Tag Archives: female directors

The Edge of Seventeen (2016): teenage angst movie of the decade

The Edge of Seventeen seemed to have appeared out of nowhere when it premièred at last year’s TIFF, but it wasn’t long before it won over both critics and regular audiences alike. Still, with years of disappointment under the belt when it came to teen movies, I remained sceptical. These past years were overflown with either problematic, body shaming teen comedies such as The DuffGleespin-offs (Pitch Perfect) or adolescent dramas filled with overly eloquent and grown up characters (Paper Towns) that were nowhere near to what real teenagers are supposed to sound like, let alone go through. It was clear – the golden days of John Hughes’s teen movies were over and while there were some films over the years that somehow did the genre justice, none of them ever managed to reach the greatness and timelessness of the ultimate teen classic, The Breakfast Club (1985). The genre seemed exhausted and uninspired, with one film after another falling into a trap of good girl vs. bad girl logic, vicious catfights and “who is dating who” premises. And then along came The Edge of Seventeen – a fascinating directorial debut of Kelly Fremon Craig who depicts teenage angst and overall agony of adolescence with such accuracy that it instantly catapulted me back to my dreadful high school experience – even though it’s been almost a decade since I left those horrible, painful and confusing years behind.

Nadine (portrayed by Hailee Steinfeld who excels in the role) is a tomboyish, unpopular and self-absorbed seventeen-year-old who doesn’t quite belong and is yet to find her place under the sun. She doesn’t get along with her peers, nor does she find any refuge at home where she stubbornly fights with her widowed mother whenever she’s not shamelessly hating on her perfect and popular brother. The only person who gets to see the insecure, imperfect but charming Nadine that hides under the carefully constructed façade of uncompromising sarcasm and biting humour with which she keeps everyone else at bay, is her best (and only) friend Krista. That is at least until Krista starts to date Nadine’s brother. Already feeling misunderstood by the entire generation of “mouth-breathers who get a seizure if you take their phone away” and her family, she now starts to isolate herself even more, using sharp sarcasm to protect herself from the world around and self-sabotagingly hurting everyone around  – only to end up getting hurt the most herself.

Where this film really hits the right note is that it avoids going into a direction of high-school hardships and injustices. Nadine’s classmates are not treating her badly and she is never a victim of any kind of social exclusion. It is she herself that isolates her by rejecting the company of everyone around, looking down on her peers and on all they are supposed to represent. She feels like an old soul, wiser and maturer than anyone else around, but it is all just an act and it is sometimes hard to say if even she herself believes in her supposed superiority. She is simply arrogant (as most teenagers are) and deeply insecure, battling her own demons every step of the way. There hasn’t been quite enough films that would effectively explore the idea of how the biggest enemy of an adolescent girl is usually no one else but herself – but The Edge of Seventeen does just that. No matter what is her external situation, whether she runs with the cool crowd or is completely unknown to people at her school, being a teenage girl is exhausting and horrifying, which makes it quite easy for us to sometimes get overwhelmed by our mere existence. Self-doubt and self-questioning are with us every second of the day, no matter how we pretend to look like we have it all figured out, and while this may be what every youngster goes through, there is also constant observation, evaluation and judgement of others that is mostly reserved for girls – and that we at some point start to project onto ourselves. Or as John Berger smartly put it: “A woman is always accompanied, even when quite alone, by her own image of herself. From earliest childhood she is taught and persuaded to survey herself continually.” And indeed this is exactly what Nadine goes through and what causes her so much pain, even though she uses her brother dating her best friend as a catalyst for her angsty outbursts:

You know, ever since we were little, I would get this feeling like… Like I’m floating outside of my body, looking down at myself… And I hate what I see… How I’m acting, the way I sound. And I don’t know how to change it. And I’m so scared… That the feeling is never gonna go away.

What makes this character so authentic and relatable is her constant distress and inherent loneliness. Most of us went through a time when we felt completely and utterly alone, when we believed that nobody could possibly understand what we are feeling, what we are going through. And no party, no amount of alcohol, no sleepover with our best friend could make us feel better and fill the utter emptiness and despair that was slowly taking control of our body. Indeed, Nadine is sinking into a depression (just another thing that hit close to home for me, having been battling depression for a better part of high school myself), but the film smartly avoids lingering on her sad, distressed face or focusing on melancholy afternoons of her sinking into self-hating and damaging thoughts. The direction instead remains vibrant throughout the entire film, bringing to light just how invisible depression is to the world and people around us and how hard it sometimes is for us to get to terms with it; admitting to ourselves that it is really our negative mindset and outlook on life that is the cause of our problems and not our sibling dating the “wrong” person.

