Tag Archives: women 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


Me Before You (2016): a manic pixie Cinderella finds her Prince Charming

Lou Clark with her naive happy-go-lucky attitude seems to be a British variation of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl – her main purpose in this awful film is, after all, to bring happiness and the will to live to the male protagonist; something that she is supposed to achieve with her kooky style, unrealistically positive outlook on life and a constant smile on her face (that in all honesty makes her look more mentally unstable than anything else). It all begins when she unexpectedly loses her job at the bakery where she got stuck working for far too long and starts searching for a new employment. Her being from a working-class family and completely unqualified for most of the jobs on the market doesn’t make it easy for her to figure out what to do next – this is until the aristocratic family of the region doesn’t call out in need of an assistant.

It is the Prince Charming who recently suffered from an incident that gradually comes to the rescue to our Manic Pixie Cinderella. And while the film leads us into believing that it is all about Lou showing him the meaning and joys of life, it soon shifts into something very different. For it is ultimately him, the aristocratic son, who shows her what life is really about: foreign films, classical movies and exotic travels. He shows her how fantastic and more fulfilling life is among the “cultivated”, richer and privileged – and it is far from surprising that she eventually ends up falling in love with him (or rather, with the life that he represents).

Now, I do not want to imply that it is impossible to fall in love with a disabled person – but I do want to point out how utterly ridiculous and unnecessary the choice to make the quadriplegic character an English aristocrat was. I would guess that most of the people who were unfortunate enough to have had an illness or an accident that left them in a wheelchair do not belong to the 1%, nor do they have a family who has the means to re-build their entire house and change the stables (!) into a new apartment where everything is easily accessible. While the film would certainly like us to believe that it is about quadriplegia and the impossibly complex question of life and death that such a condition usually brings with it, I do not believe that this is the case here. Him being in a wheelchair seems more like a plot-device that helps Lou’s character to develop and that makes us somewhat more invested into the love story that would never had happened if it weren’t for his unfortunate condition (since it is more than obvious that he would not have spend a minute of his time with this simple, uneducated, overly-nice and naive girl if he would still have been his old, healthy self).

Lou (played by Emilia Clarke) is a plain and uninteresting character that does not do much but spend time with her family and her self-involved boyfriend. She does not seem to have friends outside of this circle of people and she sure does not seem to have any interests in life (besides fashion; the most stereotypical female interest there is). She is also one of the least independent women I have seen portrayed in cinema lately – the kind of a woman who lets men to take her for granted and who never expresses her discomfort or disagreement because she does not want to offend anybody. And it is not until she meets a sarcastic, cynical, well-educated, well-travelled and rich beyond our comprehension Will Traynor (played by Sam Claflin) that she reaches her full potential and blossoms into a curious and exciting new woman who leaves her old life behind and moves to Paris. She is a modern-day Cinderella and she needed her Prince Charming to be able to transform from the simple girl that let people walk all over her into a woman that does what she wants. She needed the Prince to be able to escape from her simple-minded athlete of a boyfriend and a family that was keeping her stuck in her unexciting hometown. So, despite the all-women crew that worked behind the camera and despite the novel being written by a woman as well, this movie ends up being just another story where a woman needs a man to succeed in life.

At least they do not get their happily ever after, something that I thought would somehow save this insufferable tearjerker. However, it turned out that even his death could not have saved the film. I do believe that euthanasia should be a possible option for all people who are not able to end their own life – however, this is a very complex matter and a very hard choice to make for each individual; something that the film does not emphasize at all. For Will living is not an option, not ever. I would have expected this decision being approached to more delicately, as I would also preferred the film to focus on his decision-making process and not only on the furious reactions of people around him, unable to accept his (selfish, at least from the film’s point of view) decision. We do not get to know him well enough to know what exactly is it that makes his life so insufferable – is it the awful feeling of being a burden to the people around him? Or is it really just because he cannot return to Paris for his ego cannot handle Parisian women not turning around anymore when he would pass them on the sidewalk? Because he cannot go skiing in the Swiss Alps anymore? Or go sky-diving? And jumping off a cliff? Because if so, this is a shitty reason; he has done and seen more things in his 20+ years than most people will ever do in their lifetime. And they do not seem to commit suicide over that. The bottom line is therefore this: His reasons for not wanting to live anymore seemed superficial and ultimately disrespectful to all disabled people who deserved a better portrayal as well as a more meaningful contribution to the conversations and dilemmas about euthanasia and assisted death.

