100 Films Made By Women – Part Ten

And there we have it, 100 Films Made By Women. I simply have to thank every one of you that contributed here through the ten parts – reading your words over and over was a pleasure and enlightening every time. And a thank you too to those that read all of this. Keep reading. Go back through the list and grab those movies you have not seen, and make it right. Trust me, you’re missing out. You perhaps noticed that names like Barbra Streisand, Gillian Anderson, Ann Hui, Lana Wachowski, Madonna, were not featured here. That does not mean we forgot them, but it does perhaps mean we may have to do all this again soon. Another 100 Films Made By Women?

To be continued…

Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 (2014) – Ellen Goosenberg Kent — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

The menial stigma attached to the experiences of working in a call center is put into some kind of mere perspective when you really have no choice but to absorb the daily activity the trained telephonists have to participate in when speaking to suicidal war veterans. In Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1, Ellen Goosenberg Kent has made an immediately moving, nerve-jangling documentary short (which won the Oscar) that brings home the reality of those so traumatized by their involvement in war they are looking to end their own life. It almost equated to one veteran an hour being lost in this way, and the call center was receiving 22,000 calls a month. These responders, speaking to the aggrieved over the telephone, have to use everything they have to talk them down, remind of their role as a father, someone’s son, or their important place in the world – whatever it takes. An emotional, integral account of professionally, compassionately handling the kind of psychological pain many of us will never imagine. A good day’s work in this field is built through saving a life, that precious thing we should not let go.

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Winter’s Bone (2010) – Debra Granik — Marshall Flores @IPreferPi314

The genesis of Jennifer Lawrence’s stratospheric rise as an Oscar-winning, A-List actress over the past five years: her breakthrough performance as 17-year old Ree Dolly in Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone. Despite a meager two million dollar budget, an unusual premise (crime thriller set in the Ozarks), and an ensemble cast prominently featuring locals with zero acting experience, Bone overcame its unheralded roots and garnered widespread critical acclaim: it went on to win the Dramatic Best Picture prize at Sundance and ultimately received four Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actress. Lawrence’s Ree is an ordinary woman-girl thrust into the extraordinary circumstance of being the de facto head of her household, in an impoverished environment seeping with crime and drugs. In the hands of lesser talent, Winter’s Bone may easily just have been Deliverance redux, or a preachy liberal jeremiad on poverty. Instead, Bone defies genre conventions with a feminist twist: men may be in nominal charge of the local crime ring that dominates Ree’s town, but the women (Ree’s aunts) are the enforcers, the capos who perform the dirty work and who circumvent the male leadership as needed. And the ever-charismatic Lawrence empowers Ree with a preternatural authority, with a steely resolve that soldiers her through the treacherous odyssey of finding her missing dad. It is a performance that I strongly believe is still Lawrence’s best (and hasn’t come close to matching since). Combined with Granik’s incredible work with crafting a milieu that is unblinkingly (depressingly) authentic yet evoking a noirish beauty, and the end product is a spellbinding, unpredictable thriller that captures the audience’s attention from start to finish.

Una Noche (2012) – Lucy Mulloy — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

The first effects of Una Noche is the sweltering heat of Havana, you can almost feel it on your flesh. There’s a captivating glow and progressive energy brimming throughout the film, largely thanks to the director Lucy Mulloy’s expert vision, in her debut feature. It revolves around Lila (Anailín de la Rúa de la Torre) and brother Elio (Javier Núñez Florián), narrated by an a possibly older Lila telling us they have not been separated since they were born – their tactile, warm comfort in each other’s company is there for us to see. When the brooding, restless Raul (Dariel Arrechaga) enters their lives the film’s actual and metaphorical journey kicks up a notch. With this, Una Noche brings plenty of sexual tension and expression, even among these seemingly uptight teenagers. One scene has Lila follow her father to where he frolics with another woman, and she runs off distressed – perhaps due to her father’s betrayal, or witnessing the sheer passion of sex. Molloy changes the pace in the second half on all fronts, as the three teenagers build their raft to head off into the waters out of Cuba. The dynamics between them is handled in a truly compelling manner as they have little choice in the confinement to explore their aggression, their fears, their sexuality. The final moments tip you overboard a little and leave you somewhat breathless, Molloy is responsible for the impact, and she decides when you come up for air.