But even though there is a lot of depth and sadness running through the film, The Edge of Seventeen ultimately comes across as a thoroughly enjoyable and funny cinematic experience. This is mostly due to fantastic comedic chemistry between Nadine and her grumpy history teacher (Woody Harrelson) who seems to be the only one capable of decent comebacks to her sarcastic attacks and who ultimately becomes the only person she trusts and whom she seeks out when in need.

Although it can’t quite compare to the provocative brilliance of last year’s teen indie, The Diary of a Teenage GirlThe Edge of Seventeen, despite being a mainstream film, ends up being the best teenage angst movie that the past decade had to offer. And why it will probably appeal to generations to come with its timeless wisdom and relatability, is probably most evident in an emotional and cathartic ending when during final confrontation between Nadine and her brother, she finally realizes that she is far from being the only person whose life is filled with problems and who sometimes doesn’t know how to cope with everything that life throws at her. It is a definable moment – one that everyone of us had to go through – when she has to let go of her egotism, realizing that she is just one of many people in the world who feels trapped, burdened and inadequate. And indeed, this feeling may never go away, but as Nadine’s mother would say: “Everyone’s just as miserable and empty, they’re just better at pretending.”

The Basics:
Directed by: Kelly Fremon Craig
Written by: Kelly Fremon Craig
Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Haley Lu Richardson, Blake Jenner, Woody Harrelson
Running Time: 104 minutes
Year: 2016
Rating: 8

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Top 10 Female Filmmakers

The Script Lab posted a list of Top 10 Female Directors just a few days ago. While I admire their intention of giving some much deserved attention to female filmmakers, they could at least try to make the list a little more diverse. After all – it’s called Top 10 Female Filmmakers, not American Female Filmmakers.

Because this was not the first time that I came across such a list (that really had, if I put it mildly, the most obvious choices of female filmmakers you could imagine) and because I’m kind of sick of how ignorant the Americans can be towards foreign films, literature and other forms of arts, I decided to make my own version of the list, that will, hopefully, show you a more diverse and interesting picture of great female filmmakers that you should keep an eye on.

  1. Agnès Varda (France): I think she doesn’t need any special introduction, since she’s one of the most iconic female filmmakers of all time. Watch any film of hers and you won’t be disappointed; however, if you don’t know where to begin, start with Le bonheur; it’s my favourite.
  2. Claire Denis (France): her absolutely brilliant filmography most often deals with themes of colonial and post-colonial West Africa (Chocolat, Beau travail, White Material) and with issues of modern day France.
  3. Chantal Akerman (Belgium): one of the most important feminist and avant-garde filmmakers of all time; her Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles is considered the most important feminist film in the history of cinema.
  4. Vera Chytilová (Czechoslovakia): an avant-garde film director and a pioneer of Czech cinema. She is best known for her Czech New Wave film, Daisies, that is one of my favourite films of all time.
  5. Naomi Kawase (Japan): one of my favourite contemporary Japanese directors. Her films are an absolute must-see for anyone who appreciates Asian cinema.
  6. Jane Campion (New Zeland): she was the first female filmmaker in history to receive Palme d’Or for her universally acclaimed film The Piano (for which she also won an Oscar for Best Screenplay). Although she finished a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and painting first and started studying film when she was already in her late 20’s, she is without a doubt one of the best, most respected contemporary filmmakers, with the most interesting and diverse filmography one could imagine. And let’s not forget about her latest work, the brilliant miniseries Top of the Lake.
  7. Andrea Arnold (UK): Arnold first rose to fame with her feature debut Red Road, and later with her universally acclaimed film Fish Tank. Her latest film was visually breathtaking (and so far, my favourite) adaptation of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights that finally managed to portray Heathcliff (who is described as a “darkly-skinned gypsy” in the literary source, but has for some reason always been portrayed as a white man; Laurence Olivier in the 1939 version is just one such example) as an African man.
  8. Sofia Coppola (USA): one of the best known and critically acclaimed female filmmakers working today. I doubt she needs any further introduction, since you probably all know her films.
  9. Ava DuVernay (USA): a year ago, I had no idea who she was. Now, she’s one of my favourite contemporary American directors. I already wrote about her latest film, Selma, but I also recommend you all to see her 2012 Sundance winner Middle of Nowhere. She’s one of a few American filmmakers who does a thorough research, a whole sociological study of a theme she wants to portray in her film and even interviews certain people to get a sense of what their lives are before writing a screenplay – and for this fact alone she has my deepest respect. She’s amazing.
  10. Margarethe von Trotta (Germany): one of the most important female filmmakers of the New German Cinema and the world’s leading feminist filmmaker.