The Basics:
Directed by: Thea Sharrock
Written by: Jojo Moyes (based on her novel)
Starring: Emilia Clarke, Sam Claflin, Janet McTeer, Charles Dance, Matthew Lewis
Running Time: 110 minutes
Year: 2016
Rating: 2


Into the Forest (2015): survivalist feminist drama

The scene opens with Patricia Rozema’s camera taking a mystical walk through the woods and Cat Power’s mesmerizing voice singing Wild is the Wind, before stopping at a secluded family house situated on the edge of the forest – a house that despite its physical closeness seems to be extremely far from the nature that surrounds it. The family consists of two daughters, Eva and Nell (played by Evan Rachel Wood and Ellen Page) and their widowed father, all of whom seem to be living in a near future that all too much resembles the world that we already live in. Disconnected from the world and nature around and all too dependable on the technology that is micromanaging every aspect of our personal, social and professional lives – this is the future that has already happened, with futuristically designed technology being the only indicator of the film being set in a period that is yet to happen. Each of them seems to be  pursuing their own thing, chasing their own dreams and trying to make the bright future ahead of them (they are living a privileged middle-class life after all) a reality, with Eva trying to make it as a professional dancer and Nell focusing on her education, possibly wishing to pursue her studies in an academic sphere. They know exactly what they need to do, how hard they need to work for it and what reward is awaiting for them in the end. That is until the power suddenly goes out nationwide in what is at first interpreted as a terrorist attack – only that the loss of power does not end up being a simple inconvenience that would last for a few days. Days instead turn into weeks and weeks into months.

When their father loses his life in an unfortunate accident and it starts to become clearer that life with electricity is the thing of the past, girls find themselves completely alone and entirely dependable on themselves – instead of on the patriarchal order that the father (and later, briefly, Nell’s boyfriend) represented so far. However, they (understandably) find it hard to switch their mindset to the new reality in which everything that was once an important part of their everyday life suddenly does not exist anymore and the expression “fugue state” that Nell is learning for her upcoming SAT’s before the power outage, starts to get a life of its own since the girls seem to be unable to let their old, comfortable and privileged lives go. Nell keeps on studying for the exams as if she is still about to finish high school and pursue her education at one of the Universities that she applied to, and Eva practices her dance routine, accompanied by nothing else but the frustrating sound of a metronome, as if the upcoming audition and a professional dance career is still something that will somehow happen.

They’re clearly in denial and they seem determined to keep on living their life as they did before, no matter how much the reality around them has changed. And while they slowly adapt to certain changes, learn to gather food in the forest and chop wood, they somehow still cannot fully acknowledge the permanence of their situation – which, considering how very different persons they are, culminates in quite a few sisterly disputes. It’s not until Nell temporarily leaves, although merely to pick blueberries in the woods, while Eva (alone and unable to defend herself) gets brutally raped (in what is one of the most devastating and powerful scenes in the film) that the two realize just how very important it is for them to stick together and how, no matter how strong and independent they otherwise are, they are completely helpless without one another.

It is only after the rape and Eva’s realization that she got pregnant during it that the fugue state slowly starts to dissolve – but it’s not until she actually gives birth that they fully accept their new reality and find the strength to not only leave, but destroy the life that they once lived (at least what has left of it).

Of course we are all too familiar with dystopian stories that focus on how the end of the world would affect our society as a whole. And it is in this aspect that Into the Forest manages to be a refreshing variation of those all-too-frequent macro-societal dystopian futures. Rozema surprisingly barely mentions the crisis that is going on in the city nearby (and elsewhere throughout the country) – instead, it focuses entirely on these two girls, on two particular individuals trying their best to learn to survive after the world as they knew it suddenly stops existing. But while I admire her intention of analysing how such crisis affects people on a micro level, the characters at times do not feel developed enough for us to contently spend an hour and a half in their company. We hardly learn anything about Eva and Nell that would make us see them as real persons – for which I blame a somewhat clumsily written screenplay (adapted for screen by Rozema herself) that doesn’t manage to portray the sister’s dynamic as well as it could have, despite Wood and Page giving fantastic performances and managing to carry the film forward even when they do not have much to work with.

The Basics:
Directed by: Patricia Rozema
Written by: Patricia Rozema (based on a novel by Jean Hegland)
Starring: Ellen Page, Evan Rachel Wood, Max Minghella, Callum Rennie
Running Time: 101 minutes
Year: 2015
Rating: 7

A Year of Female Filmmakers: June-August

I haven’t been particularly successful with my blogging lately, but I finally finished my bachelor’s thesis and I hope I’ll have more time for writing reviews from now on. And since I haven’t posted any new-to-me women directed and/or written films for my Year of Female Filmmakers since May, here’s a list of films I’ve seen between June and August 2015.

