52 Films By Women – May

Signed up in January for Women In Film’s pledge to watch at least one film helmed by a female director per week. You can do so here if you want to take part. 52 Films By Women

I am going to try and see a new film by a female director every week, but I will occasionally revisit films I haven’t seen in a while, or personal favourites. Been a bit busy this month so only managed two entries but will catch up. Both of these are first time watches.

17. Solaris (1968, Lidiya Ishimbayeva, Boris Nirenburg)

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Stanislaw Lem’s 1961 science-fiction novel has been well served by cinema versions from Andrei Tarkovsky (1972) and Steven Soderbergh (2002), but this 1968 Russian TV adaptation got there first. The film faithfully adapts Lem’s story about a psychiatrist Chris Kelvin (Vasiliy Lavanov) travelling to a ship orbiting the planet Solaris and finding the few remaining members of the crew are experiencing visitations from people from their own pasts. Kelvin soon encounters his own visitor, in the form of his dead wife Hari (Antonina Pilyus), her otherness expressed through an establishing close-up, her face half in shadow, the shot held for an unsettlingly length of time until it dawns on Chris what he’s seeing.

Lacking the resources to show the ocean planet or an elaborately designed space-ship co-directors Lidiya Ishimbayeva and Boris Nirenburg still manage to create a feeling of being off-world. The set design looks like a 60s’ Communist era hotel with lo-fi sci-fi tech added but this minimalism works. This is a story about haunted spaces and their framing and use of camera angles gives the film an otherness and also suggests we are observing them as perhaps the sentient planet is watching them too.  It’s an interesting adaptation though it may only be of interest to fans of the original novel or as a counterpoint to its more famous cinema cousins.

It seems Ishimbayeva worked on a number of other films although her IMDb entry only mentions Solaris and I found it quite difficult finding a resource for Soviet cinema prior to 1989 so any recommendations or information about her career would be welcome.

18) Beyond (2010, Pernilla August)

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Directorial debut of actress Pernilla August (The Best Intentions) about the lasting effects a traumatic childhood can have on a person. Noomi Rapace plays Leena, who reluctantly returns to her hometown when she finds out her mother is dying. Her well-meaning husband (Ola Rapace) insists on accompanying her against her wishes so they move with their two young children back into the family home. Cue flashbacks to Leena’s upbringing in the 70s’ as she remembers her parents drink-fuelled destructive relationship. Leena has done everything to forget her past and confronting it begins to bring out the worst in her putting a strain on her own marriage and affecting her own relationship with her kids. Beyond is a tough watch but rewarding. It’s often quite upsetting, but it perfectly conveys that feeling of dread in households like these where any kind of an argument, however innocuous,  can lead to violence.

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52 Films By Women – April

Signed up in January for Women In Film’s pledge to watch at least one film helmed by a female director per week. You can do so here if you want to take part. 52 Films By Women

I am going to try and see a new film by a female director every week, but I will occasionally revisit films I haven’t seen in a while, or personal favourites. U.S. Go Home and Miss Julie are first time watches. Blue Steel I saw on VHS not long after it came out but haven’t seen it since. Somewhere is a personal favourite and for me one of the best films of the last decade.

13. Blue Steel (1989, Kathryn Bigelow)

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I remember this Jamie Lee Curtis action movie as being a fairly straightforward genre piece but I was wrong. Blue Steel feels like a sister movie to The Hitcher (1986, Robert Harmon), a weird intimate dance of death between a young innocent and an older madman who is at once antagonist and mentor. No surprise to find both films were scripted by Eric Red, who also wrote Bigelow’s vampire movie Near Dark (1987).

14. U.S. Go Home (1994, Claire Denis)

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Remarkable coming of age tale set in the 60s’ from one of the finest directors in world cinema. 15 year old Martine (Alice Houri) and her best friend Marlene (Jessica Theraud) attend a party held by older teenagers but are hampered by her mother’s insistence they take her over-protective big brother Alain (Gregoire Colin). Leaving the party Martine persuades a reluctant US serviceman (Vincent Gallo) to give her a lift home. This could be a scene played for tension, yet he seems lonely and more afraid than her. Originally made for television series called Tous Les Garcons et le Filles de leur Age, it has a languorous feel, nothing much happens and but these small moments have a profound on these youngsters and you get a sense when they meet again in the morning their relationships with each other have changed irrevocably.