Honourable mentions:

  • Maya Deren (USA)
  • Samira Makhmalbaf (Iran)
  • Kelly Reichardt (USA)
  • Lynne Ramsay (Scotland)
  • Céline Sciamma (France)
  • Ursula Meier (Switzerland)
  • Catherine Breillat (France) – one of the most provocative female filmmakers, who’s mostly dealing with female sexuality and gender trouble. Her best work is (at least in my opinion) her 2001 film Fat Girl.
  • Cate Shortland (Australia)
  • Sarah Polley (Canada)
  • Mira Nair (India)
  • Gina Prince-Bythewood (USA) – one of the most successful contemporary African-American film-makers. Her best work so far is probably her latest film, Beyond the Lights.
  • Susanne Bier (Denmark) – I’m not a fan of her latest work, but her films After the Wedding and Open Hearts (a Dogme 95 film) are a must see for any cinephile.

Female filmmakers that only released one film so far (but will continue to make great films in the future, I’m sure):

Ana Lily Amirpour: her debut film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night – also described as Iranian Vampire Spagetti Western – is one of the best films of 2015 I’ve seen so far. A truly fantastic cinematic experience.

Haifaa Al-Mansour: the first woman (or rather, a person, since not even a man filmed a movie there before) in Saudi Arabia that made a feature film! Go see Wadjda. Now.

Jennifer Kent: if you haven’t heard about this Australian film-maker and her debut horror film The Babadook yet, stop reading this post immediately and go watch the film! The best psychological thriller/horror from the last decade. And I don’t exaggerate one bit.

Rebecca Thomas: Electrick Children is a stunning feature film by Thomas about a 15-year old girl living in a fundamentalist Mormon community who believes that she got pregnant by listening to a cassette of a rock band.

Dee Rees: her debut film Pariah is a powerful drama about a 17-years old African-American teenager who is trying to embrace her identity as a lesbian while being bullied by her peers and her mother for not being feminine enough. One of film’s best feature is it’s beautiful cinematography by the one and only Bradford Young (one of my favourite currently working cinematographers).

Gillian Robespierre: Robespierre had her major breakthrough last year, when her feature indie film Obvious Child was released. The best rom-com I’ve seen in years that manages to tackle a sensitive subject of abortion with honesty and wit. But since I already wrote about the film, I recommend you to revisit my review.

Gia Coppola: Sofia Coppola’s niece and Francis Ford Coppola’s granddaughter, who released her feature debut Palo Alto in 2014.

Eliza Hittman: her debut It Felt Like Love is one of the most realistic portrayals of how it is to be a teenage girl. Beautifully shot, disturbing to watch, but overall a very rewarding film that will stay with you for quite some time.

A Year of Female Filmmakers: March

I can’t believe it’s April already. I haven’t been able to watch many films this month, let alone films written or directed by women and I also didn’t have the best of luck, since there was only one woman-directed film (documentary, to be exact) that I really liked. Anyhow, here’s the list of all the films I’ve seen in March for my Year of Female Filmmakers:

Citizenfour (2014, directed by Laura Poitras) – a documentary about Edward Snowden. A must see!

Walking and Talking (1996, written and directed by Nicole Holofcener) – Holofcener’s debut film, and to be honest, probably my favourite one of hers ( I also liked Enough Said, but I found all her other work quite uninteresting, if not even a little pretentious).

All I Wanna Do (1998, written and directed by Sarah Kernochan) – an adorable, funny and completely underrated feminist coming-of-age film, set in the all-girls boarding school.

Bend It Like Beckham (2002, written and directed by Gurinder Chadha) – this was actually quite an enjoyable watch. A film about a female football team that’s trying to overthrow gender stereotypes and show that women too can be interested in sports. It also addresses the struggles of immigrant families in England, the crashing of two different cultures and the difficulties that the first and second generation of immigrants are facing when parents want to maintain their tradition and the children want to assimilate to the culture they’re living in.

Girlfight (2000, written and directed by Karyn Kusama)

Vamps (2012, written and directed by Amy Heckerling) – what exactly happened to Herckerling? She was once one of the best working female screenwriters/directors in the business, making brilliant and timeless teenage comedies such as Clueless and Fast Times at Ridgemont High. But Vamps was barely watchable. I couldn’t wait for the film to be over.

Fifty Shades of Grey (directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson) – one the worst films I’ve seen this year so far. Expect a longer review about it in the following month.

Here are also my January and February wrap-ups if you’re looking for more female directed films.

A Year of Female Filmmakers: February

Another month has passed by and I have once again seen a great deal of great (and some not so good) new-to-me woman-directed films, all due to My Year of Female Filmmmakers. For all of you who wonder what I watched last month, here’s also my January wrap-up.

