Women Directors List Discussion + Suggestions

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Feego
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Re: Women Directors List Discussion + Suggestions

#151 Post by Feego » Thu May 17, 2018 3:25 pm

Satori wrote:After more than a decade of television work, Lupino returned to feature filmmaking with The Trouble with Angels (1966), a zany family comedy about two pranksters in a catholic boarding school. It is a huge departure from her previous film work: it’s in color, so her play with high contrast lighting isn’t really a factor and the dark mood of her early 50s work is completely absent. Yet I still find it absolutely delightful: Rosalind Russell is wonderful as the Mother Superior and the two young leads (Hayley Mills and June Harding) are hilarious. The film uses an episodic structure with the lead’s various pranks motoring the narrative. There are some tinges of the cinema’s great boarding school rebellion films like Maidens in Uniform and Zero for Conduct, although less is at stake. The film is largely about the caring relationship developed between the two leads, which develops into some rather poignant moments towards the film’s conclusion. Not a bad way to finish off a Lupino binge.
I'm glad someone brought this one up. I know of some people who don't care for most of Lupino's more bluntly socially conscious work, so The Trouble with Angels is a nice change of pace. I myself have only seen this and The Hitchhiker, and it's almost hard to believe they were directed by the same person. Angels is a feather-light comedy that allows its mostly female cast to have a lot of fun (the few men in the cast are relegated to negative influences, such as the lead girls' guardians). Mills and Harding are indeed a great team. This sort of expands on the shenanigans of Mills' previous The Parent Trap, though with a few decidedly non-Disney touches (gasp, smoking!). Their relationship makes this a great buddy movie, and it's a rare mainstream Hollywood comedy that shows us a girl's perspective of school without a single boy in sight. There are, of course, a few touching moments sprinkled about, like the girls' visit to the nursing home, but Lupino doesn't let things get bogged down with too much sentimentality, quickly moving forward to Mills' next "scathingly brilliant idea."

Also, it's fun to note that three years after playing Mama Rose, Russell briefly shares the screen with the real Gypsy Rose Lee in a weird cameo.

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zedz
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Re: Women Directors List Discussion + Suggestions

#152 Post by zedz » Thu May 17, 2018 5:51 pm

Okay, here’s a biggie:

Image

The Asthenic Syndrome (Muratova, 1989) – I’ve always found this film overwhelming in the best way: it swamps you with its bleak, bemused worldview, swirls you around in an eddy of malaise for a couple of hours, then pulls out the plug and watches with a wry smile as you go down the drain, slipping into darkness along with its protagonist at the end. It’s an amazing, uneasy piece of filmmaking, punctuated with enough black and absurdist humour to pace you for the long haul.

The plot of the film isn’t really spoilable, but the structure is, so avert your gaze if you don’t want to know the big, irrelevant twist.

The Asthenic Syndrome is a grim, funny, episodic drama, with flashes of documentary, about a recently widowed doctor named Natasha. While she is histrionically grieving at her husband’s funeral, she notices a couple of guys at the back snickering. This effects some radical psychic break within her and she immediately disengages from society, walking away from the funeral, struggling to find her way out of the cemetery. In the streets, she presses against the tide of humanity, forcing her way onto a bus as it empties, and off the bus when it fills. A few people offer concern and assistance, which she violently and abusively shakes off. At home, she ritualistically breaks glasses and dumps the contents of her wardrobe on the floor. She goes into her hospital to resign. On her way home, she picks up a deadbeat drunk to fuck. That act of debasement, however, also qualifies as an act of human connection. She kicks the guy out of bed, but something has slightly changed for Natasha. She cleans up the broken glass, hangs the clothes back up, and goes out. In the street, a passerby notices that there is dirt on her coat and makes her hold still while she brushes it off. In the film’s crucial moment, Natasha acquiesces, accepting the modest gesture of sympathy and assistance and thereby slipping passively back into human society. End of film.

The Asthenic Syndrome is a grim, funny, episodic drama, with flashes of documentary, about a narcoleptic teacher named Nikolai. About forty minutes into the movie, the film described above ends, and we see the final scene repeated, on a screen in a cinema. The lucky audience have the opportunity to discuss it with the star (who has appeared in films by German, Sokhurov and Muratova!), but they can’t leave fast enough, and soon enough the embarrassed actress joins them. Not everybody flees the site of art, however. Nikolai remains, having fallen asleep. What follows is an extended fresco of contemporary Soviet life, a series of absurdist vignettes, through which Nikolai drifts and swoons. Eventually we find him in an institution, from which he is briefly liberated, only to collapse in a subway train at the end of the line, lying alone on the floor as the carriage trundles off into the underworld.