15. Somewhere (2010, Sofia Coppola)

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Always a pleasure visiting Sofia Coppola’s lovely mood piece about a feckless movie star (Steven Dorff) reconnecting with his young daughter (Elle Fanning). There’s no plot, just them hanging out at the Chateau Marmont, with a brief trip to Italy for press tour. Written with an insider’s knowledge of growing up in the industry it’s a quietly affecting drama, beautifully directed by Coppola and even better than her most famous film Lost in Translation (2003).

16. Miss Julie (2014, Liv Ullmann) 

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Former actress Liv Ullmann adapts August Strindberg’s play successfully relocating the setting to Northern Ireland. On a Midsummer’s Eve bored aristocrat Julie (Jessica Chastain) makes a pass at John (Colin Farrell), who is at once horrified and filled with desire. The two flirt and bicker through the night, both aware of the class restrictions placed upon them, their hostility and sexual attraction growing as the night goes on until inevitably things end in tragedy. Beautifully shot by Mikhail Krichman it’s far preferable to the Mike Figgis version filmed in 1999 and both Farrell and Chastain are outstanding.

 

 

52 Films By Women – March

Signed up in January for Women In Film’s pledge to watch at least one film helmed by a female director per week. You can do so here if you want to take part. 52 Films By Women

I am going to try and see a new film by a female director every week, but I will occasionally revisit films I haven’t seen in a while, or personal favourites. This month’s films are all first time watches.

9) Jane. B (1987, Agnès Varda)

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Varda’s inventive and unconventional biography of 60s’ icon Jane Birkin. Though there is documentary footage and interviews with Birkin talking about her life and career most of the film involves them inventing scenarios they would like to see on film. Birkin dressed up as Stan Laurel, or on a picnic with French New Wave poster boy Jean-Pierre Léaud. It’s more of a collaboration than a director/subject relationship with both women inspiring each other creatively.

10) Wildflowers (1999, Melissa Painters)

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Affecting small-town coming-of-age story set in the 1980’s and starring Clea Duvall as a teenager who befriends the older woman (Daryl Hannah) she believes is the mother who abandoned her when she was a baby. Hannah is a hippyish free-spirit who once ran with a counter-culture group in the 60s’ and still refuses to settle down. Eric Roberts in one of his more restrained performances turns up as the ex-lover she left to rot in a prison when things went awry. It’s dreamy and impressionistic in that late 90s’ early 00s’ Indie film way, but it has a feel for lost summers and the intensity of youth.

11) Middle of Nowhere (2012, Ava DuVernay)

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Thoughtful drama from Selma director Ava DuVernay about promising young med student Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi) putting her life on hold while her husband is in jail. Personally I’m with the mother (Lorraine Toussaint) who scolds her for wasting time on a deadbeat, but she remains loyal to him and DuVenray’s film is about the strength needed to make that decision however misguided it may be. Especially if David Oyelowo is hanging around waiting in the background.

12) Leaning Towards Solace (2012, Flora Sigismondi)

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Wonderful short film developed by the band Sigur Ros and directed by Floria Sigismondi who made the rock biopic The Runaways (2010). John Hawkes wanders through a dead-end town, drinks a little too much, and delivers a voice-over about the daughter (Elle Fanning) he feels he has somehow failed, while she follows after him performing ballet in an outfit topped off with angel wings. Monologues about parenthood, ethereal music, walking through a barren landscape, religiosity, Leaning Towards Solace does everything a late period Terrence Malick movie does but in 12 minutes.

52 Films by Women – February

Signed up in January for Women In Film’s pledge to watch at least one film helmed by a female director per week. You can do so here if you want to take part. 52 Films By Women

I am going to try and see a new film by a female director every week, but I will occasionally revisit films I haven’t seen in a while, or personal favourites

This month’s films are all first time watches.

5) A New Leaf (1971, Elaine May)

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Wonderfully dark comedy about dissolute rich man Henry (Walter Matthau) who is surprised to find he has spent the entirety of his fortune and resolves to marry a rich woman then dispose of her. Socially awkward botanist Henrietta (May) seems like the perfect victim but his murderous intentions give way to affection and he finds himself falling in love despite his better instincts. Apparently May fell out with the producers over the final cut and the version released does not match her intended vision which was much darker and went after her targets of marriage and the lifestyles of the affluent with much more savagery. It’s still a remarkable film though, hilarious yet melancholic, and in it’s own offbeat way a love story.