Middle of Nowhere (2012, written and directed by Ava DuVernay) – this masterpiece is Ava DuVernay’s second feature film that won her the Best Director Prize at Sundance Film Festival (she was the first African-American woman to win the award!). I saw her third feature Selma only last month, so I knew I was going to see something extraordinary before I even started watching this film. And I wasn’t wrong. This is a story about a medical student who puts her studies and future on hold after her husband receives an eight year prison sentence. DuVernay spent months conducting research for the film, interviewing the wives of felons, before writing a screenplay. As DuVernay herself explained why she felt such a story should be told: “You see women struggling to keep it all together while a loved one is in jail. But we don’t hear about them or their struggles in a way that resonates with others. I also wanted to talk about the love between two people in a setting that isn’t the norm and how they survive.” This is a powerful and multi-layered film about the women whose voices are rarely heard and whose stories are almost never discussed in a public space. DuVernay managed to give them a voice with this wonderfully written, directed and aesthetically breathtaking (cinematography is once more the work of the genius Bradford Young) film.

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Innocence (2004, written and directed by Lucile Hadžihalilović) – a French mystery drama, written and directed by French filmmaker of Bosnian heritage, Lucile Hadžihalilovič. The story was adapted for screen from Frank Wedekind’s novel and follows the life of the girls at a secluded and mysterious boarding school, where new students arrive in coffins.

My Life Without Me (2003, written and directed by Isabel Coixet) – this is a wonderful Canadian drama film by a Spanish director Isabel Coixet, about a 23-year-old married woman and a mother of two, who gets diagnosed with ovarian cancer, with only a few more months to live. She decides to keep quiet about her fatal illness, because she doesn’t want her family’s last memories of her to be of a dying woman. Instead she tries to make the best of her final months, all while secretly recording the tapes where she’s saying goodbye to her daughters. A beautifully filmed, heartbreaking film.

Respire (2014, co-written and directed by Mélanie Laurent) – click here for my whole review.

Away from Her (2006, written and directed by Sarah Polley) – Sarah Polley’s directorial debut about a retired couple whose marriage is tested when the wife (played by Julie Christie) begins to suffer from Alzheimer’s and moves into a nursing home. She slowly starts to lose all memory of her husband and falls in love with another nursing home resident. This is a wonderful, although heartbreaking, film that will stay with you for quite a while. As far as films about Alzheimer’s disease go, this is my favourite one. It’s far better than the acclaimed Still Alice that brought Julianne Moore this year’s Oscar.

Beyond the Lights (2014, written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood) – this is a modern-day The Bodyguard, but with a Rihanna type of singer instead of Whitney Houston. Gugu Mbatha-Raw is a 20-something pop singer Noni from Britain who came to USA in search of fame with her controlling mother/manager. Noni’s, who’s been participating in talent shows from an early age, all for her mother’s sake, has finally make it: she won a Billboard Music Award before she even released her first album. She’s on a way to stardom, but is this really what she wants? She’s a talented singer, she also writes her own songs; but none of that matter, because the record company that owns her doesn’t care about anything else but about her image, her looks. There’s hardly anything for her to do except for being pretty and half-dressed when on stage, of being objectified on daily basis and speaking only what’s expected of her. She always did what her mother expected from her, and along the was she completely lost her real self. But she suddenly comes to the realization that this is not the life she wanted. Unable to talk to her controlling mother, she tries to jump off the balcony – only to be saved by a police officer who ends up saving her in a much bigger sense. He gives her the courage to find her own voice and to break free from her mother, to become an artist she was always meant to be. This is a great study of stardom, wrapped up into a somewhat conventional love story that for the first time ever actually works.

Mansfield Park (1999, written and directed by Patricia Rozema) – this British drama by a Canadian writer/director Patricia Rozema is loosely based on Jane Austen’s novel by the same name. However, it in many aspects differs from the original novel as it addresses the issues of British colonialism, plantations in British West Indies and the slave trade. Although slavery is mentioned in Austen’s novel, she never elaborates on it – the film, on the contrary, makes it a central point of the story. Fanny’s character is also much more outspoken and confident as in the novel. She’s also a writer – which are all the traits that Rozema incorporated from the life of Jane Austen herself. I had no expectations at all before I started watching this film (Rozema was an unknown film director to me at the time), and I was completely blown away when this turned out to be an intelligent and uncommonly smart film.

High Art (1998, written and directed by Lisa Cholodenko) – I’ve never seen a film where the protagonist would mention studying cultural studies and then casually slipped Foucault, Derrida and Roland Barthes into the conversation. This happened within the first 15 minutes of the film and it was enough to get me hooked. Don’t get me wrong – this is not one of those “too smart for their own good” films. It’s about a 24-year old intern Syd who is fresh out of college and is working her way up at the respected high-art photography magazine. She seems to have her whole life mapped out in front of her – at least until a leak in the bathroom leads her to the apartment above hers, where she meets Lucy Berlinger, a world-known, heroin-addicted and curiously retired photographer and her bohemian group of friends. They soon start to work on a project together and it isn’t long before the relationship also becomes sexual. The lines between love and professionalism quickly begin to blur, but Lucy’s life on the edge doesn’t let them have a happy ending. Her heroin addiction isn’t the only problem, though – there’s also Lucy’s drug-addicted girlfriend Greta, a former movie star from Berlin who used to act in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s films and who’s determined to get Lucy back all to herself.