Unexpected (2015, written by Megan Mercier and Kris Swanberg, directed by Kris Swanberg) – don’t let the low rating at IMDb fool you, because this is easily the best woman directed film that I’ve seen this summer. It’s co-written and directed by Joe Swanberg’s wife, and while this film doesn’t belong within the mumblecore movement, it is more than apparent that Kris is equally talented as her husband. Unexpected is a film about an unusual bond between two unintentionally pregnant women: between white, middle-class, soon-to-be-married high school teacher (wonderfully portrayed by Cobie Smulders) and African-American high school student from a broken, working class family (portrayed by relatively unknown, but very talented Gail Bean). As they try to plan their respective futures we are subtly introduced to the challenges and sacrifices that come with motherhood and how they vary depending on the social class we’re coming from; something that rarely finds it’s place in American films. Which was what I loved the most about this indie masterpiece. Films that from time to time do try to address social inequalities and different realities that we face depending on our race, social background etc., often end up being too melodramatic (preaching even), and mostly work as an ideological tool for the promotion of the myth that we know by the name of American Dream (work hard and you can achieve anything, regardless of your social background!). This film smartly avoids any such simplifications or moralizations and simply shows things as they are. This is independent cinema at it’s best. Rating: 8

Nights and Weekends (2008, co-written and co-directed by Greta Gerwig) – since I was just talking about the talented Swanberg husband-and-wife duo; this one was written and directed by Joe Swanberg in collaboration with the queen of contemporary independent cinema, Greta Gerwig (the two of them also star in the main roles). It is also as mumblecore as a film can get, which is why I know it won’t be for everyone’s taste, but if you consider yourself as someone who enjoys low budget films and naturalistic dialogues (that are often completely improvised), you should definitely check it out. Rating: 7.5

Fort Tilden (2014, co-written and co-directed by Sarah-Violet Bliss) –  if you’re not fond of films with unlikable characters you should probably skip this one. However, if you don’t mind spending an hour and a half in the company of the most self-indulged, narcissistic hipster millennials, this may very well be a perfect little indie feature for you. Rating: 6.5

6 Years (2015, written and directed by Hannah Fidell) – this is Fidell’s third feature film, focused on a seemingly ideal young 20-something couple who’s been together since they were teenagers. This is until unexpected opportunities present themselves and spin their relationship down a violent path… Fidell seems to grow with her every film, and while this film is still far from being perfect, it definitely delivers one of the most real portrayals of the suffocating young love and the impulsiveness that comes with it. Rating: 6

Unrelated (2007, written and directed by Joanna Hogg) – an English middle-age woman in the middle of an emotional crisis flees from her troubles and joins her bourgeois friends on holiday in Tuscany. A little too focused on middle class “problems” for my taste, but a good film nevertheless. Rating: 6

Kissing Jessica Stein (2001, written by Heather Juergensen and Jennifer Westfeldt) – this is not entirely unlikable film, but I had quite a few problems with it. The narrative follows Jessica Stein, a relatively successful Jewish woman, who after a series of awful blind dates gives up on dating guys altogether. When she meets a bisexual  woman, who seems to be everything that she ever looked for in a man, the two begin a romantic relationship. Which is great – BUT, as it was the case with almost all American films about lesbians relationship in the 90’s, it doesn’t deliver what it should. Because, while she doesn’t know what exactly she wants from her (love) life in the beginning of the film, she grows as a person by the end of the film and comes to the realization that she needs a man to be truly happy. Which is why this film ends up being just another American semi open-minded film that is actually subtly perpetuating (conservative, patriarchal) heteronormative values. Rating: 6

Apartment Troubles (2014, written and directed by Jennifer Prediger and Jess Weixler) Rating: 5

The Falling (2014, written and directed by Carol Morley) Rating: 4

Jenny’s Wedding (2015, written and directed by Mary Agnes Donoghue) – this film, although released in 2015, manages to approach lesbian love story in such a conservative manner that it looks like it was filmed in the 50’s. I guess that if you’re trying to tell a story about a lesbian couple that plans to get married you should at least choose two actresses with at some chemistry between them. Because Katherine Heigl and Alexis Bledel looked like best friends who occasionally share a kiss, and not even remotely like two women in love. There was absolutely nothing sexual between them and even when there was some awkward touching involved they looked like two friends comforting one another. Seriously, this film got stuck in time somewhere and it got released at least 30 years too late. Rating: 3.5