The break between the two different Asthenic Syndromes, one monochrome, one colour, is so startling and disarming – and funny: it’s easy to see this as just a perversely extended set-up / punchline – that it’s easy to miss just how carefully they’re a matched pair. In both films, the protagonist disengages from their society. In the first film, the break is caused by extreme grief (and the appalling indifference to her grief that Natasha observes), and is a conscious choice, with Natasha having to literally fight to go against the tide of crowds, or aggressively abuse people to try and get them to leave her alone (at moments like this, she really gets to the point: “You’re alive. I hate you!”). Her acquiescent reintegration at the end of the film is a mildly positive sign of personal change, but it’s also likely a consequence of exhaustion. In Nikolai’s narrative, he tries to escape society by lapsing into unconsciousness (at one point the tendency is characterised as “a mild form of protest”), an affliction that is met with indifference (in a reversal of the imagery of the first film, an unconscious Nikolai is carried along with a crowd, and when he is deposited on the floor of a railway station, people just step over him; finally some folk stop to assist, but all they do is drag his body out of their way), amusement, or incarceration.

Muratova’s big question – and it’s not one she has an answer for – is, what is the rational response to a society that is broken? We see various more moderate responses within the film’s vignettes apart from the radical reactions of Natasha and Nikolai (a reliance on petty rules and routines, a retreat into personal interests, outraged yet impotent public monologues), but nobody has a satisfying solution, and nobody really seems happy. And I think this gets to the heart of the difference between this film and other un-banned dissident films of the late 80s that Kirkinson was asking about. In The Asthenic Syndrome, the villain is not an outmoded bureaucracy, Stalinist remnants, government malice or inefficiency or cronyism. The villain is us. The bad things that happen in the film aren’t the acts of impersonal authority, they’re extremely personal, petty failings. Muratova would be making the same points, with even more righteous anger, twenty years later in Melody for a Street Organ. It’s not a Soviet problem, it’s a Russian (and a human) problem, and Muratova puts ironic icing on this problem with little regurgitated gobbets of official ideology like “the principle trait of the bourgeois is indifference to his fellows.”

The subtle matches between the two films underline and extend her thesis. The two protagonists are often presented as opposites (Natasha is angry and aggressive; Nikolai is amiable and passive), but situationally they’re fundamentally similar (they’re both shown as the only people left on public transport beyond the end of the line, for instance). In the first film, as Natasha leaves the cemetery, we have a montage of portraits from gravestones, culminating with Natasha posed in front of an array of portraits of the dead. Sharp cut to: Natasha posed in front of an array of portraits of the living, outside a photography studio, followed by a matching montage of those photos. It’s simple formal equivalence as social critique, and we shouldn’t be surprised in the second film to find Nikolai adopting a similar pose by inserting his face into a bunch of portraits displayed in the street.

At the very start of the film, we observe from a distance a group of men teasing a cat by tying a can to its tail. What kind of man would hurt a cat? In the second film, that question is definitively answered: a man who would also beat his daughter. But Muratova doesn’t stop there, as that scene also offers a sharp critique of the selfishness of empathy, as the cat-bothering daughter-beater also dotes on his pet birds. The same situation is also replayed in the second film in the form of two girls taunting a developmentally challenged man with a shoe, and right near the end of the film expands the scope of her critique to an entire society with a collection of shots of maltreated dogs in a shelter. What kind of society would do that?

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zedz
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Re: Women Directors List Discussion + Suggestions

#153 Post by zedz » Sun May 20, 2018 5:51 pm

It's Maya Deren Monday:

At Land (1944) - I didn't bother watching Meshes of the Afternoon again. Great film, but I've seen it to death and prefer a couple of her subsequent works. At Land takes one of the best ideas of that film (be-goggled Deren collapsing time and space with her stride) and expands it into an entire film. It's simple, smart and cinematic, with Deren making an arduous journey through multiple, sometimes simultaneously co-existent, landscapes (she scrambles up a cliff onto a tabletop in a bourgeois dinner party, which she crawls along, while simultaneously pushing through foliage, and so on). This is a film that really gets that surreal simultaneity of a dream (a bus stop is at the same time a workplace and a bookshelf). It's a fascinating exercise in editing, but it works mainly because of Deren's expert choreography: her physicality is the thread that ties all these different physical spaces together. Deren's use of slow motion also gives her body a sense of monumentality at times, which helps anchor it at the centre of the movie.

A Study in Choreography for Camera (1945) - This is really little more than a sketch, but it does provide a link between the choreographic ideas of At Land and Ritual in Transfigured Time.

