100 Films Made By Women – Part 10 of 20

As we reach the halfway point, take a gander at the following female directed films, featuring football, time leaps, stardom, unlikely alliances. And of course much, much more. Enjoy. 

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.

Originally posted August 2015.

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