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Monsoon Wedding (2001) – Mira Nair — Asif Khan @KHAN2705

Mira Nair, the Indian director based in United States is probably the more followed female filmmaker internationally. She started off as a documentary filmmaker, focusing on controversial subjects before moving to narrative filmmaking. Her films have been nominated for Oscar, Globes, BAFTAs and have won several others. Her 2001 film, Monsoon Wedding made her the first female recipient of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. Written by Sabrina Dhawan, the film centers on a big, expensive and colorful traditional Punjabi Hindu wedding in Delhi. Arrange marriage, organized chaos of the ceremony, families coming together and old wounds unearthing. This is a film brimming with colors as much as emotional agitation and messiness of love and romance. You can feel the smell of monsoon rain mixed with that of the flowers. The visual, textural vibrancy is further supported by the beautiful music. Some of it is original but mostly a mixture of several types of it such as Qawali, Ghazal, Punjabi music, folk songs and Hindi tracks. Nair creates a full-blown picture of India and its traditions using a wedding ceremony. It is a film not afraid to go into darker corners as a sub-plot involves the cousin of the bride accusing a close relative of molestation when she was young. Boosted by big cast with standout turns by Naseeruddin Shah, Lillete Dubey and Shefali Shah. Love is glorious and destructive, weddings are heavenly and tiresome at the same time. In Monsoon Wedding, the audience loses themselves in the rhythm of life. Other notable films by Nair include her multiple award-winning debut Salaam Bombay!, Mississippi Masala and The Namesake.

The Last Mistress (2007) – Catherine Breillat — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

French director Catherine Breillat is no stranger to filmmaking of an erotically-charged nature, and The Last Mistress is no different. Seducing us in nineteenth century Paris this time around, a story full to the brim with passion and obsession. Ryno de Marigny (Fu’ad Aït Aattou) is intending to wed the rather timid, innocent Hermangarde (Roxanne Mesquida), but simply cannot let go of the long lover affair with the tempestuous La Vellini (Asia Argento). Dangerous Liaisons this is not, but with Breillat expertly inflicting the film with sexual electricity and undying temptation, it could well be in the same league. An explicit, lavish experience, The Last Mistress is sumptuous, almost larger than life, in it’s appearance, from the cinematography, down to the vibrant and elegant costume and set design. In particular Argento, who perhaps gives the most luminous performance and a luscious screen presence, is dressed in gorgeous, extravagant garments of expanding colors and designs – blatantly showing her character’s Spanish heritage. She is also has numerous scenes of unadulterated nudity in accurately awkward sex scenes, which goes a long way to add not only to the film’s sexual tone, but also the ultimately bold, grand scale with which Breiilat has executed this story so full of desire.

The 3 Rooms of Melancholia (2004) – Pirjo Honkasalo — Paddy Mulholland @screenonscreen

Among the least aggressively feminist filmmakers working today is Finland’s Pirjo Honkasalo – a talent less internationally-recognized as her countryman Aki Kaurismäki, yet no less talented. Honkasalo’s films display more of a humanist strain (oh how I hate the feminist/humanist debate), yet see to her list of frequent collaborators (writer Pirkko Saisio, composer Sanna Salmenkallio), and rejoice in the contribution to cinema of the finest lesbian filmmaker living today. From 2004, The 3 Rooms of Melancholia is an artistic masterpiece and a moral one too, a document of the suffering engendered by masculine political ideologies that seek to conquer land and people alike during times of conflict. An appropriately melancholy film, this documentary achieves a level of stylistic achievement and of emotional insight that barely another non-fiction film even aspires to. Honkasalo’s films are consistently stunning and consistently stirring, and The 3 Rooms of Melancholia may be her best in every regard.

The Taste of Others (2000) – Agnès Jaoui — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

Nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film the year of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Amores Perros was also short-listed), The Taste of Others marks the directorial debut for French actress Agnès Jaoui. A rather delightful, exquisitely written comedy-drama with a light heart and a luring sense of attraction. You might call it a relationship movie, with a relatively large cast of characters socializing and being honest in their conforming to others. They could well be at times in a Robert Altman film. The main array of adults interact as they learn to speak English for successful business transactions, or love their dog way beyond their continual nipping at people’s ankles, forget a sexual conquest from years earlier, deal light drugs from their apartment, worrying about your career longevity at forty. The main players talk serious, grown-up issues mostly, but Jaoui is never heavy-handed in her writing or direction. There are smaller sympathetic moments too – like when one woman flippantly informs someone she does not like mustaches and her admirer’s face drops. At their next meet he has completely shaved his mustache off, but she hardly notices. It’s quirky and somehow true, delivered with a real human tone for wearing your heart on your sleeve or shielding how you really feel. There’s a particular redeeming smile towards the film’s close that demonstrates both in affecting style.