Ritual in Transfigured Time (1946) - This is an amazing film, my favourite Deren, and her most fully realised work. The first section plays with space, with women moving in and out of doorways and taking one another's place while winding yarn. Speed varies, transforming regular domestic movements into elegant choreography. This idea is expanded - and how! - in the following section in which a crowded party becomes a complex dance, with participants ritualistically repeating their characteristic gestures and constantly swapping partners. It's an extraordinary, beautiful sequence, and a large part of its magic is how it blurs the line between filmic manipulation and actual choreography. We're first clued to the 'organized' nature of the crowd's complex movements by a couple of freeze frames, and later on some - but not all - of the musical repetitions are achieved by editing. An easy top ten inclusion for me, and a possible number one.

Meditiation on Violence (1948) - This film deals with many of the same ideas as the previous three, but in a much more ordinary, bluntly ethnographic way. I found this a bit of a comedown because the idea of viewing martial arts as a form of dance is a far less interesting and innovative than viewing banal social interactions through that lens.

And also:

Nathalie Granger (Marguerite Duras, 1972) - A somewhat more traditional film than the other Durases I've rewatched, but I found it absolutely gripping. You can see in this earlier film that she's already striving to alienate the actors from the text, but she does so in a much less radical way here, by focussing on impassive delivery and isolating narrative action away from the characters. There are two big, dramatic narratives in the film, but they're almost hermetically sealed off from the surface action of the film:
- a couple of crazed young killers are on the run, in the vicinity of the protagonists' house
SpoilerShow
but they never intrude on the characters, and their story is entirely related through radio bulletins.

- the daughter, Nathalie Granger, has been expelled from her school because of her violence
SpoilerShow
but this story is largely told in glancing flashbacks and asides, and Nathalie herself barely appears.
(Anxiety about violent children is the undercurrent of the film and helps maintain its anxious tone.)

Instead, we watch two of the three main characters, Jeanne Moreau and Lucia Bose sit around the house, burn some branches and sticks, and listen patiently to a really terrible travelling salesman played by Gerard Depardieu, in a quietly hilarious extended gag. The third main character is an unnamed black cat, whose movements we also follow around the house, and who even gets the privilege of point-of-view shots. In short, nothing happens, but there's that air of anxiety and mystery enshrouding everything, right down to the relationship between the central characters. It's beautifully shot and acted, deftly edited, and I could have easily spent another hour and a bit with this particular 'nothing'.

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domino harvey
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Re: Women Directors List Discussion + Suggestions

#154 Post by domino harvey » Sun May 20, 2018 11:09 pm

Not Monday yet here, so today was, uh, Some Movies Sunday?

Et soudain, tout le monde me manque (Jennifer Devoldère 2011)

A dysfunctional family is further fussed with when their 60 year old father announces his new wife is pregnant. Michel Blanc is quite good as the father, who is cut baldly (pun intended) in the Larry David comic mode of saying what he’s thinking in socially inopportune times. The whole movie plays as a quasi-Seinfeld riff, as Mélanie Laurent’s opening digs on Starbucks seem like they could be lifted right out of some college undergrad’s spec script. This is amiably watchable nothingness, mainstream comedy fluff that isn't particularly funny, leaves no impact, and most definitely does not earn its last-minute serious turn. I will say that this is one of the minority of foreign films where the completely different English title is a much better fit than the original French— “the Day I Saw Your Heart” is far more apt for where the film goes than “And suddenly, I miss everyone,” which are just song lyrics for the track that plays over the end credits, and doesn’t really tie to the film at all.

High Art (Lisa Cholodenko 1998)

Art magazine editor Radha Mitchell falls for lapsed photographer Ally Sheedy and insinuates herself into Sheedy’s world of drugged-out hipsters. This has been on my To Watch list for the last twenty years, but now that I’ve finally seen it, I’m not sure why this film merited the inflated praise it garnered on release. All I see is a collection of unrelatable and unlikable characters stuck in an obvious and false schematic narrative that ends the same way lesbian romances had been ending for decades. Hard to believe snorting heroin with your neighbor may have consequences, I know, but here we are…

Smooth Talk (Joyce Chopra 1985)

Teenager Laura Dern gradually pushes her curiosity with the opposite sex until real trouble comes a’knocking in the form of the much older Treat Williams. The film spends a good hour setting up the day to day teenage world of Dern and her two friends, showing how Dern incrementally puts herself into increasingly precarious sexual situations with such innocence and honesty that when the big bad wolf does show up, the real thrill and tension is not just in how he behaves, but in how she responds to his come-ons and clear and present danger. It’s a disturbing movie, especially in how it doesn’t blink from the logic of the situation based on the established behavior of Dern while remaining non-prurient in exploring this angle. The end result is depressing, and honest. Imagine a version of Beware, My Lovely wherein Ida Lupino kind of wanted Robert Ryan to stay! There is some weak sideplot material involving Mary Kay Place as Dern’s shrill mom that is a misstep in comparison to the rest of the film’s more perceptive characterizations, but otherwise this hits its marks with commendable truth. Highly recommended.

