100 Films Made By Women – Part 6 of 20

Here we have stories of dreamy adolescence, and the struggles of emerging into womanhood. What I also witness is girls on films offering social awareness and refreshing hope. Pay attention to Part 6 of our 100 Films Made by Women:

The Ascent (1977) – Larisa Shepitko — Asif Khan @KHAN2705

Soviet filmmaker Larisa Shepitko’s third and final film is a powerful account of sufferings endured by a group of partisans in Belarus during the winter of 1942. Released in 1977, this film became her most acclaimed work, winning the Golden Bear at the 27th Berlin International Film Festival. She died in a car crash, her planned film was completed by her husband Elem Klimov titled “Farewell”. The Ascent is a harrowing and bleak film that shows the fragile nature of human beings during severe times. How people react to survive, defiantly or cowardly. Based around a group but mainly about two men who inflict and endure different pain on themselves. Torturous men populates the cold and icy landscape. A film shot superbly, capturing the varied range of beauty and ugliness. It is a war film where the war is mainly of the morals among people. It’s a relentlessly horror-like account of these people and their inevitable fate. One of the most notable aspect of the film is its Christian allegory, the Christ like endurance of pain and sacrifice as well as betrayal and guilt-ridden existence. A film I would definitely recommend to those who haven’t seen it. The two films Larisa Shepitko made before The Ascent are the WWII female fighter pilot drama Wings and You and I.

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I Believe in Unicorns (2014) – Leah Meyerhoff — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

Not so much directly focusing on coming-of-age (though there is a strong whiff of it), Leah Meyerhoff’s feature directorial effort I Believe in Unicorns seeks out a teenage girl’s perspective of that yearning for adulthood. Or at least, being part of something grown-up, like seeking out new adventures and enveloping yourself in a rich romance. The choice of boy Davina (Natalia Dyer) makes though is a far cry from settling down and taking life seriously. Nor does Davina perhaps want this – she just does not know it yet. Teenage love is something of an experiment in itself for the most part, about discovery and craving and excitement, good, bad, or unknown. Davina and the unpredictable Sterling (Peter Vack) take to the road, they kiss and roll around, they also bicker and shun each other like an old married couple. Their relationship is fresh and enticing, but also volatile and intense – and that feels very, very real. Meherhoff’s visually beautiful, but never heavy-handed, film definitely gives the female, youthful touches here and there. The dreamy Davina imagines unicorns of the stop-motion variety, but is the one with the pants in the relationship, which makes Dyer the big shining star in front of the camera in this flourishing adolescent show.

Daisies (1966) – Vera Chytilová — Paddy Mulholland @screenonscreen

Vera Chytilová’s masterpiece among masterpieces, and a seminal film of the Czech New Wave. Nothing new there, but nothing false either – Daisies is a brilliantly energetic, technically innovative, deceptively profound work that achieves all that Chytilová’s contemporaries attempted to achieve, but has much more fun in the process. As will you, beholding a dazzling array of formal informality in the direction, subversive humor in the writing and joie de vivre in the acting. Giving Daisies its extra jolt of wonder is the uniqueness it holds even now, nearly 50 years on; for such an influential film from such an important filmmaker, Daisies’ techniques have yet to be truly exploited by subsequent generations of tiresomely-referential filmmakers – is it because Daisies is the work of a woman, or is it because it is the work of a genius, whose idiosyncratic talent imbues her films with an authenticity that no imitators could even approach. Too few still have heard of Chytilová – Daisies is the ideal starting point for those unacquainted with her canon.

The Day I Became a Woman (2000) – Marzieh Meshkini — Asif Khan @KHAN2705

Wife of the prominent Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Marzieh Meshkini is a filmmaker herself. This acclaimed feature from 2000 is her debut film, a feminist fable-like account of three women at different stages of their lives. The Day I Became a Woman as the title suggests is a film about the process of becoming a woman. A woman in a strict, patriarchal and fundamentalist society with codes and regulations to not only follow but live by. The setup of these three different stories can be called eccentric, Mr. Roger Ebert used the term “Fellinisque”. 1. A young girl on her ninth birthday can’t play with boys or step outside without wearing chador. 2. A married woman taking part in a cycling race with other women as her husband tries to stop her by threatening to divorce while pursuing on a horse. 3. An elderly widow has inherited lots of money so she decides to buy everything she has ever wanted to but never could. The women in all these accounts fiercely rebel in their own way to free themselves of the social constraints the best way they can. This is a film that in itself is free from constraints of narrative cinema and plot. The symbolism flows like a river that is free and quiet but slowly trying to carve a new path. It’s both minimalistic and grand in design. Wordless wisdom staged with such beauty. The only other film Marzieh Meshkini has made is a post-Taliban Afghan drama Stray Dogs.

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Boys Don’t Cry (1999) – Kimberly Peirce — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

In 1999, as Hilary Swank reiterated in her Best Actress Oscar winning speech (“We have come a long way”), it was still something of a breakthrough that such low-budget indie cinema could catch a break with the Academy. Boys Don’t Cry also had the weighted issue of the transgender struggles, which Swank was also likely alluding to in her acceptance salute to Brandon Teena. It is a remarkable performance by Swank, I can say that even with the endless disappointment that Annette Bening lost that evening. Chloe Sevigny is also terrific as Lana, who was romantically involved with Teena. Director Kimberley Peirce took an active interest in the true story years earlier, and spent years creating and fine-tuning the screenplay. Her movie is brave, essential and sadly brutal. The naked truth of such delicate, tragic circumstances, that ought to be brought to the surface without question, are seldom portrayed so raw. Peirce and Swank in collaboration are not afraid to transmit every emotion from every pore on screen, that allows us to almost feel the pain of the kind of heartache Teena must have had to endure. I get a knot in my stomach each time I finish watching Boys Don’t Cry, but that sensation can’t really compare to the power of the fictionalized real-life experiences I’ve just witnessed.

Originally posted August 2015.

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