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52 Films By Women: March

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Retro cinema outings, comic books about the everyday, the pressure of celebrity, the love of basketball, a magical nanny, women going about their daily lives and a good old singalong: here are the films I watched this month that were either written or directed (or both) by a woman.

FIRST-TIMERS

American Splendor (DVD), co-written and directed by Shari Springer Berman

American Splendor is a little too meta for its own good. The film is about a man (Harvey Pekar) who wrote a comic book about his own, very average, everyday life (that, in reality, actually did pretty well!). And though Paul Giamatti portrays him in the film the man himself also appears in interview segments, too. It’s not exactly action-packed – much like much of Pekar’s life – but it’s oddly hypnotic viewing, if a little too voyeuristic for some tastes.

See also: It’s nothing like American Splendor but Madame Bovary (2014) also stars Paul Giamatti and is directed by Sophie Barthes. It’s an absolutely beautiful film – like stepping into a painting (not a comic book!).

Love & Basketball (Cinema), written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood

The Prince Charles Cinema (central London) hosted the first of two double bills mentioned in this post – this one celebrating the work of filmmaker Gina Prince-Bythewood.

Love & Basketball follows the relationship between two wannabe baseball stars, from their first meeting aged 11 to much later in their lives, once twists and turns have taken them to places they didn’t foresee. It challenges the notion of what a girl should be as Monica and Quincy face very different journeys to their desired fame as ball players.

The film is lovely and sweet and a great first feature for Prince-Bythewood.

See also: Beyond the Lights (see below)

Beyond the Lights (Cinema), written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood

Beyond the Lights follows Noni, a hugely successful singer whose suicide attempt is foiled by the policeman guarding her. When the two start to have a relationship, those who have been moulding each of their lives – including Noni’s overbearing mother – try to deter them from staying together. Because people are easier to manipulate if you have their undivided focus…

This is a staggeringly good follow-up to Love & Basketball. Brave, dramatic, intense and packed with subtle but powerfully raw emotion, this is superb storytelling. Gugu Mbatha Raw is phenomenal playing the tormented central character and the whole thing is a hugely impressive and compelling watch.

See also: Love & Basketball (see above)

Certain Women (Cinema), written, directed and edited by Kelly Reichardt

A new release in cinemas, this beautiful sweeping story is really a mixture of short stories linked together in passing. The film is quiet, with a graceful level of control and calm used throughout. But there’s a breathtaking beauty in its simplicity. Reichardt isn’t afraid of silence and where other more frenetic filmmakers might rush to fill the space, she delights in taking her time. There isn’t really a beginning-middle-end to the film (which may annoy some viewers). It just is.

Certain Women is a snapshot of three (well, technically four) very different women navigating their daily lives. And it’s absolutely gorgeous. Each shot is a work of art. 

See also: Lost in Translation, written and directed by Sofia Coppola. The film is just as hypnotic and visually beautiful but also just as calm and controlled.

Desperately Seeking Susan (Netflix UK), directed by Susan Seidelman and written by Leora Barish

Completely bonkers and over-the-top, totally 80s and full of unsavoury characters, Desperately Seeking Susan follows Roberta, a repressed suburban housewife, who loses her memory and then assumes she is Susan – a much more outlandish character played superbly by Madonna.

Come for the outfits, stay for the soundtrack … and be appalled by the casual everyday sexism.

See also: for some more 80s nostalgia, check out the Tom Hanks gem, Big, directed by Penny Marshall and co-written by Anne Spielberg. (Just try not to think too much about how close Hanks gets with his love interest, played by Elizabeth Perkins.)

 

REWATCHES

Annie (Netflix UK), written by Carol Sobieski

We got Annie! Yup, Annie has tap-danced her little curly-haired self right onto Netflix. So get those vocal chords warmed up for the lavish and delightful madness of this musical gem.

See also: Fried Green Tomatoes, also written by Sobieski – a stunning story of friendship across the years against a backdrop of racist America and the KKK era.

9 to 5 (Cinema), co-written by Patricia Resnick

The Phoenix Cinema, East Finchley (North London) hosted an epic double bill (yes, another one!) of 9 to 5 and Working Girl for International Women’s Day, courtesy of the Bechdel Test Fest. It was marvellous to finally see this classic 80s gem on the big screen – and with a huge (and vocal!) crowd. Though I had seen the film before, the experience certainly was nothing quite like this.

The story, of three very different women trying to make it in a male-dominated business world, is a real treat. Their boss is a sexist egomaniac who sexually harasses and blackmails one (Dolly Parton), steals ideas from another (Lily Tomlin) and is just horrifically unpleasant to all. So when one of them (accidentally) almost poisons him, the trio join forces to take over before he can ruin things for them even more.

9 to 5 is funny, silly but alarmingly relevant. It’s about women coming together to improve things for everyone.

But most of all, it’s about singing along to that EPIC opening credits number. ‘What a way to make a living…’

See also: Grace and Frankie (on Netflix) is a brilliant TV show which reunites Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda. The show was co-created by Marta Kauffman (the genius behind Friends!)

Nanny McPhee (TV), written by Emma Thompson

Another month, another Thompson-penned gem in which the actress also stars. This time, it’s a family favourite which sees Nanny McPhee (Thompson) show up to help a struggling single father, played by Colin Firth, look after all seven of his children following the death of his wife. It’s as hilarious as it is sweet and as classy as it is completely bonkers. A real treat for all ages.

See also: the hugely impressive sequel, Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang, also written by Emma Thompson. This time, Maggie Gyllenhaal is the one struggling as her husband is off fighting in the war and she is trying to run a farm and keep hold of her family home.

The Virgin Suicides (DVD), written and directed by Sofia Coppola

Haunting, dark and yet ridiculously beautiful, this sad tale of both teenage infatuation and familial repression is a fascinating exploration of what happens behind closed doors especially when someone is repeatedly told to keep their true selves hidden away.

Set in the 1970s, there is a stunning soundtrack and intoxicating cinematography that makes you fall in love with the film just like the boys do with those mysterious sisters across the way…

Coppola has done something incredible with what could so easily have been a sick, voyeuristic nightmare. And the sisters’ stories are all the more powerful for Coppola’s masterful touch.

See also: Mustang, a Turkish film that follows another group of siblings hidden away by strict relatives. This film is incredibly powerful and just as compelling as The Virgin Suicides. It is directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven and written by Ergüven and Alice Winocour.

 

*Advanced warning!*

The gorgeous new film from Chan-wook Park, The Handmaiden, is out in the UK in April. It’s co-written by Seo-kyeong Jeong and based on the novel ‘Fingersmith’ by powerhouse author, Sarah Waters. I saw it at London Film Festival last year and it is a bold and breathtaking sensual saga (my full review will be posted next week)! Check it out!

One of the major things I’ve learned from doing the #52filmsbywomen challenge is that there are female filmmakers out there making films – they just haven’t crossed my radar (and, until now, I didn’t go out looking for them!). So if a female scriptwriter or director manages to get to the stage where the film is actually made then quite often nobody actually gets to talk about it. And the best thing we can do to support these badass ladies is just that: talk.

So let’s get chatting! Tweet me your thoughts on the above or your own suggestions at @filmvsbook.


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