Tout le plaisir est pour moi (Isabelle Broué 2004)

Marie Gillain lectures her sister on the sins of faking orgasms, only to spontaneously lose stimulation in her clitoris immediately afterwards. This loss sends her on a quest to regain her sexual mojo in assorted sitcom-y ways, precious few of them actually amusing. The film has a tone of phony naughtiness but rarely takes its ideas past the notion that it would be funny merely to discuss clitoral stimulation in mixed company. That said, there are two moments in the film that show how the movie could have been better: Gillain goes to visit a “sexologist,” whom she prods into performing cunnilingus on her. He insists on first setting the mood with… a CD of birdsong. That’s a weird joke, but at least it is unexpected and exhibits some imagination. The second and more audacious joke finds Gillain consulting an African emigrant who advertises help for hopeless cases. While in the waiting room, a cadre of African women question the white woman why she’s there, and upon hearing she’s “lost” her clitoris, think she too is a victim of clitoral genital mutilation. That’s not funny, obviously, but it is legit tasteless in a way the rest of this ostensibly bawdy milquetoast-fest never dreams of being.

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zedz
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Re: Women Directors List Discussion + Suggestions

#155 Post by zedz » Mon May 21, 2018 12:18 am

I'm with you on High Art. I saw it on release and thought, "well, that was middling and very familiar." Standard cliches in new fancy dress. Then it got wildly praised about six months later and seemed to only gain in stature over the years. My uncharitable take on its reception was that a lot of people must (understandably) be really desperate for lesbian romances.

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Re: Women Directors List Discussion + Suggestions

#156 Post by Werewolf by Night » Mon May 21, 2018 12:03 pm

I thought people just liked it because of Patty Clarkson’s arch Marlene Dietrich/Rosel Zech impression. That’s the only reason I like it, anyway.

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Re: Women Directors List Discussion + Suggestions

#157 Post by colinr0380 » Wed May 23, 2018 3:25 am

I had a friend at university in the early 2000s who also loved High Art, but in that case I think it was because she was a big 80s Brat Pack fan and so loved seeing Ally Sheedy back in films (as well as Molly Ringwald in 1997's Office Killer!)

Great comments on The Asthenic Syndrome zedz. That reminds me that on its one and only UK television screening back in 1997 there was a fantastically ironically placed commercial break that occurs after one of the sections of the film finishes (I think in the first part) with a number of characters chatting about their pasttimes (from dogs to going out) while another character is screaming at them that one of their friends has just died. They can't understand what he is saying and tell him that they'll talk to him later, the advert break comes on and the first ad is for a cheesy chat line company ("Don't be bored, call Friends!") and then for Vodaphone ("It's good to talk")! There must have been someone with a dark sense of humour booking the ads (or most likely they never noticed the juxtaposition could be funny!)
knives wrote:
Thu May 17, 2018 12:17 pm
I was hoping to see all of her films before posting about the great Kasi Lemmons, but it looks like I won't be able to get to Black Nativity before this list is over so I'm posting about her now so that people will have time to get to her films. Lemmons is probably best known as the best friend in Silence of the Lambs, but she's a pretty accomplished and interesting director in her own right.
Thanks for mentioning Kasi Lemmons knives! In terms of her acting roles there was that great post-Silence of the Lambs period in the early 90s where Lemmons turns up in the best friend role in Candyman, in that John Woo directed Jean-Claude Van Damme version of The Most Dangerous Game, Hard Target, as well as taking on the Rob Reiner-equivalent interviewer role in the hip hop version of This Is Spinal Tap, Fear of a Black Hat! Plus she is in that excellent Laura Dern-starring TV movie Afterburn.

I have only had the chance to see Eve's Bayou so far if the films that she has directed but they all sound very interesting.

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knives
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Re: Women Directors List Discussion + Suggestions

#158 Post by knives » Thu May 24, 2018 6:40 pm

Earth (dir. Mehta)
This worked so much better for me than Fire. The story is more compelling, it's perspective excuses and even elevates certain narrative tactics that Mehta favors, and the focus on Sikhs is a genuinely new filmic experience for me with their side of history not really appearing in my view before. The film also has the benefit of a great supporting role by Aamir Khan who is just the best. The story is the one of India's independence and the ethnic divisions which would lead to the creation of Pakistan. Naturally, the main characters are Hindu and Muslim since that was the major fallout, but Mehta gives time to show how other minorities were effected. The presence and use of the Sikhs in particular, but also the Christians really help to give an insight into how ugly these divisions could be and how complex social relations were at the time. This makes for a genuinely horrifying film even if it only slowly arrives there. That slowness works thanks to one of my favorite narrative tactics, having this be an adult story observed by a child's eyes.

