow you to let go of the string. Thou Wast Mild and Lovely is set on a farm where the somewhat sexually-enthused daughter is the object of desire for the hired hand, unable to be too forthcoming with the father on the scene. A father open about the guy’s tension in his shoulders, though we suspect he just does not outright like him. The daughter’s voice-over reminisces over a lover, like poetry over the splendidly breezy cinematography. Its is somehow eerie not too deep inside, with the distant sound score which seems to come from within. A tension builds, not just the potential, sweltering passion, but something else, something forbidden and discomforting. Decker’s lenses also come in and out of focus without any great regard to audience expectations – telling a simple story in well under ninety minutes while filling each minute with substantial panache. Movies that meander in spite of their beauty (like the films of Terrance Malick sometimes for example) often receive some negative criticism, that narrative or pay-off are not sufficient. That’s not always for us to judge fairly, film-making is such a vast universe, interpretation and intention can be lights years apart. But without talking about our feelings for movies where would we be? And there is plenty of excellence to talk about here.

Middle of Nowhere (2012) – Ava DuVernay — Marshall Flores @IPreferPi314

If I had to choose one film made since the death of Polish auteur Krzysztof Kieslowski that is an exemplary continuation of the femme-centric cinematic poetry found in his Three Colors trilogy and The Double Life of Veronique, it would be Middle of Nowhere. Just the second feature film from Ava DuVernay, Nowhere won the Best Director prize from Sundance in 2012 and unequivocally demonstrates an emerging film-making superstar at work. On its surface, Middle of Nowhere tells a familiar story of a young wife whose life is stuck in neutral as she attempts to stand by her jailed husband. But as told by DuVernay, Nowhere is an acutely directed triumph of emotional ambiguity, of nuanced characterization, of introspective humanism – all channeled through a resplendent Emayatzy Corinealdi. Corinealdi’s Ruby imprints upon the audience with her complexity, alternating between fortitude and vulnerability, earnestness and uncertainty – all done without dramatic histrionics. Ruby is both accessible and inaccessible, and that hazy duality (made apparent on screen through the use of shallow depth-of-field close-ups) results in a refreshing honesty that makes for one of the best lead female performances in recent memory. From start to finish, DuVernay and Corinealdi work to ensure Middle of Nowhere is a film that embeds in our consciousness long after the end credits roll.

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A New Leaf (1971) – Elaine May — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

Oh Elaine May I do love you. As well as her terrifically funny work with the sorely missed Mike Nichols, I could watch this kind of comforting madness all day long. Writing and directing from a short story with consummate charm and magnetic wit, A New Leaf is a real treat, and so typical of the kind of comedy America did well. With the charismatic, naturally comical Walter Matthau on board too, this could hardly fail. Matthau has the ability to deliver lines with such snappy amusement, even in the most droll of sarcasm, but can also generate laughs from even the slightest responsive motions of his face. May is also without doubt a comic icon, her physical know-how and wisecrack timing is in the top tier of performance comedy. Her look on-screen here, dowdy appearance, scruffy hair, big glasses, has been mimicked a thousands times in movies since this. The story focuses on Henry, a once wealthy chap who has now bled himself dry, and is advised to marry a rich woman to solve his problems. A plot that would only work today to serve as ludicrous, unfulfilling, trashy comedy, but was much more a legitimate source of humorfest back then. There was a much greater brand of comedies that had both depth and quality. A New Leaf is instantly engaging, consistently amusing, and ultimately results in a warm, touching journey. We need more of these please.