slums

Slums of Beverly Hills (1998, written and directed by Tamara Jenkins) – this film is about female transition from a girl to a woman and the discomforts that come with it. The sudden body changes, the awkwardness of suddenly having breasts and shopping for bras for the very first time. I haven’t seen a film that would manage to address those issues in such a real and adorable way – but then again, how could I, when most of the films are written and directed by men who don’t know much about what girls go through at a certain age. There’s also this wonderful scene of the protagonist getting her period at the worst possible time while wearing the worst possible outfit. Again, not the subject that’s frequently approached in films, since most men are afraid to even think about women’s period, let alone write a movie that’s mentioning it. This is one of the most real and hilarious portrayals of being an awkward teenage girl and I warmly recommend it to everyone who doesn’t know what to watch tonight. This is woman film-making at it’s best.

New Waterford Girl (1999, written by Tricia Fish)

Eve’s Bayou (1997, written and directed by Kasi Lemmons)

Gas, Food Lodging (1992, written and directed by Allison Anders) – this one is about a single-mother/waitress trying to raise her two teenage daughters in a trailer-park on the God-forsaken town on the periphery of Texas desert. The younger one, Shade, spends most of her days watching Mexican movies and daydreaming about finding a perfect boyfriend for her mother, while Trudi constantly skips school to go on dates and is mostly known as the “girl who gets around”. But things suddenly turn around when a British petrologist comes to town and the two start to spend time together. She manages to open up to him, admitting that her inability to say “no” to guys derives from losing her virginity in a gang rape and starts falling in love for the first time. But the guy suddenly disappears, and Trudi, who expected a fairy tale and a ticket out of this town, finds out she’s pregnant. This is one of the most accurate and honest portrayals of mother-daughter relationships, as well as of complicated, love-hate relationships that often develop between sisters. It’s a surprisingly engaging film about three women trying to make the most of their lives in the middle of nowhere, all while being constantly disappointed by different men in their life.

Love & Basketball (2000, written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood) – a story about two next-door neighbours is Los Angeles, California, pursuing their basketball career before eventually falling for each other. The film spans through thirteen years of their friendship – from the first time they meet when Monica moves next door to Quincy, and all through their high school and University years, until each of them starts pursuing professional basketball career. The main premise of the film may not sound interesting (especially if you’re not into sports, like me), but it’s actually a very engaging watch that addresses a lot of gender issues. Monica is a tomboy and all she wants to do in her life is to play basketball. Her parents, however, have trouble accepting that. Especially her mother is the one who can’t wrap her head around the fact that she prefers to wear tracksuits over girly dresses and that she doesn’t really care about her looks. In her mother’s eyes, she’s not feminine enough and it’s not until her prom night, when her older sister succeeds in Monica’s makeover, that her mother comments about how beautiful she looks. This is a particularly great scene because it’s more than obvious how uncomfortable Monica is. Not every girl can walk in heels and some of us feel weird in tight dresses – she also can’t help but sit with her legs apart, forgetting that for once, she’s not wearing sweatpants. Another detail that I liked was when Quincy and Monica (already an item and in their first year of University) have their first fight that eventually results in them breaking up. Quincy, who’s having a hard time dealing with his father’s infidelities, is expecting that Monica will hit a pause button on her life to be there for him. She, who had to work twice as hard as him to get the scholarship for University, should immediately forget about her career, her professional life, just to help her boyfriend. If the roles were reversed, there wouldn’t be any conversation about it: she would never ask him to do that, let alone break up with him when he wouldn’t be prepared risking his career for taking care of her messed up personal life. It’s a perfect scene that sums up how women are still perceived in a society. Okay, you can have a career, but when your man is in need, it’s still your duty to stand behind him, no matter the consequences. We can have a career, as long as it doesn’t stay in the way of our first and most important job: taking care of the loved ones, of the family. Anyhow, Monica chooses against it, even though their relationship ends because of it. She chooses a career over a guy: which is something that we don’t see often enough in American films. The film works perfectly until here – it, however, loses it’s edge in the third act with it’s happy ending.

But I’m a Cheerleader (1999, directed by Jamie Babbit) – a satirical romantic comedy film about a high school cheerleader whose parents send her to a convention therapy camp to cure her lesbianism. But instead of being cured, she only then fully embraces her sexual orientation and falls in love with a woman for the very first time. The film explores the social construction of gender roles and heteronormativity and is a far more entertaining and engaging watch than I ever anticipated (I’ve come across the film before, but film’s poster somehow put me off – I expected another film about cheer-leading, something similar to Bring It On, but I couldn’t be more mistaken).