Lenny Baby, the child of the film, slowly slips away as the perspective as the problems the country will face become more stark which makes sense as a tactic. A problem I had with Fire was the obscurity some narrative points were developed in, but of course a child will not see everything nor understand all of what she sees. Likewise the mood of the prevailing moment will be more affecting for a kid. A child's perspective is a traditional film one in a lot of ways and so it makes sense to lead with that as Mehta wants the narrative to be unclear at points or unrealistic in aesthetic. As reality sets in and the facts become necessary to understand a child in no longer able to handle those narrative responsibilities. Going to a third person narrator thus becomes necessary and even makes the film work better than strictly keeping to the opening form would have. In many respects all of this, especially thanks to the ending, seems like a more straightforward dry run for Atonement. Mehta doesn't reach those heights, but the ones she does are respectful.

Bachelorette (dir. Headland)
Finally seeing this after all the cheers and I have to admit while I respect the craft, the acting (especially Dunst who plays her role like she is still working under von Trier), and the character interactions it just wasn't funny to me. I was just dryly watching the whole time appreciating its craft, but not really connecting to it beyond on an intellectual level. Certainly it makes me curious if Sleeping With Other People is closer to my vibe since there is enough to respect here.

Ripley's Game
This is an okay film. A little too handsome in that Miramax sort of way with the mechanics of the plot being a little too sleepy. Malkovich is perfectly cast as Ripley giving the performance closest to the character from the book though Cavani desperately tries to make him cool rather than alien.

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domino harvey
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Re: Women Directors List Discussion + Suggestions

#159 Post by domino harvey » Thu May 24, 2018 8:26 pm

Like any comedy, if you don't find Bachelorette funny, it's just not going to work for you!

Reminder that lists are due one week for tomorrow. There's been a lot of good discussion here, and feel free to keep going once the list tallying is complete, of course!

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knives
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Re: Women Directors List Discussion + Suggestions

#160 Post by knives » Thu May 24, 2018 10:50 pm

I will say though that Adam Scott's last moment was just about the funniest thing he's done and a great play off of his general persona.

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Re: Women Directors List Discussion + Suggestions

#161 Post by the preacher » Sat May 26, 2018 6:24 am

Just submitted my ballot and I'm not very happy with it... The next 25 titles are equally great!

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Re: Women Directors List Discussion + Suggestions

#162 Post by zedz » Sun May 27, 2018 8:11 pm

After basically a week away from a proper keyboard I have quite a backlog of write-ups, so, deep breath. . .

The Sentimental Cop (Muratova, 1992) – Didn’t manage to resee this (is it really so lost?), but working through Muratova’s films in order it seems more and more like a pivotal work. It’s her first post-Soviet film, and it sets the tone for a lot of what would follow. It’s the first time she really doubles down on her ritualistic repetitions, which evolve from a curious tic into a dominant style for this film, and Beckettian absurdism is the mode of the entire film rather than one of its colourings. It’s actually quite a sweet, straightforward story: a policeman finds an abandoned baby and wants to adopt it, but this just opens up a series of Kafkaesque nightmares in a society that relishes bureaucracy and has no regard for the wellbeing of innocents. The continuity with the social concerns and bleak mood of The Asthenic Syndrome (which will persist) indicates that the issues she sees with Russian society are not primarily capital-P political.

Passions (Muratova, 1994) – Not one of my favourite Muratovas. It’s a goofy melange of horseracing, hospitals, circuses and beach resorts, with characters stylized to the max. The film is consistently striking, with lots of fluid open air tableaux, but it’s somewhat exhausting and lacking in emotional resonance in the long haul.

Image

Three Stories (Muratova, 1997) – Whereas this is a masterpiece, and a brilliant example of just how individual a talent Muratova is. Three tales about murder, all told in very different, but unmistakably Muratovian, styles. Spoilers abound below!

The first tale, Boiler Room No. 6, is a Beckettian nightmare. After opening with characteristic animal imagery (a peacock cries, signalling doom, and a man imitates its shuddering movements), the protagonist enters an infernal underworld where his overwhelming guilt expresses itself in teasing mise-en-scene (a cupboard whose door keeps opening) and involuntary confession. Finally, he reveals his ghastly secret – he has murdered his neighbour and lugged her body to the boiler room to be incinerated – and, in a striking cinematic move, the blocking and montage turn the reveal into the obsessive-compulsive picking of a scab, with the face being uncovered and recovered and uncovered again and again to drive home the human horror at the heart of a darkly stylized film.