Seven Beauties (1975) – Lina Wertmuller — Steve Schweighofer @banjoonthecrag

Lina Wertmuller’s magnum opus of survival and betrayal garnered her the first Best Director Academy Award nomination ever received by a woman, as well as a DGA, so why am I nominating her here, on a list containing lesser known gems directed by women? The answer is in the question, “when was the last time that Wertmuller was mentioned in the same conversation as her male contemporaries Altman, Fellini, Bergman, and Lumet?” The highly politicized Wertmuller opens her film with a dedication of sorts, read over archival footage of some of the horrors of World War II, including: “The ones who worship the corporate image not knowing that they work for someone else. Oh yeah. The ones who never get involved with politics. Oh yeah. The ones who believe Christ is Santa Claus as a young man. Oh yeah. The ones who keep going, just to see how it will end. Oh yeah. The ones who are in garbage up to here. Oh yeah. The ones who even now don’t believe the world is round. Oh yeah. The ones who say, ‘Now let’s all have a good laugh.’ Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Oh yeah.“ This is heady stuff that gives us no indication of the horrific, yet superbly entertaining, story that’s about to unfold. That Wertmuller’s mentor was none other than Frederico Fellini – she served as asst. director on 8½ – becomes obvious right at the start with nightclub frolics and a bouncing musical score that precedes the swaggering entrance of our “hero”, played by Wertmuller muse, Giancarlo Giannini. What unfolds is a domino-effect series of events that include prostitution, murder and dismemberment, insanity, rape, war and desertion, seduction in a concentration camp and, ultimately, betrayal, all in the name of survival. This sounds bleak, but under Wertmuller’s deft direction and writing, she manages to bring a very dark sense of humor to the whole thing. Never is this more apparent than in a scene where puppy-eyed Giannini , in a last effort of desperation, manages to seduce the female camp commandant, played by a cigar-smoking, riding crop-wielding Shirley Stoler. With his striped pajama bottoms at half-mast, he reluctantly climbs bare-assed onto the mountain of a monster who holds his life in her hands. How far does one go to survive? Where does one draw the line as to what is expendable and what is worth saving? And the Faustian, what is one left with when we have sacrificed and sold all, including conscience and self-esteem? Wertmuller doesn’t blink when she’s asking these questions. She’s not afraid to anger or offend to make her point, either. She has incurred the wrath of both the Right and the Left and been a fox in the feminist henhouse. Be it political, sexual or class, it’s all warfare to Wertmuller and we all play the part of the hound and/or the whore, if necessary, to make our way through this absurd maze of life. Oh, yeah.

Unrelated (2007) – Joanna Hogg — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

We forget that angst is not just attributed solely to teenagers, there is indeed adult angst too. The adults getting together for a Tuscan holiday in Joanna Hogg’s observational drama Unrelated might have been better off keeping their mouths closed. From the outset this supposed set of friends and some family members can’t seem to simply converse without saying something they perhaps shouldn’t. There is clearly some unfinished business and damaged history, this results in some bleak and positively awkward moments, when what they really ought to be doing is relaxing. Some appear to be escaping their everyday real lives, some are keeping secrets, and they talk about, or rather dissect, the states of relationships, while hovering around current, very real sexual tensions. In her debut feature film Hogg serves these characters up on a plate and is casually ruthless in allowing them to gradually tear strips off one another, with their generational attitudes. That is not to say there are not some moments of tranquility and civilized interactions – at times seeing certain characters expose their weaknesses is actually quite moving. Whether the majority of these people we are seeing are very likable is neither here nor there, as their increasingly inept communication is something compelling throughout.

Enough Said (2013) – Nicole Holofcener — Asif Khan @KHAN2705

For the fans of Sundance dramedies, Holofcener requires no introduction. She has made her name making very competent character studies by focusing purely on how the people who populate her films live their life at every turn and not solely juggling conflicts to define them by. Enough Said is the 2013 romantic comedy that has such natural flow of dialogues and conversations between characters that it seems you are watching real people talk instead of characters or actors in a movie. Eva (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus in a genuine, charming performance) is a masseuse and divorced mother of a teenage girl. She meets a man, also divorced and with a daughter named Albert (James Gandolfini – so vulnerable) at a party and they both begin to take liking in each other during days following their meeting. Eva’s clients have lots of problems but she does her work to the best of her ability and patience. She is friends with a married couple, makes friends with one of her clients, a poet named Marianne (director’s regular – Catherine Keener). Her daughter’s graduation and the subsequent moving away for college is something of an impending doom for Eva, who wonders what her life would be like after that. This dear but grounded romantic comedy beautifully carries both those parts or rather aspects of the story. There is a serious discovery involved later in the film that threatens the balance of Eva and Albert’s life. Packed with tenderness and wisdom, Enough Said is romantic comedy to end the so-called romantic comedies of the past many years. Other films by Holofcener includes Please Give, Lovely & Amazing, Walking and Talking and Friends with Money.