6) A Second Chance (2013, Susanne Bier)

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Keen admirer of Susanne Bier (Open Hearts is one of the few really great Dogma movies) but I struggled with this. Grieving cop Andreas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is so appalled at the neglect shown by a junkie couple towards their baby he steals the child to raise as his own. It’s a mixture of gritty social realism and melodrama with decent performances from Coster-Waldau and Ulrich Thomsen as his world-weary partner but Bier’s made better films. Also been watching Bier’s impressive adaptation of John Le Carre’s spy novel The Night Manager for the BBC and if there’s any justice she’ll be Eon Productions first choice to direct the next James Bond film.

7) Belle (2013, Amma Asante)

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Understated and moving British costume drama written by Misan Sagay about the struggle of an illegitimate mixed-race aristocrat to be fully accepted into her own family. While her guardian Lord Chief Justice Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) feels he is acting in her best interests by keeping her shielded from society Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) wants the opportunities afforded to her as part of her birthright. Mansfield, a pragmatic Scot (though Wilkinson drops the accent), feels allowing Belle to attend society events would diminish the family’s standing. The main focus of the action is Belle’s desire to find a place in her world a notorious horrific tragedy haunts the film, an event known as the Zong massacre in which slaves were thrown overboard so a ship’s owners could claim the insurance. Belle that rarest of things, a great British movie and so confidently directed by Asante I wish she was at the helm of In The Heart of the Sea (2015, Ron Howard). Still, if there’s any Robert Louis Stevenson adaptations kicking around Hollywood they know who to call.

8) A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014, Ana Lily Amirpour)

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Promising debut from Iranian/American director set in a fictional city which seems to be a dead-end town for vampires. Like early Wim Wenders movies it’s a love letter to American cinema and a little too artful for its own good but I’m very interested to see what the director does next.

52 Films by Women – January

Signed up in January for Women In Film’s pledge to watch at least one film helmed by a female director per week. You can do so here if you want to take part. 52 Films By Women

I am going to try and see a new film by a female director every week, but I will occasionally revisit films I haven’t seen in a while, or personal favourites.

  1. EDEN (2014, Mia Hansen-Løve)

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Sublime drama set during the club scene in Paris in the 1990s and continuing over the course of two decades. Like Mia Hansen Løve’s previous film Goodbye First Love (2012) it deals with the intensity of youth but always in the background is the feeling this euphoria is momentary. Responsibility begins to weigh the protagonists down and the latter part of both films is this realisation that it’s time to move on.

2. BREAKING THE GIRLS (2012, Jamie Babbit)

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Watchable thriller from director Jamie Babbit, better known for outrageously funny comedies like But I’m a Cheerleader (2001) and the underrated Welcome to Fresno (2014), Breaking the Girls reworks Patricia Highsmith/Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train switching the subtle homoeroticism of the original for Wild Things (1998, John McNaughton) style erotic trysts in swimming pools. Agnes Bruckner plays the Farley Granger role as the innocent who realises too late her new friend’s plan to ‘trade’ murders wasn’t a joke. Madeline Zima is the killer with a childhood full of hurt.

3. FREDDY’S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE (1991, Rachel Talalay)

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Rented this back in the day but recall very little about it except Freddy killing somebody by trapping them inside a video game. Turns out the actor in that scene was a very young Breckin Mayer. Freddy’s Dead is more entertaining than I remember though the film’s biggest flaw is it’s played for laughs rather than horror. It’s fun though and female leads Liza Zane (brainy) and Lezlie Dean (martial artist) are so strong that you wonder who will be the final girl.

4. REAL GENIUS (1985, Martha Coolidge)

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One of those 80s’ comedies that appears to be very dumb on the outside but is actually really smart and has a tremendous feeling for its outsider characters. Gabe Jarrett is the new boy at a school for geniuses who has to deal with his own social awkwardness and the chaotic behaviour of star pupil Val Kilmer. Deservedly gained a cult reputation over the years.