100 Films Made By Women – Part 20 of 20

And there we have it, 100 Films Made By Women. You perhaps noticed that names like Barbra Streisand, Gillian Armstrong, Ann Hui, Lana Wachowski, Madonna, were not featured here. That does not mean we forgot them, but it does perhaps mean we may have to do all this again soon. Another 100 Films Made By Women?

To be continued…

The 3 Rooms of Melancholia (2004) – Pirjo Honkasalo — Paddy Mulholland @screenonscreen

Among the least aggressively feminist filmmakers working today is Finland’s Pirjo Honkasalo – a talent less internationally-recognized as her countryman Aki Kaurismäki, yet no less talented. Honkasalo’s films display more of a humanist strain (oh how I hate the feminist/humanist debate), yet see to her list of frequent collaborators (writer Pirkko Saisio, composer Sanna Salmenkallio), and rejoice in the contribution to cinema of the finest lesbian filmmaker living today. From 2004, The 3 Rooms of Melancholia is an artistic masterpiece and a moral one too, a document of the suffering engendered by masculine political ideologies that seek to conquer land and people alike during times of conflict. An appropriately melancholy film, this documentary achieves a level of stylistic achievement and of emotional insight that barely another non-fiction film even aspires to. Honkasalo’s films are consistently stunning and consistently stirring, and The 3 Rooms of Melancholia may be her best in every regard.

The Taste of Others (2000) – Agnès Jaoui — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

Nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film the year of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Amores Perros was also short-listed), The Taste of Others marks the directorial debut for French actress Agnès Jaoui. A rather delightful, exquisitely written comedy-drama with a light heart and a luring sense of attraction. You might call it a relationship movie, with a relatively large cast of characters socializing and being honest in their conforming to others. They could well be at times in a Robert Altman film. The main array of adults interact as they learn to speak English for successful business transactions, or love their dog way beyond their continual nipping at people’s ankles, forget a sexual conquest from years earlier, deal light drugs from their apartment, worrying about your career longevity at forty. The main players talk serious, grown-up issues mostly, but Jaoui is never heavy-handed in her writing or direction. There are smaller sympathetic moments too – like when one woman flippantly informs someone she does not like mustaches and her admirer’s face drops. At their next meet he has completely shaved his mustache off, but she hardly notices. It’s quirky and somehow true, delivered with a real human tone for wearing your heart on your sleeve or shielding how you really feel. There’s a particular redeeming smile towards the film’s close that demonstrates both in affecting style.

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The Night Porter (1974) – Liliana Cavani — Steve Schweighofer @banjoonthecrag

Firstly, we have to remember that the span of time between the end of the horrors of WWII and the release (or unleashing) of Liliana’s The Night Porter was less than 30 years – almost the same amount of time that separates the present day from the first Gulf War or the recent conflict in the Balkans. The subjects of Nazism and the Holocaust were still tender and a bit of an obsession with filmmakers, who either were gingerly respectful or operatically fascinated with drawing connections between fascism and sexual proclivity. So when Ms Cavani essentially kicked the doors down with The Night Porter, the reaction ranged from repulsion to outright horror. The story takes place about 20 years after the war. A young woman, a concentration camp survivor, spots one of her former captors working as a night porter. They resume the relationship they had during her internment while being pursued by his Nazi brethren who are set on eliminating all witnesses to the crimes committed during the war. Sometimes a film can have a cultural impact and achieve cult status without being particularly great cinema and that is the status of The Night Porter. The film can brag good performances from Dirk Bogarde and Charlotte Rampling, two actors who thrived on bravely portraying sexually ambivalent roles throughout their careers. It can also boast a bold portrayal of the interconnection between ritual, power, control and pleasure mixed with a dash of Stockholm Syndrome. Cavani’s expressionist style is hit and miss, but individual scenes remain memorable as she waltzes her couple to their eventual doom. Most critics were appalled – even Roger Ebert called the film “nasty” (and he was Russ Meyer’s co-writer on Beyond the Valley of the Dolls a few years prior), but the film did trigger several essayists to explore the whys and wherefores of Cavani’s themes. Susan Sontag famously wrote, “The color is black, the material leather, the seduction is beauty, the justification is honesty, the aim is ecstasy, the fantasy is death.” Cavani’s attempts to connect psycho-sexual behavior with socio-political themes makes today’s cinematic efforts in edgy eroticism (50 Shades of anything) look about as kinky as a Sears Catalog, and for that, she – and we – have the frank openness of the 70s to thank.

Tomboy (2011) – Céline Sciamma — Asif Khan @KHAN2705

French filmmaker and screenwriter Céline Sciamma is a refreshing new voice in the cinema. The way she tackles subject of gender, sexual and personal identity among girls in their defining period, with a sense of understanding and warmth is wonderful. Her debut Water Lilies as well as her recent Girlhood along with Tomboy are her three feature-length films she has made on the subject. Always working with non-actors and keeping things to a minimum, including dialogues, she is able to not only tell stories but make them felt. Tomboy is a film that beautifully explores the theme of ambiguous gender. It stands out for portraying the confusion experienced by the character Laure (or Mikäel as he introduces himself to other kids) and the way he/she acts out and wants to be seen as. Laure is 10-year-old child who moves to a new apartment in Paris with his family. She introduces herself as a boy to a neighborhood girl Lisa, who introduces him to others kids. “Mikäel” wants to fit in with other boys, to play with them as boys usually do and develops friendship with a girl, an important plot. Sciamma’s command over the character’s existential turmoil, at such an age and about a crucial aspect of life is marvelous. Added to that, the actress Zoé Héran gives a very affecting performance. Deeply touching and heartfelt at every turn. Whether it’s Mikäel’s complex relationship with the kids outside or Laure’s relationship with her family and understanding of herself.

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In a World… (2013) – Lake Bell — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

Borrowing the title of the movie from the legendary Don LaFontaine’s trailer slogan opener, In a World… is a rather bewitching comedy centered around the voice work industry, but also has a firm grasp on family values. Carol Solomon (Lake Bell, who writes, directs and co-produces this too) is a vocal coach struggling for work, and the daughter of Sam Sotto, a successful voice artist in Hollywood. Carol also has a humorously turbulent relationship with her sister, but their father Sam really has a bee in his bonnet. When Carol lands a prestigious trailer voice-over job, Sam is perturbed, partly due to his off-center perception of his daughter’s place in the business. But more hilariously that she has spent the night with one of his friends-in-the-business and the two men had previously been crude in discussing the sex – unaware it was his daughter. There is plenty going on here, including some well-written sub-plots dealing with relationship struggles and potential love interest complications. Add to that some genuinely amusing lines (“Those are huge shoes to fill, I think he was a size eleven.” or “Cher sounds like a sleepy chipmunk”) and some true-to-life bumbling execution of the dialogue, this is sharply funny. Consistently so, in fact it does not let up, spilling along nicely, offering plenty of witty quips and reactions – complimented by well-rounded and crowd-pleasing story-telling. Bell is also shrewd enough to point at stick at the bigger opportunities for women over the competition of men – coaching women at the end, Carol speaks to them defiantly: “Let’s make a statement. Who’s ready to be heard?”.

Originally published August 2015.

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