The second story, Ophelia, used to seem like the comparatively weaker link, but now I see it as a brilliant tour de force. It’s much longer and more elaborate than the flanking episodes, and focuses on a homicidal nurse. As with a lot of later Muratova works, it takes place in a depopulated city where the remaining populace seem to be mostly indigent lunatics, with the main characters distinguished from them only by a very thin veneer of respectability or sophistication. Muratova is, however, quick to assure us that the pervasive insanity and moral rot engulfs them too. Our hero this time around, Opha, has a weird faux-innocent affect as she pursues her elaborate plots of punishment and revenge. She’s a descendent of the nurse character in Passions, and is played by the same actress, Renata Litvinova. The visual style here is stylized in a different way from the first episode. Where that was nervous, constrained and grimy, with highlighting done by reflected light, this is stark and elegant, with smooth tracking shots exploring a world of whites, creams and beiges, scarlet used as the counterpoint colour representing the sites of narrative action. At one point, Muratova stages a continuous dialogue as a series of non-contiguous tableaux, with the characters posed theatrically against backdrops of medical diagrams, artworks and a wall of medical tools.

The Girl and Death is the most naturalistic of the three stories in terms of its visual style (and one of the most naturalistic things Muratova ever shot), but perhaps the most perverse in terms of content. A very little girl (under five) is being looked after by her wheelchair-bound grandfather. The tone is autumnal and playful (the girl is rather defiant and naughty), but the opening shots of a ravenous cat struggling to carry off a plucked chicken larger than itself should put us on notice that this is no eye-twinkling heart-warmer. After granddad says “no” one time too many, the little poppet gathers all the rat poison she can find and makes him a lovely cup of tea. That’s it really, with the twist ending being no more than a subtle reveal that she actually does know exactly what she’s doing and couldn’t care less. Ah, kids today.

Letter to America (Muratova, 1999) – A characteristic short that doesn’t really do anything different than what can be found in the surrounding features. At the top and tail of the film, two blokes film a video letter to a friend in America (which degenerates into resentment and abuse). In between, one of the blokes pays a call on his tenant from hell (who’s hidden her half-naked lover in the closet for the duration of the visit, even as she’s offering to fuck her way out of arrears).

Second Class Citizens (Muratova, 2001) – A shaggy-dog black comedy that encapsulates a lot of Muratovian core values. Once again, we have a protagonist with a straightforward mission struggling to negotiate a society of the halt, the lame, the disturbed and the deranged. The twist here, which in effect makes this in a sense Fourth and Fifth Stories, is that the protagonist is trying to dispose of a body, and is continually outwitted by witless happenstance (this dumping ground is haunted by a flasher, that one is swarming with cops disposing of their own bodies). That central thread takes a while to emerge, and we also follow a couple of side stories also involving the dead and the dying. The film pauses for musical interludes on several occasions (starting with an easily distracted widow-to-be) and while its characters are the same kind of ultra-stylized hysterics that populate a film like Passions, the thread of dark humour that ties them all together keeps the film more grounded and compelling, similar in feel and effect to The Sentimental Cop or Ophelia.

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zedz
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Re: Women Directors List Discussion + Suggestions

#163 Post by zedz » Sun May 27, 2018 9:59 pm

And some more. . .

Schipperskwartier (Edith Kiel, 1953) – Edith Kiel had a long career in Dutch cinema, starting out as a writer in the 30s and becoming a prolific director in her own right in the 1950s. From the three films in the Cinematek set dedicated to her work, it seems her area was amiable middlebrow comedies and musicals. De Witte (1934) is the sparkiest of the three films (but it wasn’t directed by Kiel) and after that it’s diminishing returns.

Schipperskwartier is that most godforsaken of things, a farce that is slackly paced, predictably plotted and resolutely unfunny. It just unfolds lamely before you, with all the needless complications stretching time like the event horizon of a black hole. There are about half a dozen instances of a character not clarifying an obvious misapprehension to another character simply so the film can run for an extra twenty minutes. The finished film runs one hour forty, so by my calculations, if the characters hadn’t consistently behaved like idiots, it would only have lasted twenty minutes. I’d rather watch that film, and at least we’d retain the single interesting oddity about it: the way the cast credits are integrated into the narrated intro.