A Walk on the Moon (1999, written by Pamela Gray)

Love, Rosie (2014, written by Juliette Towhidi)

Disappearing Acts (2000, written by Lisa Jones, directed by Gina-Prince-Bythewood)

Seeking a Friend For the End of the World (2012, written and directed by Lorene Scafaria)

Please Give (2010, written and directed by Nicole Holofcener)

Valley Girl (1983, directed by Martha Coolidge) – a modern day Romeo and Juliet set in the 80’s Hollywood.

She-Devil (1989, directed by Susan Seidelman) – a story about Ruth Patchett, an over5155weight housewife (played by Roseanne Barr) who exacts revenge on her cheating husband after he leaves her and her children for a glamorous, thin, best-selling romance novelist Mary Fisher (Meryl Streep). It was directed by Susan Seildelman, but I must say that I didn’t like this one half as much as Desperately Seeking Susan. However, it isn’t a bad movie and the posters really don’t do the story justice. I don’t know what they were thinking, making it about the “girl fight”, when the story is about how the same guy screws both women over (and there’s hardly any confrontation between the two of them!).

Picture Day (2012, written and directed by Kate Melville)

Something New (2006, written by Kriss Turner, directed by Sanaa Hamri)

Jennifer’s Body (2009, written by Diablo Cody, directed by Karyn Kusama)

Carrie (2013, directed by Kimberly Pierce)

I Could Never Be Your Woman (2007, written and directed by Amy Heckerling)

Girl Most Likely (2012, co-directed by Shari Springer Berman, written by Michelle Morgan)

The Prince & Me (2004, co-written by Katherine Fugate, directed by Martha Coolidge) – this film is awful and I can’t believe it got three sequels. I don’t know when I last saw something so bland, predictable and full of clichés. The only thing that actually kind of worked was the ending where Julia Stiles, who falls in love with an exchange student (who turns out to be a Prince of Denmark, what a surprise! There’s obviously nothing more awful than for a girl to fall in love with a regular guy), chooses her career over the marriage proposal. Her refusal of becoming a princess because of her dream of becoming a doctor is the only thing that even remotely made sense. (But then again, why are the only two possible career paths for protagonists in Hollywood films medicine and law? Can they be any more boring? Why couldn’t she study anthropology, sociology, comparative literature, or maybe even physics or chemistry? How can they be so incapable of shaking things up every now and then? Like being a lawyer or a doctor is the only respectable career that exists.) 

The Proposal (2009, directed by Anne Fletcher) – click here for my whole review.

The Proposal (2009)

Well, this was on a whole new level of bad. But let’s be honest, I knew what I was getting into, since I already saw Fletcher’s 27 Dresses a couple of months ago. I had the lowest possible expectations about this film, and yet it still managed to surprise me. It’s sad to see films like this being directed by women. It was, however, written by Pete Chiarell and considering how the main (female) character is constructed it really isn’t surprising that it was written from a man’s perspective.

Sandra Bullock plays an executive editor in chief of a book publishing company – and as in any male-written film where a woman plays an independent, career-driven and powerful character, she’s a cold-stone and insensitive bitch, who lives and breathes for her job and doesn’t have any personal life. She’s also immensely feared and hated by her employees. This is how men seem to perceive women in power: they’re emotionless, vindictive and mean, and the only option of them having a successful career is if they live for the job and don’t have any life outside of the office. Having a family and a career? This is something that only men can manage.

But when the main twist forces her into spending more time with her male assistant, she suddenly discovers her kinder, joyous side – and consequently stops worrying about work so much. If she wants to commit a felony at the beginning of the film, so she wouldn’t get deported to Canada, she’s prepared to leave her job and return back home by the time the film is about to end. All it takes is for her to take one weekend off, spending it with her assistant and his family and finding out that what she’s been missing out all these years when she’s been working, was a family. Having a family, not a career, is what’s really important. And a man (who else?) is the one who helps her find these new values in her life, a new purpose, something that will finally manage to fulfil her otherwise empty life. As you probably already guessed, they also fall in love in the middle of her “soul searching”. And because she couldn’t possibly fall for a regular guy, his family also turns out to be extremely rich.

Another detail that can’t go unnoticed is how the only non-white person in the film is portrayed. A Cuban-American actor Oscar Nunez, who plays a waiter/salesman by day and a local exotic dancer Ramone by night seems to harass Sandra Bullock whenever he gets the chance. While all the other characters get to be sophisticated individuals, he gets to play a weird eccentric whose behaviour has more resemblance with a wild animal with no control over it’s sexual impulses, than with a human being. It’s repulsive that someone could ever write a role this offensive and got away with it.

This awful, predictable mess of a film somehow managed to gross 317 million dollars (it grossed almost 13 millions just on it’s opening day). How is this possible? How are people prepared to pay for seeing something this bad? Even if you’re watching it just to get some cheap laughs, there’s no way this film will leave you satisfied. I would rather watch The Hangover on repeat for a whole day than ever having to see this film again.

