100 Films Made By Women – Part Five

Almost halfway there, after this post that’s 50 Films Made By Women, 50 still 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 10 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 Mulholland @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.

Bend It Like Beckham (2002) – Gurinda Chadha — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

Long before he played soccer in America, now social icon David Beckham was an English footballing legend, captaining the national team, he was a role-model of the game for many years. His talent to curl a ball from outside the box around the defensive wall and into the net made him a hero on many occasions. Borrowing the term Bend It like Beckham for the title of her movie, Gurinda Chadha directed a light-hearted, but issue-packed comedy about, in much more grounded ways, the triumph of the game. Teenager “Jess” (Parminder Nagra) is from a Sikh family who frown upon her playing football because she is a girl. The culture aspect rears its head when Jess takes a shine to the young white coach. Thankfully the romance is not heavy enough to strike out that the real message here is that a girl playing the boy’s game warrants no such gender stereotype. Bend It Like Beckham is essentially a comedy, the issues are not heavy-handed, and Chadha executes the whole affair with a sense of wit and charm. It is also the movie that introduces us to Keira Knightley, who plays a kind of tomboy, also in the local team. The movie gently juggles several social themes including the Indian culture, gender roles, and homosexuality – Jess and Jules are mistaken for lesbians at one point, and a friend Tony confesses his own sexuality. The movie is also significant in that it heralded the moment my crush on Archie Panjabi first flourished – she plays Jess’ big sister, who covers for her, all the while preparing for her own wedding.

Beyond the Lights (2014) – Gina Prince-Bythewood — Jonathan Holmes @MisterBrown_23

I’ll be the first to say that going into this film, I didn’t have much high hopes. And then I saw the film, and was completely blown away by both Mbatha-Raw’s performance and what this movie had to say about entertainment, image and fame. She plays Noni Jean, an emerging pop singer who is on the verge of super-stardom. The pressure and the image of being the next big thing in music is too much to bear, and attempts to commit suicide, but is rescued by Kaz (Nate Parker), a rookie cop with political ambitions set on by his father (Danny Glover). It all sounds generic, but writer/director Gina Prince-Blythewood doesn’t go for generic: she takes us into the workings of packaging a pop star for mass consumption (aka: turn the starlet into a object of desire), originality or integrity of said star be dammed. At the end of the day, this is still a love story, and it wouldn’t be any good if the chemistry between Mbatha-Raw and Parker didn’t have a spark. They have that, and give great performances as two people trapped by the demands of their parents’ dreams for them.

Orlando (1992) – Sally Potter — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

British film-maker Sally Potter is likely best known for her lavish, visually stunning Orlando – though they my recall The Tango Lesson, and most recently Ginger & Rosa. Based on the Virginia Woolf book it famously has the ever-versatile Tilda Swinton playing both genders while choosing to halt his/her age for hundreds of year. There is also Quentin Crisp playing none other than Queen Elizabeth I. A daringly grand adventure, it took Potter almost eight years to actually get the movie made, struggling with the finances which she eventually got it together herself. Writing it too, from Woolf’s source material, Potter gives her own cinematic scope on the classic literature – I have not read the book but hear it was a no-go area regarding its transfer to film. The director, obviously encouraged by gender politics, seems to be experimenting here with the casting and the tone of the narrative. Swinton was certainly offering us a glimpse of her chameleon talent as an actress as well as her almost smug allure with this lead performance. Her knowing glances into the camera, and almost casual emotional response to her overnight sex change, not only help convince us of her ability as an actress, but also perfectly fit the tone of Potter’s directorial vibe. The whole gorgeous affair is actually rather odd, but never dull.

Home for The Holidays (1995) – Jodie Foster — Henny McClymont @GingerHenny

In Home for The Holidays, a comedy directed by Jodie Foster, the actress who started her career at 3 years old, showed that she belonged behind the camera. Foster seldom took safe choices, she has always faced the fear of the unknown, giving an example to young women wishing to follow in her footsteps. Home for the Holidays reminds us that family isn’t chosen rather given to us, so we learn to deal with people we would otherwise avoid. The movie shows the struggles of being a single parent, being gay, being homophobic and all together the struggle to love the people that sometimes make us cringe. Home for the Holidays is a Thanksgiving reunion from hell, in the Dramedy style that Foster subsequently reused in The Beaver albeit lightened by the Turkey stuffing garnish. Claudia (Holly Hunter) guides us through the story. A single mother of a teenage daughter, just fired from her job, travels back home for Thanksgiving, as does her gay brother (a mid-fugue Robert Downey Jr), who behaves like tomcat high on catnip – that’s catnip snorted through a twenty, by the way. There are also fantastic turns from the excellent Anne Bancroft and Charles Durning as their, somewhat dysfunctional but still doting parents. Foster brings the movie from emotional explosion to delicate relationship with a surety that lets you know she’s been there herself. There were 16 years between this movie and her next directing credit. Her next feature is due this year after only a relatively short 4 year hiatus. Let’s hope she picks up the pace, as such fine talents are rare in today’s Hollywood.

The Secret Life of Words (2005) – Isabel Coixet — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

A film-viewers “job” can be a frustrating business when there are many, many marvelous little gems that are hidden aware, for whatever reason, from the public eye (there are more of these “invisible” movies coming up in this series). Spanish film-maker Isabel Coixet helms one such diamond in the rough. The Secret Life of Words has two terrific central performances from none other than Sarah Polley and Tim Robbins – so you really ought to have heard of this. Timid, European hard-worker Hanna (Polley, the accent nailed) has not taken any of her holiday / sick day entitlements in years, and is given leave. Instead of embracing the break, Hanna takes a nursing role on board an oil rig, caring for burn victim Josef (Robbins). The film gently explores a growing bond between the two, tricky at first with Josef being very forward and Hanna very withdrawn. They do, though, share sensory impairments that help develop their conversing – he is temporarily blind, and she is partially deaf. And their relationship further blossoms as they share their intimate, painful pasts. It is not all plain sailing though, the second half sways further emotionally, prizing them apart. Nabbing two of the four Goya Award wins for the film, writer-director Coixet slow burns the love story (you are not sure it is actually that for a while), showing us new companionship and communication can be hard work, even if it is heading to a good place. The stirring notion that Josef earlier tells Hanna he can not swim (a huge, funny ice-breaker for them), then later that he wants to learn (before she drowns in sorrow), is a delightful touch.

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