100 More Films Made By Women – Part Five

The scope of female film-makers transcends the mere role they have in the big bad film industry. Some productions so small in scale, budget, and running time, can sit alongside films made by iconic women also know for their singing and acting. As we reach the half-way point of our second helping of 100 films made by women we include an Oscar-less lady and characters with boxes for heads. Track down each one of these as per usual and see them for yourself.

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Silent House (Laura Lau, Chris Kentis)

The notion of a young woman marooned inside a dark, spooky little house is a horror staple, yet Silent House has a real knack of grabbing hold of you tight and hardly letting you go by the end titles. Co-directed by Chris Kentis and Laura Lau, the big gold star goes to the incredible illusion that the movie is shot in real time and all one continuous take. It certainly adds to the feeling of suffocation and doom, as does the startling sound design, though the whole production is a replica of the Uruguayan original La casa muda (The Silent House). At the center of the scary movie is Elizabeth Olsen – who enrolled into a very different kind of social fear in Martha Marcy May Marlene. The camera sticks to Olsen like glue, we the audience feel we are trapped inside the house of bludgeoning horrors with her, she’s an actress who manages to keep the relentless shock on her face chilling and fresh throughout. – – – Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

Craig’s Wife (Dorothy Arzner)

It is no secret that Hollywood’s Golden Age was by and large an era of film-making dominated by men. Men ran the studios, ran the stars and starlets, and ran the pictures. However, at a moment when women weren’t encourage to have careers at all, much less careers in male-dominated industries like film-making, there was Dorothy Arzner—out lesbian, film editor and director, launcher of careers, maker of fabulous films. You can’t really go wrong with anything in her oeuvre, but there is something about Craig’s Wife that really punctures one’s heart. On the surface, it is the story of a domineering and materialistic housewife, played to perfection by Rosalind Russell, whose frigidity and callousness alienate everyone around her, leaving her ultimately alone. However, if one digs under the surface, Craig’s Wife is also a film about a woman shaped by the fiercely patriarchal society in which she lives, and one can read Harriet’s callousness as a maladaptive behavior learned through exploitation and constraint. The ambiguity of women’s stories is something that Arzner excelled at delivering, and as a coded woman’s text, Craig’s Wife is unparalleled. – – – Desirae Embree @ZeeSayre

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Mansfield Park (Patricia Rozema)

Based on the Jane Austen’s novel, Mansfield Park is written and directed by Canadian Patricia Rozema (I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing), who adds her own little narrative touches without damaging the adaptation. We still delve into social disruption and well-being restoration – the outcome of marriage proposals cause no end of headaches here. Rozema’s camera too shakily roams around, giving an authentic sense of space, inspiring given the familiar literary discourse. The main story sees Fanny Price, who is sent to live with her wealthy aunt and uncle as a child and we later join her as a young adult (a splendid Frances O’Connor) – Fanny is not exactly the black sheep of the family but is certainly not held is as high regard as her cousins. Bubbling under the surface is the developing friendship with Edmund, the chemistry between O’Connor and Jonny Lee Miller is one of the most enticing elements of a perfectly delightful film. Other recognizable faces impressively playing their part include Hugh Bonneville, James Purefoy, Embeth Davidtz, Alessandro Nivola, Sophia Myles, and Lindsay Duncan. – – – Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

The Invitation (Karyn Kusama)

The Invitation perfectly and sprawlingly sets up the kind of adult dinner party you would rather, well, not be invited to. That’s not a negative on the movie itself, rather the premise puts together a group of people, and a set of prickly scenarios, a woman passing via a laptop screening, fresh memories of a lost child, adds to a head-scratching suggestion these people were once actual friends. Slow-burning, taut drama turns gradually to psychological thriller, almost horror, which turns out pretty deadly indeed. Hitting the heights of her first feature Girlfight, Karyn Kusama (backed by Gamechanger Films, advocates of movies made by women) conveys the right amount of awkward and tension, with no fat, and does not fall into tatty, B movie territory we’ve seen so many movies of this kind slip into. – – – Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

Disorder (Alice Winocour)

Alice Winocour’s Disorder is one big, inconsequential foil, a collection of scenes and suggestions that add up to much less than promised. And what a thrilling foil it is, as an example of true technical mastery, and as a smart, understated sub-textual tease. Winocour interweaves elements of this depth and complexity in such a simple, natural manner that she leaves Disorder’s straightforward surface undisturbed, whilst introducing gentle undercurrents of suspicion and mistrust. Disorder follows through on its genre promises, revealing itself to be exactly what it appears, giving its wily winks in the direction of dramatic import a cheeky charm, somewhat mitigating their otherwise obvious insipidness. Winocour launches her film into pure thriller territory, relying on the superb skills of sensory suggestion she’s heretofore used more sparingly (though equally successfully). Brilliant blocking and terrific sound design (including fine soundtrack choices and an admirably unobtrusive score by Gesaffelstein) make for a marvelously tense third act. And Matthias Schoenaerts’ performance is an ideal match, both in purpose and in quality – his hulking physique as pitch-perfect as his emotional intensity. – – – Paddy Mulholland @screenonscreen

