We venture to New Zealand, and Australia this chapter. I implored many female film-lovers to step forward and contribute here, believe me, but they were, for now, far too busy changing the world. Amen to that.
The Babadook (2014) – Jennifer Kent — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA
Horror films work on many levels, and to varying degrees – they are often much more than large white sheets with round holes in. The Babadook takes the age-old spooky house, scary story book, creepy kid, and monster in the dark formula and transfers the fear via lingering and anticipation. The narrative also propels a single mother, full to the brim with depression and grief long before the “ba-ba-dook-dook” sounds emerge (I shivered then). Essie Davis is a marvel here, playing a woman who has to break beyond her little boy’s disturbing behavior, as well as her own incredible anxieties, to stand tall and literally scream claim of her family and home (I cheered then). The Babadook is one of the scariest movies for many a year, a phrase over-used around the horror movie circles – but I mean it. Not just because of the genre-specific chills that work so well, but psychologically this stirs much deeper, almost messing with your own mind. In her debut feature film, Australian writer-director Jennifer Kent has done a grand job here, she has an expert grip on the horror proceedings, as well as the importance of the human story. With a keen eye on the rise of female directors in the movie limelight, as future projects go Kent’s is a name I am already looking out for. She does not put a foot wrong here.
The Furthest End Awaits (2014) – Chiang Hsiu Chiung — Paddy Mulholland @screenonscreen
Likely among the least well-recognized titles on this list is Chiang Hsiu Chiung’s The Furthest End Awaits. Known to many only for a small role in Hou Hsiao Hsien’s 1991 A Brighter Summer Day, Chiang’s credits as a director were limited to co-credits, short films and barely-seen titles since the turn of the millennium. Last year’s The Furthest End Awaits won’t exactly be breaking international box office records, but it’s a beautiful, mature work and a minor festival hit, which has attracted moderate popularity in the Far East. The story of a businesswoman who travels to her hometown on the Ishigawa Noto peninsula when her father dies, and of a local family she befriends and assists, it’s a warm and gentle character piece, an absorbing drama told with sumptuous sensitivity by Chiang. The young filmmaker demonstrates a deep sympathy for her characters, and the largely female cast responds with stirring, understated performances. Should visibility for this recent title increase, you may find an opportunity to catch this delightful film in an arthouse or at a festival near you. For now, put it on your watchlist!
Belle (2014) – Amma Asante — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA
Belle appears to have slipped through the net of many a movie-goers to-see list, and that is a real shame. Lavish, gorgeous and often intoxicating, Amma Asante’s costume drama has plenty of spark and substance to distinguish this from the standard crowd of a seemingly wilting genre. A refreshing take, too, on the ever-relevant social issues of race, gender, and class, Assante presents a thoroughly engaging story and setting, and keeps us attached to the triumph of identity and the consumption of good old-fashioned romance. At the heart of the film is Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who with a very different role in Beyond the Lights had a breakthrough year in 2014 that’ll be tough to match – by anyone. A gorgeous woman, clearly, in those period gowns, but her talent as an actress is without question. In a tale about a marginalized woman in a shadowed time socially who just wants a voice, Mbatha-Raw’s commanding presence shouts loudest.
Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975) – Chantal Akerman — Asif Khan @KHAN2705
Chantal Akerman’s feminist, aesthetical and subtextual masterpiece from the 70’s is one of those defining films that a cinephile gets to or needs to experience. If you haven’t seen it yet (be it for its length, subject or otherwise), I implore you to check it out. One of my early ‘experimental’ film viewings, it haunts me to this very day. Staring Delphine Seyrig as Jeanne Dielman, this Belgian feature is about a single mother’s strictly scheduled and modulated daily existence. Filmed in long takes with static and carefully detailed/regulated framing, this film follows the character through a time frame of three days. Filmed in what feels like real-time, it makes you experience things you rarely get to experience in movies like this. Cooking, cleaning, mothering and also prostitution. These are all part of Jeanne Dielman’s life. Essential, labour-like uneventful chores but essential. Her oppressive existence is central to this visceral and hypnotic film, rarely does mundanity offers such electrifying ‘twists & turns’. Akerman’s bravery as a filmmaker above all can not only be seen or gushed over but felt. Her contribution to cinema in general in the form of this wonderful gift is something to be savored and to be proud of. Other notable films from Chantal Akerman includes “I, you, he, she”, “La Captive”, “Almayer’s Folly” and “News From Home”.
Whale Rider (2003) – Niki Caro — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA
Until Quvenzhané Wallis (aged 9) turned up in 2012, Keisha Castle-Hughes (aged 13) was the youngest ever Best Actress nominee at the Academy Awards. A stat that goes little way to demonstrating any industry big-wig’s acknowledgment of talented kids in the movies (let alone adult women). Castle-Hughes making that shortlist was a surprise at the time, but warranted all the same. She turns out to be the Whale Rider of the title, and she is miraculously good in this (a scene were she is speaking to a school group but chokes up tearfully is heart-breaking – gulp). “Pai” is loved by her grandfather, no doubt about that, but there is a resentment in him that the long line of male tradition is about to be broken. Generally speaking, I rally the underdog character in an underdog movie, but especially so when the production is this rewarding. Miles and miles away from the Hollywood we know, both in geography and scale, Whale Rider stands firmly in it’s own beauty and grandeur, and is a revelation from start to finish. Lisa Gerrard chips in with yet another heart-warming film score, which almost merges exquisitely with Pai’s struggles and the whale cries. The touching New Zealand drama is expertly directed by Niki Caro, and although let’s the scenery and the acting do a lot of the work, her brush strokes give the movie some real finesse and warmth. Caro has made few movies since (including this year’s McFarland, USA), but I suspect this one is her baby.
Originally posted August 2015.