100 Films Made By Women – Part 9 of 20

Almost halfway there, but still over 50 Films Made By Women to go. So what have you learned? Who have you heard of? How many have you actually seen? I thought so. Lets crack on with the next 5 then, I do hope you are enjoying this at least somewhere close to how much I am.

The Wonders (2014) – Alice Rohrwacher — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

34 year-old Italian director Alice Rohrwacher won the Grand Prize of the Jury last year at the Cannes Film Festival for her second feature The Wonders (she debuted with Corpo Celeste). The film also received some negative criticism (though nothing damaging) for it’s lack of emotional reach and the TV competition story strand. While I can appreciate how those conclusions are drawn, I find Rohrbacher’s touch has poise, and allows clear as day feelings from the characters, primarily children, as they do in fact show sedated wonder about the prospects of participating and winning in TV show contest – a rather more unusual talent contest than we are accustomed to. The principle character Gelsomina, for example, can allow bees to crawl in and around her face without an inch of fear. The film for me is more about a fragile family, and brittle not because of a lack of a secure bond, but rather they appear to be struggling to keep a living in rural Italy. Their main income is through bee-keeping and harvesting honey, so an inspector visiting and the kids scrambling to scoop fresh honey from the floor are not prosperous in combination. There is something compelling about the experiences of this family, and you are drawn in and made to care for them. It’s a strange paradox as at times your attention may wander, and only because The Wonders offers a thoughtful hand rather than becoming boring. Like in many a family film, the more practical kids own the optimism while the parents (the dad in particular here) are worriers and lash out – this makes the children then the responsible ones it seems. The film tackles poverty and childhood innocence expertly, they are what they are in that baking sun, and Rohrbacher never over-does either, one way or the other. Perhaps an acquired taste, The Wonders took its time with me, it’s an unusual, pretty flower that still continues to blossom long afterwards.

Earth (1998) – Deepa Mehta — Asif Khan @KHAN2705

Deepa Mehta is the Indo-Canadian film director and screenwriter. She is mostly notable for directing the Elements trilogy which includes her controversial Fire (1996), Water (2005) which is her career best effort, also nominated for foreign language Oscar, and of course Earth. This period drama is based upon the Bapsi Sidhwa novel “Cracking India”. Earth is a story set before and during the time of India’s partition in 1947. This is a film that doesn’t require you to read extensively on the topic of the partition, its a touching tale of different characters caught in unfortunate turmoil with messages easily heard and talked about. It is narrated by actress Shabana Azmi as the adult Lenny, the young girl in the film with polio played by Maia Sethna. Lenny is from a wealthy Parsi family, loved by her family and her caretaker, a Hindu woman named Shanta (Nandita Das). Shanta is friends with Dil Navaz (Aamir Khan) and Hassan (Rahul Khanna) both Muslims who have feelings for her. The community lives peacefully and together, as friends and co-workers with awareness of the rising tensions and strains in the country. Tragedy ensues as violence and division threatens to tear these people apart. It features good performances from the ever-lovely Das and the brilliant Aamir Khan as the Ice-Candy Man. Earth is a moving, dramatic telling of partition through effective plot devices such as love, friendship, family and togetherness. Apart from the trilogy, some of Mehta’s work includes Sam & Me, Bollywood/Hollywood and Heaven on Earth.

The Danish Poet (2006) – Torill Kove — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

Torill Kove won the Academy Award for writing, directing, and animating The Danish Poet, a Norwegian traditionally hand-drawn short film set in the 1940s. Maybe all us artists and writers and filmmakers can learn from, or empathize with, Kaspar Jørgensen, a poet from Denmark who, seeking some creative spark, dashes off to Norway, and unexpectedly falls in love. The girl in question is farmer’s daughter Ingeborg, a romance that has glimpses in period and tone to the courtship of Eva and the School Teacher from Hanake’s later The White Ribbon. The Danish Poet is an endearing human story of chance, often sign-posting that the unplanned events in our lives can yield the best results. The companionship of Kaspar and Ingeborg is an affectionate adventure as their yearning hearts keep them together even as distance and misfortunes keep them temporarily apart. There are some delightfully timed, funny moments here too, including drunks seen more than once boarding a ferry, a letter-digesting goat, a falling cow, and far too many others to mention here – all squeezed into just fifteen minutes. There is also the subplot were Ingeborg refuses to cut her hair until she is reunited with Kaspar, as it grows longer than the eye can see. Narrated by Liv Ullmann (that is some smart voice casting), this is a fine, affecting tale, a pleasant experience indeed, one I happily got lost in, where I did not want to be found.

Beau Travail (1999) – Claire Denis — Steve Schweighofer @banjoonthecrag

Claire Denis’ study of maleness is not-so-loosely based on Herman Melville’s homoerotic novella, Billy Budd, and she (and her camera) produce a fascinating study of men that is both physical and psychological. Instead of at sea, Denis sets her story in the patchwork microcosm that is the French Foreign Legion, stationed in an African outpost. Recruits hail from all over the globe, none of them with a past, and Denis creates a dance of obsession, jealousy and military hierarchy under the hot and sweaty African sun, all set to the music of Britten’s opera, Billy Budd, and the Turkish pop singer, Tarkan. What more can be said about Denis Lavant – he thrives here under Claire Denis’ direction as Galoup, the buttoned-down sergeant whose mundane routine is overturned by the arrival of Sentain, played by Gregoire Colin. Sentain’s likeability among the other soldiers causes jealousy in Galoup and his beauty, an unexpected obsession with which Galoup cannot reconcile. Galoup resents the attention Sentain receives from his own superior and, of course, tries to break the recruit, but Sentain proves to be stronger and this ultimately leads to the need to destroy him. The barren and grey Djibouti setting allows Denis to direct our focus on the expressions and physicality of the men as they perform their duties and interact with each other, eventually to the point of a standoff. Here she veers away from Melville in action, but not intent. Claire Denis is so adept at communicating visually that Beau Travail could easily have been a silent film and still maintained its impact.

Agatha and the Limitless Readings (1981) – Marguerite Duras — Paddy Mulhollamd @screenonscreen

Acclaimed author and filmmaker, the inimitable Marguerite Duras’ canon remains to this day something of a cult quantity. An artist of unparalleled skill and gifted with extraordinary, idiosyncratic insight into the human mind, her work often amounted to as pure a representation of her philosophical enquiries as one can imagine – films not only rich in both text and subtext, but in the presentation thereof, visually, sonically, structurally, thematically, allegorically. She produced many films as oblique as Agatha and the Limitless Readings, her 1981 meditation on / examination of humanity’s relationship with time and its reflexive influence on our perception of it, but few of those transcend the challenges this difficult film sets its audience. It’s a film that insists on an attentiveness that’s admittedly beyond most of us – yet commands the attention nonetheless – and wilfully requires many repeat viewings in order to be deciphered. And yet, like so much of Duras’ artistic output, it defies the process of deciphering, instead existing as a symbol of obliqueness, to be interpreted only as each member of its remarkably tiny audience to date determines. I interpret Agatha and the Limitless Readings as a masterpiece.

Originally posted August 2015.

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