So let’s hear it for the girls. They can escape their confined lifestyles to watch a soccer game. They can become terrorists. What is also demonstrated in the following selections is that girls can sure direct films with aplomb. Films that are visual wonders, oddball companion films, films about the beauty and restrictions of youth.
Mustang (2015) – Deniz Gamze Ergüven
If you have seen Mustang then you can fully appreciate the term that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And this films drives that enticing aesthetic from the moment it begins right until the final seconds. An often dark, bleak depiction of a group of Turkish girls, Deniz Gamze Ergüven (who co-wrote with Alice Winocour) offers an abundance of warm optimism, female empowerment, visual splendor, and a tender, alluring pacing. The film is also uncompromising without being heavy-handed in it’s more stern, shocking moments. Impossible to resist it turns out, Mustang lingered with me long after I saw it, and is still resonating with me as I write this. If you don’t fall in love with this gem in some way or another then I advise you to check your pulse immediately. – – – Robin Write @WriteoutofLA
Attenberg (2010) – Athina Rachel Tsangari
Utter bonkers does not even do this unique little Greek film any kind of justice. There is actually some method believe it or not to the madness written and directed by Athina Rachel Tsangari. When not spending sporadically expressive time with best friend, be it silly rhythmic walks or the enticement of their breasts, Marina (Ariane Labed) isolates herself with her ill father watching nature documentaries. Struggling to confront the laws of physical attraction, Marina tries to rationalize her actions (or lack of) through her own intelligent discourse. A real strong whiff in surrealism of Yorgos Lanthimos here (Tsangari was involved in his Dogtooth), the director plays the role here of Marina’s experimental romantic interest. – – – Robin Write @WriteoutofLA
Cloud Atlas (2012) – Lana Wachowski
David Mitchell’s 2004 novel became an instant literary classic and was deemed “unfilmable” due to its complex structure and compendium of ideas that could not possibly be boiled down into a two-hour plus movie. Enter Lana Wachowski and her co-directors, brother Andy, and Tom Tykwer. The three of them disassembled the original structure – in Mitchell’s own words – reshaping the “Russian doll” structure into a presentation more like that of “spinning plates” where we are asked to leap from story to story and back again, eventually connecting them instinctively and emotionally, logic-be-damned. The result is exhilarating. The Wachowskis took on primary responsibility for the stories set in 1849, 2321 (of course), and what is probably the most politically and ethically challenging of the six, Neo Seoul, set in 2144. This is definitely Wachowski territory. The depth of imagination required to illustrate Mitchell’s vision is met – and exceeded – likely enhanced by the personal experience of Lana Wachowski, which adds a facet to the prism through which we see the action unfold. The most expensive independent production ever filmed divided audiences and critics. While the film received a 10-minute standing ovation when it premiered at TIFF, it suffered at the hands of viewers accustomed to easy answers or whose political correctness could not get past the need for actors to play multiple characters of different races. Wachowski, herself, said in an interview, “As soon as they encounter a piece of art they don’t fully understand the first time going through it, they think it’s the fault of the movie or the work of art. They think, [dramatic voice] “It’s a mess. This doesn’t make any sense.” And they reject it, just out of an almost knee-jerk response to some ambiguity or some gulf between what they expect they should be able to understand, and what they understand.” All I can say is, patience. Cloud Atlas will stand the test of time and Lana Wachowski’s influence, not mention, fearlessness, is one reasons that the film succeeds on so many levels. In one of his last reviews, Roger Ebert exclaimed, “but, oh, what a film this is! And what a demonstration of the magical, dreamlike qualities of the cinema. And what an opportunity for the actors. And what a leap by the directors, who free themselves from the chains of narrative continuity.” – – – Steve Schweighofer @banjoonthecrag
Day Night Day Night (2006) – Julia Loktev
So it is not often we get to experience a narrative fiction film that acts as an almost day-in-the-life of a suicide bomber. Inspired by real events, director Julia Loktev takes us on a journey through two days where the un-named main character, She, has to go through the standard procedure in preparation for, well, blowing herself up. The bright hustle and colorful bustle of Times Square provides a familiar, but chilling venue for such havoc. There’s a sustainable suspense built throughout, as time ticks away, with very little dialogue, the gritty digital video shooting, and the fact the inhabitants of Times Square appear unknowing of the event this girl could catapult gives it a raw tension. It matters not whether we ever get to know why or what her specific intentions or motivations were, or what happens to her, Day Night Day Night is fueled on human behavior and personal conflict – portrayed irresistibly front and center by Luisa Williams. – – – Robin Write @WriteoutofLA
Baise-moi (2000) – Virginie Despentes, Coralie Trinh Thi
Seemingly derived from the seedy world of pornography, with both writer-directors Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh Thi, and both actresses Karen Lancaume and Raffaëla Anderson, from that explicit background. It kind of shows in the revenge film’s dark, unhindered subject matter and execution (quite literally at times) – but this is not masturbation material. Baise-moitranslates as Fuck Me (allegedly tagged Rape Me but the film-makers rejected this notion), and whether you’re enduring the graphic content or kicking and screaming, there’s a have-to-look intrigue here, as you are dragged into the neon extremity of the film’s ultra-violent showcase. – – – Robin Write @WriteoutofLA
Originally published in June 2016.