Journey to the Sun (Yesim Ustaoglu, 1999) – An old favourite that I was a little trepidatious about revisiting, because one of the things I’d always valued most about my previous encounter with it was how surprising it was in its unfolding. Fortunately, it has plenty of other qualities that sustain its interest nearly twenty years later. The film starts out with a disorienting foreshadowing: characters and places upside down, reflected in water. This turns out to be a cryptic flashforward. After that, it settles into a well-made, if somewhat standard, earnest urban drama, a gritty portrait of working-class characters struggling to get along in Istanbul. There’s a political subtext apparent through random news broadcasts, casual anti-Kurdish racism and an intrusive police presence. Then, about half an hour in, the political subtext becomes text proper with a bang, as our focal character Mehmet runs innocently afoul of the law and finds his life turned upside down instantaneously. His young love, Arzu, and new friend Berzan also find themselves caught up in this eddy of misfortune, and the film finds all of them struggling to navigate to any happy outcome. It’s all well-done and reasonably gripping, and then the film winds up in an unsurprisingly tragic way at about the hour and a quarter mark. But then the remarkable thing happens: the film keeps going, taking a left turn, following a single character on a minimalist pilgrimage for another half an hour. The movie abandons the city for a stark (and ultimately surreal) rural landscape, with a whole new set of rules to negotiate and a much starker perspective on life and death. I’m a bit of a sucker for these kind of ‘journeys of no hope’, where characters enter a nightmare land where every option of escape slams a door behind them as they press forward (Bahman Ghobadi’s Half Moon, Kiarostami’s The Traveller, Greenaway’s A Walk Through H), so it was a shock and a surprise to see one of those emerge out of this fine neo-realist work at so late a stage. Highly recommended. The Facets transfer is thoroughly mediocre – i.e. well above average for Facets.

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Beau Travail (Claire Denis, 1999) – I’m guessing this will be the favourite Denis in this exercise, and though it’s a brilliant film, I can immediately think of five of her features I like better (J’ai pas sommeil, US Go Home, Nenette et Boni, Vendredi Soir, L’Intrus). But watching it again, damn! is this a work of genius. Everything is pitch perfect: the music, the stunning photography, the structure of the script, the performances. Denis has always sought out actors who are physically eloquent, as so much in her films is communicated on a non-verbal level, and boy does she hit the jackpot with Denis Lavant. Colin and Subor are superb as well, but Lavant is electric throughout, a tightly wound bundle of anxiety and energy. You think six films by a single director in a list of twenty-five is too many?

Nathalie Granger (Duras) REDUX – Went back to re-rewatch this because I thought my wife might enjoy it, and she did, but second time around, the central, off-centre, mystery (what is wrong with Nathalie?) had a lot more meat on its bones, and a tentative solution could be recovered. The film is extremely subtly constructed, so these are real spoilers if you want it to work its magic on you:
SpoilerShow
There’s a big – and unfortunately unsubtitled – clue that Nathalie’s violence is a recent change when Isabelle looks at her report cards and the first one reads, in total, “bonne élève” while the second begins “enfant très difficile. . .” There’s something almost as horrible about the blandness of that first report card. In Nathalie’s bedroom, there’s another clue in the form of her carefully scrawled note: “This is Nathalie’s. Don’t touch.”

The key to the mystery of what happened to Nathalie lies in the other big mystery in that house: what is the relationship between Isabelle Granger and the unnamed woman played by Jeanne Moreau? Duras doesn’t provide any explicit answer, but she rules out a number of possibilities. She’s not a maid, as she and Isabelle share all the domestic duties we see performed. She’s not a nanny, as she primarily cares for her own child, Laurence. She’s not a temporary houseguest, as she seems to be well settled in the home and has such domestic status that when Isabelle goes to the local school to discuss Nathalie’s behaviour, Moreau comes along as well, and is addressed as if she were a parent. Are they lovers? There’s no on-screen indication of affection between them, and Isabelle’s husband still lives in the house (he has breakfast with them at the beginning of the film). My best theory is that this is a very relaxed menage à trois, or some other unconventional cohabiting arrangement (too small to be a commune!)

The two women seem supremely at ease with one another, and with the domestic arrangement, but perhaps this is what has taken its toll on Nathalie, as it introduces into the family dynamic a contrasting family dynamic: Moreau’s much closer relationship with Laurence, as well as an element of competition.

Isabelle seems to have been a “bonne maman” in the same bland way as Nathalie had been a “bonne élève.” She is very concerned for her daughter’s well-being, provides for all her needs, but is somewhat distant compared to the other woman. Moreau’s character takes her daughter out onto the pond to help clear up the weeds; Nathalie is left to play in the woods on her own, seeking companionship (grabbing cats and trying to get them to stay in her pram). Moreau’s character sits quietly on a sofa with her daughter, stroking her hair; Nathalie is slumped alone in another room. Moreau’s character stays in the room while her daughter has her piano lesson; Isabelle watches pensively from outside the window. In a delicate, heartbreaking moment, Moreau tentatively strokes Nathalie’s hand as she sits next to her waiting for her lesson.