Stockholm, Pennsylvania (written and directed by Nikole Beckwith) Rating: 3

Trainwreck (2015, written by Amy Schumer) – this film got generally good reviews, but I honestly don’t understand how anyone could find this film enjoyable. It also made me doubt in Amy Schumer and her “feminist values”, because what this film does is exactly the opposite from empowering women. Here’s my whole review. Rating: 1

Endless Love (2014, written and directed by Shana Feste) – way too melodramatic story for my taste with bad dialogues and not particularly good acting. Rating: 1

Hot Pursuit (2015, directed by Anne Fletcher) – this film is based on so many stereotypes about Latin-Americans and women in general that I don’t even know where to begin… and films like this are a perfect example of why Bechdel test really isn’t that much effective. Rating: 0.5

The Women (2008, written and directed by Diane English) – this may very well be the worst film ever made. Rating: 0

A Year of Female Filmmakers: May

This has been my fifth month of A Year of Female Filmmakers:

A Girl’s Own Story (1984, written and directed by Jane Campion) – Campion’s short, filmed five years before the release of her first feature film Sweetie. It was supposed to star Nicole Kidman (who was 14 at the time) in the main role, but she dropped out of the project because  of this one scene, where she was supposed to kiss a girl (anyhow, she and Campion collaborated 12 years later, when Kidman starred in The Portrait of a Lady). Even though only 27 minutes long, this is a complex coming-of-age story about three young teens growing up in the 60’s. Sexual experimentation, teenage pregnancy, sexual assault of under-aged girls – Campion manages to include it all in this mesmerising short, filmed in black and white and with extensive use of extreme close-ups that will, at times, remind you of Ingmar Bergman’s style.

Appropriate Behaviour (2014, written and directed by Desiree Akhavan) – remember that Persian girl that was in Hannah’s writing class in the last season of Girls? That’s Akhavan, the writer/director and actress of this hipster comedy/drama about a bisexual Persian Brooklynite who’s trying to rebuild her life after breaking up with her girlfriend, while also trying to find the most appropriate time to come out as a bisexual to her Muslim parents. It’s sort of a mixture of Girls, Obvious Child and Annie Hall; a must-see!

Forever’s Gonna Start Tonight (2011, written and directed by Eliza Hittman) – Hittman’s short revolves around a 17-years old Russian immigrant. It’s visually stunning, but at the same time deeply uncomfortable to watch, as it manages to portray adolescence in the most realistic way possible. It is a great short, very similar to her 2013 debut feature It Felt Like Love, and it’s available to watch here.

Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. (1992, written and directed by Leslie Harris) – this film focuses on a life of 17 years old African-American high school junior from Brooklyn who’s one of the best students at her school, but is constantly in some sort of conflict with her teachers because of her rebellious nature and her abundant ego. She’s also dreaming of graduating early, leaving her poor neighbourhood and becoming a doctor – at least until she learns that she’s pregnant. This remains Harris’s only film to date and it is definitely one of the most underrated films I’ve seen recently. The portrayal of Chantal’s working class parents (one of which works nights and sleeps all days and vice versa, which leaves Chantal in charge of baby-sitting (and, to be honest, raising) her little brothers), who constantly argue about the money and the bills, is spot on and it is definitely something that is not shown often enough in American cinema. It is rare to come across an American film that tackles the problems of the working class families and of the racial minorities – problems that are too often ignored by the media and almost never represented on film. This is a low budget film that was shot in only 17 days, but the quality of it really doesn’t matter here. We need more films like this.

Down to the Bone (2004, directed by Debra Granik) – can someone please explain to me why Debra Granik doesn’t make more films? This was her debut feature, filmed six years before her breakthrough film Winter’s Bone (that shot Jennifer Lawrence among the biggest Hollywood stars, while Granik hasn’t filmed anything except one documentary since!) and it’s about a woman stuck in a stale marriage with two kids who is trying to manage her secret drug habit. This is without a doubt one of Vera Farmiga’s best performances I’ve seen so far.

Ana Maria in Novela Land (2015, written and directed by Georgina Riedel) – I had really low expectations about this one for some reason, but I ended up quite enjoying it. Edy Ganem as the lead actress does an amazing job in this Freaky Friday/Jane the Virgin switching-bodies comedy that makes fun of Mexican telenovelas just in the right way. The cast almost entirely consists of Latino Americans which is just another reason why I liked it, since they’re one of the most underrepresented ethnic groups in American cinema.

