Ten more leading ladies behind the camera for you now as we continue our 100 Films Made By Women. We go back ninety years, We explore actresses changing roles in the profession, fiction and non-fiction. In no particular order, but each one with a particular style or focus as directors.
Stories We Tell (2013) – Sarah Polley — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA
Someone I deeply admire (and have for some time) as a charismatic and powerful figure in the film industry, Sarah Polley appears to be a rare commodity these days. A woman under 40, having had a hand in some national (Canada) political and social issues, has several times proved her talent as an actress (she breaks my heart in The Sweet Hereafter), and directed both fiction and documentary films with critical success. It’s a separate debate altogether whether such a female talent ought to be a rare thing in the film world (no, is the answer by the way). In Polley’s splendid, candid, Stories We Tell, she writes and directs a documentary slap bang in the center of her own family tree, and the truth about her parents – primarily the identify of her biological father. There is nothing self-gratifying or pretentious about the subject, or how it is handled in the director’s capable hands. And although affectionate and touching in it’s human content of discovery and identity, Polley never ever resorts to schmaltz – her provocation is more about getting this right. It’s a raw, refreshing eye-opener, proving she can wear her heart on her sleeve while competently constructing one of the most awe-inspiring films in years. The film and the woman, are both to be treasured.
Wendy and Lucy (2008) – Kelly Reichardt — Steve Schweighofer @banjoonthecrag
Kelly Reichardt will never be accused of being frivolous in her filmmaking. Her films all have an existential nature and her conscious avoidance of the two biggest money-making devices in movies today, sex and violence, ensures that she will never direct a tentpole and may not even enter the mainstream. Reichardt has been quoted, saying “My films are just glimpses of people passing through,” and none are more simple, poignant or real than Wendy and Lucy. What makes this film so special is its unsentimental honesty about homelessness and sacrifice told through the exploration of the bond between a woman, Wendy, and her dog, Lucy. It’s not the downer one would expect; but neither is it a phony Disney sob-fest. Reichardt, and a brilliant performance by Michelle Williams, walk us gently through a particular chapter in the journey of a young woman making her way through the pitfalls of poverty and alienation, then give us a satisfying and unselfish conclusion. Nature and environment serve as both antagonist and shelter-giver – a character that presents challenges while at the same time providing comfort. The same can be said for Reichardt’s films. She claims that she treats each film as if it is her last. One only hopes that this does not become a fact for many years from now.
Palo Alto (2013) – Gia Coppola — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA
You can’t help but wonder if Francis Ford Coppola wanted his daughter Sofia to follow on in his footsteps, to pick up a camera and makes movies. Perhaps not expecting to make them exactly the way he did (which she does not), but certainly may have wished for similar acclaim. We too, then, must imagine how much Gia Coppola was influenced by her grandfather, though it has to be said her fluidity and mellow style on show in debut Palo Alto resembles that of Sofia much more. A significant chunk of that visual credit has to be branded to the vibrant cinematography of Autumn Durald, her scope of varying soft pallets is both intimate and expanding. In depiction of a yearning and unhindered adolescence, Palo Alto benefits from smoother edges than, say, Larry Clark’s Kids or Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused – comparisons to which ought to be greatly received all the same. Some of Coppola’s almost experimental, spaced out sequences (like Emma Roberts shaking up her body alone in her room) feel like footage not intended for the final cut, but were justifiably included. It has quirks and a certain allure, and may stay with you longer than first anticipated. Those elements, and many more scattered teenager angst and longing, make for fascinatingly true, if not always comforting to watch, viewing.
The Smiling Madame Beudet (1923) – Germaine Dulac — Desirae Embree @ZeeSayre
Germaine Dulac’s silent picture The Smiling Madame Beudet is a psychological study of the domestic dramas that lie behind the mannerly, tranquil exteriors of bourgeois homes. Largely considered the first overtly feminist film, Madame Beudet prefigures the famous “problem with no name” that galvanized the incipient women’s movement in the 1960s. Madame Beudet is the intelligent, imaginative wife of a crass and boorish husband. The monotony of her hours are filled with daydreams about the male models in magazine advertisements and interrupted by only two daily occurrences: the arrival of the mail and her husband’s “comedic” threat of suicide by revolver. Through her skillful employment of staple surrealist techniques, Dulac gives real presence to the interior life of her heroine. Germaine Dermoz’s subtle acting as Madame Beudet is beautifully set off by Dulac’s ability to pick her out of room with careful spotlighting. The result is a mounting sense of the heroine’s isolation and its deadly consequences. Viewers will notice this film prefigures modern classics of domestic anxiety like American Beauty, though one should not be too quick to read it as the simple marriage-murder plot. Its surprise ending is perhaps even darker and more fatalistic than that to which the contemporary audience is accustomed.
Whip It (2009) – Drew Barrymore — Al Robinson @AlRob_MN
In the movie Whip It, high school student Bliss Cavendar, played by Ellen Page, decides she doesn’t want to compete in beauty pageants like her mother wants her too, but instead wants some adventure in her life. One night out in the big city of Austin, she sees a roller-derby game. Bliss decides to try out for a spot on the Hurl Scouts team, and makes it. She also meets a guy named Oliver and falls hard for him. This film was written by Shauna Cross, who much like Gillian Flynn did 5 years later with Gone Girl, adapted the screenplay from her own book, titled “Derby Girl”. I think she did a great job because the film is filled with quick wit, and interesting characters. It’s also good with the humor, with great lines such as “but you don’t have the balls. / I can grow the balls”. What really makes this film great though is what director Drew Barrymore brought to it. She told a story about women, tough women full of bravado and spirit. The only thing I would have changed was to take the character Kristen Wiig plays, and make her the team’s coach. She would have been great in that role.
Originally published August 2015.