I saw this film as a part of my Year of Female Filmmakers.

The Basics:
Directed by: Anne Fletcher
Written by: Pete Chiarell
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds, Betty White, Mary Steenburgen
Running Time: 108 minutes
Year: 2009
Rating: 0.5 (and I’m being generous here! It deserves a zero)

Respire (2014)

Respire is Mélanie Laurent’s second feature length film and although I still have to see her 2011 debut The Adopted, there’s no doubt that she’s an incredibly talented filmmaker. This coming of age film, adapted for screen by Julien Lambroschini and Laurent herself, may seem simple at first, considering it’s about a shy and introverted 17-year old who becomes friends with a wild, extroverted and rebellious new girl that transfers to her high school. However, the film quickly evolves into a compelling and multi-layered drama about a destructive and obsessive friendship that develops between the two teenage girls.

High school, teenagers and female friendships: this already sounds like a catastrophe that is bound to happen. Guys may not know how awful teenage girls can be (or they might, I don’t know), but I was a teenage girl not so long ago and I still remember those days all too vividly. I’m sure that guys have their own ways of expressing the confusion, anger and the overall awfulness of a particularly uneasy life stage called adolescence, but for girls it mostly means being manipulative and self-involved to the point of being insufferable. This is exactly how Sarah, who transfers to a new school in Paris after moving from Nigeria, acts and she immediately finds herself a new friend (or rather a victim of sorts) in an insecure, quiet and trusting Charlie. I was Charlie for so many times in my life that my head literally hurt when I was watching her being continuously manipulated by Sarah and getting isolated from the whole classroom when she finally managed to stand up for herself. Everything in this film was all too familiar: how she doesn’t say anything about it and quietly tortures herself, quite possibly even defending Sarah’s actions in her head (“she comes from a troubled family, she didn’t meant to do that, it’s probably all my fault” etc.). I liked how it remains unclear if Sarah’s really just a friend to somewhat awkward and inexperienced Charlie, or if their drunken kiss during the holidays actually results in her having romantic feelings towards her best friend. It’s obvious that Charlie’s deeply infatuated with Sarah, but the film leaves it to the viewer’s interpretation if she’s actually in love with her or if her obsession is just pure admiration, her wanting to be like Sarah in every aspect of her life.

You may say that the whole story is unbelievable or over the top, that Sarah is a complete psycho and that friends would never act like this. If you’re saying this, you’ve clearly never been a teenage girl. I’ve met my fair share of Sarah’s in my life – and it may not have ended so tragically as it does in the film, but it was certainly something that I won’t easily forget. This film was like watching my own life when I was 12 years old (slightly younger than Sarah and Charlie are) and while I didn’t like the memories it evoked, I loved the film and it’s realistic portrayal of how psychopathic and manipulative teenage girls can be.

This film consists of almost entirely female cast, which is an extremely rare and precious thing (there’s some male characters here and there, but none of them is really important for the plot: there’s Charlie’s mostly absent Croatian father, a high school teacher, Charlie’s mother’s new love interest and a couple of male classmates). It’s also unbelievably refreshing to see that Sarah and Charlie’s fallout isn’t because of a boy (which is usually the reason for women to fight on screen), but rather Sarah’s troubling secret being revealed, which results in Sarah declaring war to masochistic Charlie, who seems to think she deserves all the hell that comes her way. The film is also impressively multi-layered with details like Charlie’s treatment of her childhood friend Valerie, who is her closest friend up to the point when Sarah enters the picture. After that Valerie’s mostly ignored by Charlie, who for the first time in her life feels liberated and alive, all thanks to her being around the spontaneous Sarah. Her treatment of Valerie isn’t much different to how Sarah later treats Charlie herself. Some parallels can also be drawn between Charlie keeping quiet when being psychologically tortured in school, repeatedly forgiving Sarah for acting this way and her mother’s constant forgiveness to her father’s transgressions.

Laurent certainly proved that she’s more than a capable director and I’m looking forward to seeing more of her films. Relatively inexperienced lead actresses Joséphine Japy and Lou de Laâge also give strong performances, with Lou de Laâge’s portrayal of Sarah being particularly haunting and hard to forget.

I saw this film as a part of my Year of Female Filmmakers.