28 Days (2000, written by Susannah Grant, directed by Betty Thomas) – this film tries to tackle a difficult subject about addiction, but ends up being a bit superficial, if not even preachy at times. Sandra Bullock also wasn’t the right fit for the main role; she may be good at comedies, but she couldn’t fit less in this role that required depth and complexity.

Sunlight Jr. (2013, written and directed by Laurie Collyer) – I was kind of disappointed by this one. After seeing Collyer’s Sherrybaby last month, I expected this to be an equally good film. It certainly had a great cast (Naomi Watts and Matt Dillon), but even though they both deliver a solid performance, this clearly wasn’t enough to make the whole experience any better. The main problem, I think, was the script – it wanted to include too many things at once, without thoroughly exploring any of the problems it addresses. Even the main characters ended up being underdeveloped, especially Dillan’s. I appreciate that Collyer is trying to portray the stories of working class people in her films, but she fails to make them well-rounded characters because she’s too worried to make their life look like a living hell, trying to include every single thing that would make Watts’s life seem even more unbearable than it already is (as if the fact that her boyfriend is crippled due to an incident at a construction site and as if a place where she lives and works isn’t horrible enough; she had to include an alcoholic mother and a drug selling/stalker ex-boyfriend, both of which were kind of badly written, one-dimensional characters).

The Heat (2013, written by Katie Dippold)

Welcome to Me (2014, directed by Shira Piven)

Pitch Perfect 2 (2015, written by Kay Cannon, directed by Elizabeth Banks) – the first one was OK. The second one, not so much. I can’t remember when I last saw a film with so many stereotypes and racist jokes. The whole film was just plain offensive and I wanted to punch the screen every time the exchange student from Guatemala opened her mouth. How is it even possible to put so many stereotypes about Latin Americans into one tiny high-school a cappella member?

John Tucker Must Die (2006, directed by Betty Thomas)

Aquamarine (2006, co-written by Alice Hoffman, directed by Elizabeth Allen) – there is a fair chance that I would really like this film if I would watch it as a 10 year old. But since I’ve watched it as a 20-something, this wasn’t the case.

In Her Shoes (2005, written by Susannah Grant)

Catch and Release (2006, written and directed by Susannah Grant) – badly written and very, very poorly directed. Just awful through and through.

Ride (2014, written and directed by Helen Hunt) – I’ve never liked Helen Hunt and I certainly didn’t expect to like her second directorial feature. But I still didn’t expect that watching this would be such a shitty experience. Ride is a film about a stuck-up, workaholic and overly protective, obsessively controlling single mother, who suffocates her son to the point, that he drops out of college the first second he gets away from her for the summer holidays. And this is essentially all this film is about: him finding himself after he finally leaves the nest and experiences a little freedom and her finding herself when she follows him to California and also (probably for the first time) experiences a bit of freedom while trying to understand what his new lifestyle is supposed to be about. This is a film about the unimportant problems of hideously rich white people who forgot how to live because they were too busy making money and maintaining a certain lifestyle. And the lamest, most predictable ending ((spoiler alert! oh wait, not really, you’ll know after the first half an hour where the story is headed) where the son comes to the realisation that he really can’t just surf for the rest of his life and that he has to finish his education) is just a cherry on top of all the awfulness that this film is. Helen Hunt needs to learn what real life problems look like, because following your son around in a rented limousine and trying to learn how to surf isn’t one of them. And oh, let’s not forget that she thinks her problems are so very important that she expects her Latino limousine driver to be with her 24/7; even though he has a family and a life of his own.

A Year of Female Filmmakers: April

This was my fourth month of A Year of Female Filmmakers and I am happy to announce that I’ve already seen 70 new-to-me woman directed films this year (which is almost twice as much as in 2014 when I saw only 36 woman-directed films, out of 340)!

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014, written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour) –  an Iranian vampire spaghetti Western that will at times remind you of French New Wave films (Godard’s Breathless) and early Jim Jarmusch (especially Stranger Than Paradise). If we got Only Lovers Left Alive and What We Do in the Shadows last year, this is the vampire film of 2015 that is showing us that – after some bad years, thanks to the Twilight saga – vampire movies are finally back and they’re in better shape than ever.

Monsoon Wedding (2001, written by Sabrina Dhawan, directed by Mira Nair) – one of Mira Nair’s best known films, revolving around a traditional Punjabi Hindu wedding in Delhi. It won the Golden Lion at 2001 Venice Film Festival.

