A little belatedly, in mid-January I decided to challenge myself to watch 52 films directed by women in 2016: since I talk the talk, this year I am walking the walk and pushing myself to greater gender equality in my viewing choices! I’m a little behind as of right now, but I’m confident I’ll succeed. Here’s what I’ve been watching so far!
1. The Girl (Márta Mészáros, 1968)
The Girl is the story of a twenty-something orphan in communist Hungary who is on a quest to find her parents. Her journey leads her from Prague, where she works in a factor, to rural Hungary, where a woman who may or may not actually be her mother takes her in for a weekend. Like many New Wave films, the through plot is secondary to the action, and the characterization: Erzsi attends dances, flirts with men, and wanders around. The first Hungarian feature film directed by a woman, The Girl is a beautiful little snapshot into another time and place.
2. Rich Hill (Tracy Droz Tragos & Andrew Droz Palermo, 2014)
Rich Hill is named for the tiny Missouri city in which it takes place: the film follows three young Rich Hill men at the brink of adulthood as they navigate life in their small town. But the film isn’t a celebration of traditional small town life; these boys all face heavy problems, like trouble at school (that leads to incarceration for some), jailed parents, and no prospects for the future. But the film treats its subjects with absolute empathy, and it’s a painful little peek into the human condition.
3. Treeless Mountain (So Yong Kim, 2008)
I generally don’t like films centered on children – although I love kids (I do!), children in movies are usually too precocious to bear, or just plain non-starters. Treeless Mountain is the exception that proves the rule. The film is about two young sisters, Jin and Bin, whose mother is no longer able to care for them in Seoul, so they must move to rural South Korea to live with their alcoholic aunt. The film is told completely from the girls’ point of view – there’s not scene that they are not in. I was impressed with how well the film captured what it’s like to be a child (the audience isn’t given any information the girls don’t have, though we’re able to understand subtext that they are not), that confusing, wonderful time when anything is possible. From making friends with a disabled neighbor, to starting their own “business” selling charred crickets as a snack, to the final third that left me on the verge of tears the entire time, Treeless Mountain is a sweet, beguiling look at childhood.
4. 6 Years (Hannah Fidell, 2015)
I liked Hannah Fidell’s debut film A Teacher, and I think Taissa Farmiga is one of the most talented young actresses today (she even made American Horror Story worth watching), so I was excited to catch 6 Years (streaming on Netflix US). Unfortunately, it’s a vapid story about vapid people. Farmiga and Ben Rosenfield (channeling Penn Badgeley on Gossip Girl, yuck) play college students – he just graduated, she with another year – who have been together for the titular 6 years, whose relationship runs into some incredibly predictable roadblocks. Seriously, anyone who thought they were The Most In Love With Someone as a teenager will see where this is going – maybe it’s for a younger audience who won’t just yell “You deserve so much better, girl!!!!!” at the screen the entire time. Lindsay Burdge, who was so great in A Teacher, is the bright spot of the film as a sexy older lady – someone give her a better project, please.
5. Three Versions of Myself as Queen (Anna Biller, 1994)
Anna Biller is a genius at taking tired tropes and rewriting them for her own feminist purposes, and she does this three times in this inventive, hilarious short film. The first version is Biller as an Indian queen, tired of her mundane life, cheered up by her entourage of brightly colored female friends doing a dance number. In the second version, Biller is literally a queen bee, waiting for a new hive until her worker bees find the perfect, pink home. The third version, and my favorite, starts at a Russ Meyer-esque shindig, where everyone is mod-ly dressed and jamming to some tunes. Soon, the men all become obsessed with Biller, and turn into literal dogs, and a hero comes to save her. At the end (spoiler alert?), though, she realizes that her witch powers are greater than any male hero’s, crowns herself queen, and walks away from the scene to her castle in the sky. This is feminist praxis in action.
6. Butterfly (Shirley & Wendy Clarke, 1967)
Mother-daughter team Shirley and Wendy Clark collaborated on this very short, very colorful experimental short, which juxtaposes lullabies with the sounds of machine gun fire to protest the Vietnam War. The film is scratched, bleached, and hand-painted to create a disorienting statement on mothers and the anti-war movement. I would absolutely love to see more mother-daughter collaborations!