Another mixed bag coming up in the 13th part of the 100 Films Made By Women. A man with a gun, squabbling sisters, stroppy teenagers, child abuse, and we’ll start with William Hurt’s romance with a young deaf woman:
Children of a Lesser God (1986) – Randa Haines — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA
I don’t want to make the cinematic bloom that is Children of a Lesser God about the Academy Awards, but there are a significant milestone of the film’s success. Of course the wonderful Marlee Matlin won Best Actress, while William Hurt and Piper Laurie were also rightly nominated. Joining them were nods for Picture and Screenplay, but nothing for the woman directing, Randa Haines – in spite of her Director’s Guild mention. She does a marvelous, skilled job here, creating the foundations for a turbulent romance between two strong-willed people who build tension with their varying viewpoints, all the while falling in love. Matlin is a revelation without any doubt, an actress whose talent speaks louder than words, so to speak. Hurt is terrific too, an actor relishing those three consecutive Oscar nods (Kiss of the Spider Woman and Broadcast News too), considering his turns in Body Heat, The Big Chill and The Accidental Tourist as well, he was formidable in the eighties. Children of a Lesser God is an acting masterclass from the principles, Haines works them to the bone, and gets flourishing results. What was extra sweet about Matlin’s Oscar win was that due to his win the previous year it was Hurt who got to present her with the prize. That, and the movie itself, proves there is magic in Hollywood if you know where to look.
The Hitch-Hiker (1953) – Ida Lupino — Steve Schweighofer @banjoonthecrag
In her fifth outing as a director, Ida Lupino, often referred to as the first mainstream American woman to take on the noir genre, adapted the true story of a 1950 psychopathic rampage into a concise 70-minute film, proving that she could tell a tough story just as effectively as “the guys”. While doing so, Lupino also manages to throw a couple of bricks at the noir genre. The most interesting thing about this film is that the so-called victims are not the typical damsels-in-distress, but two fishing buddies who pick up a hitchhiker – played by B-movie bogeyman favorite William Talman – and spend the remainder of the film trying to escape his abuse. There are no macho heroics here, just two ordinary guys trying to outsmart their captor. Lupino also sets her story in two contrasting but equally claustrophobic settings – inside a car and in a wide-open desert, not the usual urban setting of most noir efforts. This is perfect B-movie fare that ran as the second feature at drive-ins in the 50s and numerous late shows that terrified babysitters in the 60s before the talk shows took over late night TV. While the films she directed were never blockbusters or even considered to be on the same level as her male counterparts, Ida Lupino was probably the first actress to make the jump to produce, direct, write and even secure financing for her films. And with regard to her concise, fearless, no-nonsense style of storytelling that rivaled the boys? I only wish that Lupino was still around to witness the work of the woman who inherited the flame Ida lit – Katherine Bigelow.
Polisse (2011) – Maïwenn — Robin Write
Given the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, Polisse (the mispronunciation of the word police by a child) opens with a series of investigative interrogations. Not with criminals, but rather young, care-free children, who may well be the unknowing victims of sexual abuse. Always a horrific, frantic head-shaking subject, within seconds of the picture I felt my stomach turn and my heart being crushed. Even when a grandfather is vocal about petting his grand-daughter’s kitty-cat your head is ducked under the water of the worst possible connotation. Written by Maïwenn and Emmanuelle Bercot (recent Best Actress winner at Cannes for the also Maïwenn-directed Mon roi) this throws punches left, right and center, the horrors of inner-family awfulness you don’t want the innocent children exposed to, let alone be made aware of the reality of it. The police of the title seem to sometimes be in a kind of documentary, a day in the life of, as these officials hang-out in gangs, socialize, and of course do their police work. They are vocal, boisterous, surrounded by tension and adrenaline. Maïwenn brings her words and vision as director together proficiently, considering the size of the cast and the taboo of the issues. The film closes with the kind of sucker punch it began with, but of a very different impact.
A Question of Silence (1982) – Marleen Gorris — Paddy Mulholland @screenonscreen
What have you done in the last 34 years for the feminist cause? Likely nothing compared to the case put forward in Marleen Gorris’ psychological and societal inquiry, and blackly comic courtroom drama A Question of Silence. Its issues may today be commonplace to those of a more intelligent persuasion (you may be surprised how few of us there are), but A Question of Silence exists in acknowledgement of the radicalness of its argument and its enormous scope – Gorris’ approach is incendiary, and rightfully so, identifying the tiniest of sparks and reinterpreting it as the mightiest of blazes. She intends to turn our faces to the fire that’s been raging behind us for far too long, and the sense of purpose behind this film imbues it with a dynamism and an immediacy that few films can claim. Of particular note is the sensitivity with which she relates vital feminist codes of communication, and the movement’s rejection of the inherent misogyny within language. What’s a female-focused list without a film that focuses not only on females, but on feminism!
Gas, Food Lodging (1992) – Allison Anders — Robin Write
While the likes of John Sayles (with Passion Fish), or Hal Hartley (Simple Men), or Jim Jarmusch (Night on Earth) were doing the low-budget rounds, Allison Anders, a woman, was sitting in the same independent cinema net with Gas, Food Lodging. Made with the same kind of haphazard fragility as the temperament of one of three central characters Trudi (Ione Skye), this tells the tale of the mother Nora (Brooke Adams), hopeless at the game of love, and her daughters. The younger sibling, Shade (Fairuza Balk) wants to find her mother a nice man, when she is not idolizing the cinema icon Elvia Rivero or taking the brunt of her sister Trudi’s major attitude. Anders’ film has it’s fair share of amateur dramatics-style acting, certainly not a bad thing, as characters reel off their thoughts and feelings, and have shouting matches (with Trudi involved one way of the other) before it soon falls into the realm of seeking out companionship while shadowing the past. All three girls have potential suitors, but also the complications life brings you no matter how much you think you know. Even with splashings of genuine, sharp dialogue, Gas, Food Lodging is a grainy and raw family film, made in a time of the great rise of American Indies. It is still refreshing, but not nearly enough seen, when these days we get to see this style of amateur, honest film still being made. The guitar twangs of Dinosaur Jr’s J Mascis is a real bonus too.
First published August 2015.