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The Night Porter (1974) – Liliana Cavani — Steve Schweighofer @banjoonthecrag

Firstly, we have to remember that the span of time between the end of the horrors of WWII and the release (or unleashing) of Liliana’s The Night Porter was less than 30 years – almost the same amount of time that separates the present day from the first Gulf War or the recent conflict in the Balkans. The subjects of Nazism and the Holocaust were still tender and a bit of an obsession with filmmakers, who either were gingerly respectful or operatically fascinated with drawing connections between fascism and sexual proclivity. So when Ms Cavani essentially kicked the doors down with The Night Porter, the reaction ranged from repulsion to outright horror. The story takes place about 20 years after the war. A young woman, a concentration camp survivor, spots one of her former captors working as a night porter. They resume the relationship they had during her internment while being pursued by his Nazi brethren who are set on eliminating all witnesses to the crimes committed during the war. Sometimes a film can have a cultural impact and achieve cult status without being particularly great cinema and that is the status of The Night Porter. The film can brag good performances from Dirk Bogarde and Charlotte Rampling, two actors who thrived on bravely portraying sexually ambivalent roles throughout their careers. It can also boast a bold portrayal of the interconnection between ritual, power, control and pleasure mixed with a dash of Stockholm Syndrome. Cavani’s expressionist style is hit and miss, but individual scenes remain memorable as she waltzes her couple to their eventual doom. Most critics were appalled – even Roger Ebert called the film “nasty” (and he was Russ Meyer’s co-writer on Beyond the Valley of the Dolls a few years prior), but the film did trigger several essayists to explore the whys and wherefores of Cavani’s themes. Susan Sontag famously wrote, “The color is black, the material leather, the seduction is beauty, the justification is honesty, the aim is ecstasy, the fantasy is death.” Cavani’s attempts to connect psycho-sexual behavior with socio-political themes makes today’s cinematic efforts in edgy eroticism (50 Shades of anything) look about as kinky as a Sears Catalog, and for that, she – and we – have the frank openness of the 70s to thank.

Tomboy (2011) – Céline Sciamma — Asif Khan @KHAN2705

French filmmaker and screenwriter Céline Sciamma is a refreshing new voice in the cinema. The way she tackles subject of gender, sexual and personal identity among girls in their defining period, with a sense of understanding and warmth is wonderful. Her debut Water Lilies as well as her recent Girlhood along with Tomboy are her three feature-length films she has made on the subject. Always working with non-actors and keeping things to a minimum, including dialogues, she is able to not only tell stories but make them felt. Tomboy is a film that beautifully explores the theme of ambiguous gender. It stands out for portraying the confusion experienced by the character Laure (or Mikäel as he introduces himself to other kids) and the way he/she acts out and wants to be seen as. Laure is 10-year-old child who moves to a new apartment in Paris with his family. She introduces herself as a boy to a neighborhood girl Lisa, who introduces him to others kids. “Mikäel” wants to fit in with other boys, to play with them as boys usually do and develops friendship with a girl, an important plot. Sciamma’s command over the character’s existential turmoil, at such an age and about a crucial aspect of life is marvelous. Added to that, the actress Zoé Héran gives a very affecting performance. Deeply touching and heartfelt at every turn. Whether it’s Mikäel’s complex relationship with the kids outside or Laure’s relationship with her family and understanding of herself.

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In a World… (2013) – Lake Bell — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

Borrowing the title of the movie from the legendary Don LaFontaine’s trailer slogan opener, In a World… is a rather bewitching comedy centered around the voice work industry, but also has a firm grasp on family values. Carol Solomon (Lake Bell, who writes, directs and co-produces this too) is a vocal coach struggling for work, and the daughter of Sam Sotto, a successful voice artist in Hollywood. Carol also has a humorously turbulent relationship with her sister, but their father Sam really has a bee in his bonnet. When Carol lands a prestigious trailer voice-over job, Sam is perturbed, partly due to his off-center perception of his daughter’s place in the business. But more hilariously that she has spent the night with one of his friends-in-the-business and the two men had previously been crude in discussing the sex – unaware it was his daughter. There is plenty going on here, including some well-written sub-plots dealing with relationship struggles and potential love interest complications. Add to that some genuinely amusing lines (“Those are huge shoes to fill, I think he was a size eleven.” or “Cher sounds like a sleepy chipmunk”) and some true-to-life bumbling execution of the dialogue, this is sharply funny. Consistently so, in fact it does not let up, spilling along nicely, offering plenty of witty quips and reactions – complimented by well-rounded and crowd-pleasing story-telling. Bell is also shrewd enough to point at stick at the bigger opportunities for women over the competition of men – coaching women at the end, Carol speaks to them defiantly: “Let’s make a statement. Who’s ready to be heard?”.

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