Desperately Seeking Susan (1985) – Susan Seidelman — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

Whether is it everyone’s cup of tea or not, Desperately Seeking Susan is a significant motion picture as it paralleled the rapid rise to super-fame for the music career of Madonna. She has had her dodgy moments as an actress that is for sure, but here she holds her own and is appropriately cast (I confess I thought she oozed sex appeal and charm in Who’s That Girl too). A film about two women essentially, Desperately Seeking Susan is also directed by a woman, Susan Seidelman – marking her most successful film venture. It’s a film full of attention-grabbing energy, and Seidelman keeps the plot churning over. Hapless Roberta (Rosanna Arquette) gets involved too deeply in the life of another woman (Madonna) who writes messages to men in the personals of a New York newspaper (the game-changing insert gives the film its title). The results form that becomes a funny, sometimes farcical adventure. Arquette won a Best Supporting Actress BAFTA for her lead performance, and would go on to make only a handful of movies as memorable as this. Madonna, on the other hand, well we know where her stardom went. The rest of the cast includes some faces you may have forgotten about, including Aidan Quinn, Will Patton, Laurie Metcalf, and John Turturro. The film also features Madonna’s first UK no.1 hit “Into the Groove” and a score by a certain Thomas Newman.

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Unbroken (2014) – Angelina Jolie — Al Robinson @Al_Rob_1982

Unbroken is a film that most people were highly anticipating last year, but when they finally saw it, were not that impressed. One of the main criticisms was that it left out a big part of Louis Zamperini’s life. Louis Zamperini was an American soldier and former Olympic runner who was shot down over the Pacific Ocean by the Japanese during World War II in 1943. He survived 47 days stranded at sea on a raft, only to be taken prisoner of war by the Japanese soldiers. He was put in a prison camp where he survived until the end of the war, when he was set free. What was left out of the film was what Louis went through after he came home. My thoughts on why the film worked was that Angelina Jolie directed a film that told a story of survival, and if what happened afterwards was added, it would have changed the whole message of the film. Angelina had met with Louis before he passed away last year, and he gave her his approval. Ultimately if Louis liked it, that’s good enough for me.

Peepli Live (2010) – Anusha Rizvi— Asif Khan @KHAN2705

Debut Indian filmmaker, Anusha Rizvi’s 2010 film is a satire that depicts the topic of farmer suicide in darkly humorous way. This is a film that finds means of storytelling as well as subtext off a grimly serious topic. It’s a wonder how this ‘indie’ film free of glamour and convenience became a huge hit in India. It was shown at many festivals, including Sundance and was the country’s official entry for the Oscars. Peepli in the title is a village this film depicts while Live is referring to the live reporting of an event. The event? Farmer Natha (Omkar Das Manikpuri) decides to commit suicide when he finds out how the families of poor farmers who take their lives are heavily compensated by the government. He is from a very poor family (consisting of his brother, sister-in-law and an ailing mother), whose financial and farming condition for that matter is awful. The banks are demanding payment of their loans or else the family would be stripped off the land and house. Peepli Live‘s story is layered and expansive, not only does it portray a poor farmer family’s adverse conditions but the film also pokes real stingers at the media and politics. How this little village becomes a nationwide phenomenon thanks to the selfish nature of people (news channels fight for the best suicide coverage/political parties have their own damaging agendas), is absurdly humorous and at the same time, piercing. Using mostly character actors and crafting a compelling screenplay, Rizvi made an inspired film both a wake up call for our apathetic collective consciousness and an irresistibly entertaining dark comedy.

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Big (1988) – Penny Marshall — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

Is this the most popular mainstream movie directed by a woman ever made? I include it in a list of mostly unknown female directors for that very reason. There are several varying arguments (thankfully not directly explored too deeply in the movie) as to which is the greater wish: as a kid wishing to be an adult, or an adult wishing he was a kid. It usually falls that if you are one you want to be the other. Penny Marshall’s direction (from a Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg screenplay) perfectly taps into this notion, from both sides of the generation gap. What Marshall does best of all is create a canvas were the behaviors of adults and children merge, making it a little bit touching, a little bit enlightening, but very accessibly funny. Having his wish to be “big” granted, our protagonist Josh not only lands himself a job, and quick promotion, playing with and talking about toys (living the dream), but also manages to get Elizabeth Perkins into bed (albeit after claiming the top bunk). Josh has little idea of the realities of living within adulthood, and Big makes sure this has charm and humor, rather than branding the kid-man an alien from outer space. His lifestyle is way different, sure, but without much thought Josh can adapt to this by unknowingly incorporating his child-like outlook and experience. The skills it seems can be transferable. Marshall has made a movie so good, so enjoyable, so timeless, I am certain it would still have stood out for her as much had there not been such a ridiculous lack of women making films in this industry. A classic regardless.

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