Saving Face (2012, co-directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy) – a documentary about acid attacks on women in Pakistan. One of the most shocking and devastating documentaries I’ve seen lately – I cried through the whole thing.

At Five in the Afternoon (2003, written and directed by Samira Makhmalbaf) – film about an ambitious woman trying to get an education in Afganistan after the defeat of the Taliban by an Iranian writer/director Samira Makhmalbaf, the daughter of Mohsen Makhmalbaf and one of the most influential directors of the Iranian New Wave.

Boys Don’t Cry (1999, written and directed by Kimberly Pierce) – a dramatization of real-life story of a trans man Brandon Teena who is beaten, raped and murdered by his male friends after they discover he’s transgender. One of Hilary Swank’s best roles to date. (This was actually a re-watch, but since I last saw it when I was 16, I decided to include it on the list. I’m also not sure if I truly appreciated the brilliance of this indie film back then).

Wasp (2003, written and directed by Andrea Arnold) – Arnold’s Oscar winning short film about a single, working class mother who is determined to not let her four children be an obstacle in her pursuit of rekindling a relationship with an ex-boyfriend. It has some strong parallels with Arnold’s real-life childhood, since she herself was one of four children that were brought up by a single mother in a working class family in Dartford, England.

Sherrybaby (2006, written and directed by Laurie Collyer) – Sherry is a young woman who is trying to get her life back on track after being released from prison. She’s finally clean from heroin and ready to rebuild her relationship with her daughter; but this turns out to be a lot harder than she expected. There is not nearly enough American films that would portray the life of working class families, less alone put a woman protagonist in the centre of such a story (Debra Granik and Kelly Reichardt are the only woman directors who come to mind that make films about the difficult lives of the lower class –  but it would be great to see more stories like this being told – without any moralizing about the “wrong life choices” or false hope in a better future). This is an uneasy film to watch, but a great one nonetheless – and I should also point out that Maggie Gyllenhaal’s is absolutely brilliant as Shelly (this is my favourite work of hers, besides Secretary ). She manages to give the character, who tries her best at rebuilding her life when all the odds (and people) are against her, an unbelievable depth and complexity.

The Notorious Bettie Page (2005, written and directed by Mary Harron) – a biographical film about 1950’s pin-up and bondage model Bettie Page, starring Gretchen Mol (probably best known for her portrayal of Gillian Darmondy in Boardwalk Empire).  There’s hardly a person who hasn’t heard of Bettie, but we don’t know much about her life beyond her fame as a pin-up model. This film portrays this model icon in a completely new light: as an ambitious and naive Christian woman who leaves Nashville after a failed marriage and being a victim of a gang rape, who is trying to turn her life around in New York by becoming an actress. But when she gets an opportunity to work as a model, she puts her acting career on hold and it’s not long before she becomes a star in the underground world of bondage aficionados…

I Shot Andy Warhol (1996, co-written and directed by Mary Harron) – I knew all about Valerie Solanas shooting Andy Warhol in 1968, but up until now I knew almost nothing about Solanas herself. This film focuses primarily on her life as a prostitute and a feminist activist, whose attempted murder of Warhol was a result of her paranoid schizophrenia. Lili Taylor is outstanding as Solanas and Stephen Dorff is completely unrecognisable in the role of Candy Darling.

Mississippi Masala (1991, written by Sooni Taraporevala, directed by Mira Nair) – Mira Nair’s second feature film that is exploring the Indian diaspora and the interracial romance between an African-American (Denzdel Washington) and Indian American (Sarita Choundhury) in rural Mississippi.

Kama Sutra – A Tale of Love (1996, written by Helena Kriel, directed by Mira Nair)

Films that I didn’t particularly cared for:

  • And While We Were Here (2013, written and directed by Kat Coiro)
  • L!fe Happens (2011, written by Krysten Ritter, directed by Kat Coiro)
  • Laurel Canyon (2002, written and directed by Lisa Cholodenko)
  • The Voices (2014, directed by Marjane Satrapi)
  • 2 Days in New York (2012, co-written and directed by Julie Delpy)
  • The Sisterhood of Night (2014, written by Marilyn Fu, directed by Caryn Waechter)

Films I didn’t like:

  • A Case of You (2013, directed by Kat Coiro)
  • Post Grad (2009, written by Kelly Fremon, directed by Vicky Jenson)
  • Foxfire (1996, co-written by Joyce Carol Oates and Elizabeth White, directed by Annette Haywood-Carter)

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.