Corrugated Hearts (Billimarie Robinson)

You would have to ask writer, director, producer Billimarie Robinson what was going through her creative veins when she conceived the idea for a short amateur film where the characters have cardboard boxes or heads, marker pen facial expression change with each tiny plot development. The commercial reminiscent voices at the opening talk about heads shaped differently from ours, and different ideas. When the main male character rejects a 3.0 up grade there’s a real heavy layer of melancholy, which is blended with some rather haphazardly effective editing and music. Without any real dialogue or formulaic narrative Corrugated Hearts still provides a kind of love story, while also touching on the fickle TV culture, the disposableness of the human heart, as well as a strong whiff of the artificial intelligence element. – – – Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

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The Dresser (Mary Neely)

Mary Neely crams a lot into the short film The Dresser at less than twelve minutes, it has plenty of witty sharp edges and quirky moments. What Neely also has in abundance is her own input, not only does she write, produce, and direct the short comedy, she also edited it, and plays the central role of Sofia. Sofia bumps into David while filming a scene, but he is moving to New York City the very next morning, and Sofia’s urgency to hook up with him goes into neurotic overdrive. Sofia hatches a scheme to buy the dresser of the title (he has yet to sell all his furniture), hoping she can cancel the sale when she has him alone. But he has a group of friends over, and soon her plans are scuppered. Several back-and-forth phone calls between Sofia and her friend Deb also chime in with snappy humor – when Deb says she is making baklava, Sofia responds “I have no idea what you just said, but save me some.”. Funnily enough it seems Deb who is the most flat out exhausted from making the Greek delicacy than her friend’s one hundred miles an hour emotional drive. – – – Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

American Splendor (Shari Springer Berman)

American Splendor is an incredibly difficult film to categorize. Co-directed by Shari Springer-Berman and Robert Pulcini, Splendor seamlessly blends elements of comedy, drama, biography, documentary and animation into one of the most original films of this century. The film focuses on comic book writer Harvey Pekar and his wife Joyce Brabner, using documentary footage of the couple along with filmed segments where the pair are played wonderfully by actors Paul Giamatti and Hope Davis, along with animated segments of the couple. Splendor is daring in both its visuals and its storytelling, and gives us an inside look into the mind and creative process of one of the most idiosyncratic artists of modern times. – – – Tim J. Krieg @FiveStarFlicks

The Prince of Tides (Barbra Streisand)

There’s arguments for those not nominated with AMPAS, for instance how films like The Fisher King, Thelma & Louise, Barton Fink, and Boyz n the Hood did not make the Best Picture cut in 1992. But we are talking about female directors here, and famously how Barbara Streisand failed to make the Director line-up for The Prince of Tides, a film with seven nominations including Best Picture. Years earlier, she directed Yentl, which also failed to make an impact with the big Oscar categories – but she did win the Golden Globe for Best Director. The Prince of Tides was well-liked, based on the Pat Conroy novel, Streisand cast herself opposite Nick Nolte in an emotional family / romantic drama. Nolte’s teacher and coach Tom heads off to New York following his sister’s attempted suicide and strikes up a gradual bond with psychiatrist played by Streisand. The film tackles all manner of heavy subjects as Tom reluctantly digs up the secrets of abusive and betrayal within his family life both in the distant past and very recently. – – – Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

Just Another Girl On the I.R.T. (Leslie Harris)

The relentless burst of the American Independent Cinema in the late 80s and early 90s often tackled the very journey to your true identity in the world, your voice, your dreams. Films like Slacker (Richard Linklater), The Unbelievable Truth (Hal Hartley), Drugstore Cowboy (Gus Van Sant) Gas, Food Lodging (Allison Anders), Go Fish (Rose Troche), Metropolitan (Whit Stillman) all reflected in their narratives the growing corner of the film industry itself. Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. was no exception, written, produced, and directed by Leslie Harris (surprisingly her only film), the plucky little movie tells the story of teenage Chantel (Ariyan A. Johnson), thriving in high school and full to the brim with ambition, but lacking in a certain humility who cannot keep her mouth or ego in check. An important look at the struggling working class in Brooklyn, Harris’ film is an engaging depiction of an African-American girl wanting to break the shackles and find a better life for herself. – – – Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

Catch up with parts ONETWOTHREEFOUR if you haven’t already.

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