The Basics:
Directed by: Mélanie Laurent
Written by: Julien Lambroschini and Mélanie Laurent (based on a novel by Anne-Sophie Brasme)
Starring: Joséphine Japy, Lou de Laâge, Isabelle Carré, Claire Keim
Running Time: 91 minutes
Year: 2014
Rating: 8

Female filmmakers: January

I’ve seen some great (and some not so good) new-to-me women-directed films last month, all due to My Year of Female Filmmmakers. Here are the top 3 films that deserve a special mention:

1. Selma (2014, co-written and directed by Ava DuVernay)

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Rating: 9

This was my first encounter with Ava DuVernay. I have yet to see her I Will Follow and Middle of Nowhere that won her the Best Director Prize at 2012 Sundance Festival (making her the first African-American woman to win the award), but I think it’s safe to say that she’s one talented, thoughtful, brilliant, bad-ass woman/film director. Just look at her response to Selma’s Oscar snub (where most directors would talk about the injustice of them not being nominated, she couldn’t care less):

“The question is: Why was Selma the only film that was even in the running with people of color for the award? I mean, why are there not—not just black, brown people? You know what I mean? Asian people, indigenous people, representations that are more than just one voice, just one face, just one gaze? So, for me, it’s much less about the awards and the accolades, because, literally, next year no one cares. Right? I can’t even tell you who won the award for whatever three years ago. I don’t know.”

Considering recent racial tensions in USA and the rising of a Black Lives Matter movement, Selma is, although set in 1965, still very relevant today. Here’s my whole review of the film.

2. Desperately Seeking Susan (1985, directed by Susan Seildelman, written by Leora Barish)

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Rating: 6.5

Roberta Glass (Rosanna Arquette) is an unfulfilled suburban housewife with a boring, cheating husband who takes her for granted. Deeply unhappy with her unexciting life, she becomes fascinated with a free-spirited woman named Susan (played by Madonna) and starts to follow her around, hoping to experience a bit of spontaneity and excitement in her otherwise dull and uneventful life. But things get complicated when she hits her head and gets amnesia. Wearing Susan’s old jacket and with people thinking she’s her, Roberta gets thrown into an Alice in Wonderland kind of rabbit hole, trying to find her way out of this dangerous adventure and getting back to her old life.

Arquette won a BAFTA Award for her role and was also nominated for a Golden Globe. This film was quite a hit at the time, especially because of Madonna’s performance (who was at the top of her career in 1985). What exactly happened that I’ve only now came across of it? This gem should be an 80’s classic together with Jon Hudges’ hit films like The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Pretty in Pink.

3. Ruby Sparks (2012, written by Zoe Kazan and co-directed by Valerie Faris)

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Rating: 6.5

Ruby Sparks is a romantic comedy/drama directed by a husband and wife duo, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (best known for their 2006 hit Little Miss Sunshine) and written by a well-known indie actress Zoe Kazan (Elia Kazan’s granddaughter). It stars Paul Dano as an introverted, anxious and depressed novelist, Calvin Weir-Fields, with a writer’s block. After his therapist gives him a writing assignment, hoping it would inspire him to start writing again, he finds himself writing about a fictional relationship between himself and Ruby Sparks – a perfect woman who’s a product of his imagination. After days of tireless writing, he finds himself falling in love with the woman he’s created – and it isn’t long before his creation stands in his kitchen, making him breakfast. Ruby (played by Zoe Kazan herself) has left the pages and came to life – which is quite similar to Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo, where Jeff Daniels walks out of the movie picture and enters the real world. But all the similarities aside – Ruby Sparks explores some interesting themes about how men idealize and objectify women. Like Samantha in Spike Jonze’s Her, Ruby soon starts to form her own personality: she’s becoming a real, complex human being. Calvin, who wrote this perfect relationship where he could put a minimal amount of effort into it and his girlfriend would remain happy and satisfied, gets frustrated by the fact that she suddenly starts developing her own thoughts and opinions; that serving him isn’t the main priority in her life anymore. And he deals with this the only way he knows how: he writes some more pages, recreating her character in a way that suits him, changing her back into a happy, bouncy, ecstatic, clingy girlfriend, who follows him around like a lost puppy and who would never dare to question him, get bored of him, or – God forbid – leave him. As Kazan herself explained, the idea of Ruby Sparks was to “explore the idea of being gazed at but never seen, where a woman is reduced as a person to an idealized idea of a person. 

Other new-to-me woman-directed films I’ve seen in January:

  1. Enough Said (2013, written and directed by Nicole Holofcener)
  2. Little Accidents (2014, written and directed by Sara Colangelo)
  3. Laggies (2014, directed by Lynn Shelton, written by Andrea Seigel)
  4. Your Sister’s Sister (2011, written and directed by Lynn Shelton)
  5. Friends With Money (2006, written and directed by Nicole Holofcener)
  6. Bridesmaids (2011, written by Kristen Wiig)
  7. Lovely & Amazing (2011, written and directed by Nicole Holofcener)
  8. Touchy Feely (2013, written and directed by Lynn Shelton)
  9. The Pretty One (2013, written and directed by Jenée LaMarque)
  10. 27 Dresses (2008, directed by Anne Fletcher, written by Aline Brosh McKenna)
  11. Song One (2015, written and directed by Kate Barker-Froyland)