On the basis of the older school report, Nathalie seemed to have coped just fine with her family dynamic beforehand, but this new dynamic introduced into the home inspires jealousy (that bedroom note) and reveals a hitherto unsuspected lack. We are repeatedly told that music is Nathalie’s thing, her potential salvation, but we see in the piano lesson that Laurence is a much more advanced student (and hopefully we also notice that it is Nathalie’s minimalist plonking that provides the film’s sparse soundtrack). Nathalie is starved of attention, and is consequently acting out at school (and, as Isabelle tells the teacher, she seems unhappy at home). The thing is that the bond between Moreau’s character and Laurence is so strong that it also starves Nathalie of a potential friend and sibling: when Laurence returns from school, she spends time with her mother, not Nathalie, who is left to her own devices.

But it might not all be doom and gloom, with Isabelle at the end of the film possibly realizing that sending Nathalie away is the worst thing she could do, even if she hasn’t yet realized what she personally could be doing to resocialize her alienated daughter.
And while I’m at it, some additional realizations about Depardieu’s terrible, terrible washing machine salesman:
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Both times he enters the house, he does so illicitly, and quite possibly with sinister intentions. At the end of the film he confesses that he lost a previous job due to fraud, and when he re-enters the house he explicitly says that he did so thinking there was nobody there. He cases the house before he leaves, but doesn’t seem to steal anything (even though he leaves in quite a hurry), though that’s possibly down to there being a number of people scattered throughout the house he's surreptitiously exploring.

Thinking back to his first appearance, he bumbled into the living room explaining that the door was open. But we know it wasn’t. A few minutes earlier, another, unseen, salesperson had wandered in with the same excuse and was asked to leave, and we hear the door shut behind them. If the salesman job is just a front for criminal activity it explains why Moreau bluntly tells him “You’re not a salesman,” and helps account for his peculiar behaviour when he leaves the house for the first time (he tries a couple of doors, then returns to his van to drive off, but hesitates when he sees he’s still being watched from the house and heads up the street to make more ‘sales.')

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zedz
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Re: Women Directors List Discussion + Suggestions

#164 Post by zedz » Mon May 28, 2018 12:12 am

the preacher wrote:
Sat May 26, 2018 6:24 am
Just submitted my ballot and I'm not very happy with it... The next 25 titles are equally great!
I just tried to do a list and it was disastrous. I had to edge out a whole bunch of films I've been recommending after these rewatches, and I still have a big pile to work my way through.

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domino harvey
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Re: Women Directors List Discussion + Suggestions

#165 Post by domino harvey » Mon May 28, 2018 1:13 am

Loved (Erin Dignam 1997)
As always, whenever you stumble upon a film that you’ve never heard of even though it’s packed with stars, there’s a reason why it was buried. Robin Wright Penn is a tortured former swimmer who is subpoenaed while home on Christmas break to testify against her abusive ex, who has a history of inducing the women in his life to walk into traffic. As in, more than one woman of their own volition does this, including in the opening scene. Sure. This whole movie is one big “Sure,” as in the long, absurd courtroom scenes in which prosecutor William Hurt, sporting the back half of a little dutch boy haircut, subjects her to an extended therapy session which the defense attorney and judge are totally fine with. Suuuuure. Or how about the pre-credits sequence in which Sean Penn shows up (in an obvious favor to the production so they can use his name) as a mentally unbalanced man who anticipates ICP by rambling on about magnets? Or how the film’s dialog wildly vacillates between overwritten (“Are you over your arm? Are you over your leg? He’s my arm. He’s my leg. I don’t want to be over my arm. I don’t want to be over my leg.”— I went back to this cursed movie to transcribe this exactly because it belongs in a museum) and godawful actor improv wherein the filmmaker figured, “Hey, I’ve got a ton of Oscar winning and nominated actors on board, they can do this themselves!” In the film’s defense, it is oddly well-shot, so much so that if this were playing on a TV in the background at a bar, you’d be fooled into thinking this was a good movie if only you could hear it. Suuuuuuuuuuure.

Mustang (Deniz Gamze Ergüven 2015)

Five young sisters are confined to their house and gradually married away after small Turkish town gossips spread rumors of their promiscuity. This is pretty much the Virgin Suicides with a social conscience but precious little else. That film justified the unknowability of its protagonists by being told from without. This movie has no such excuse for its lack of characterization. There is no differentiation here other than what happens to the girls. Aside from than the smallest liking soccer and being the one who pushes back the hardest, the girls have no individual personalities, no hopes, desires, complaints, feelings, &c other than the immediate response to whatever their present situation is. The movie short shrifts the characters to instead devote time to hitting every overarching social problem talking point it can fit in— I mean, did we really need a molestation detour in the already overstuffed Woe Is Me narrative? If only this movie spent time forming a story with characters rather than a message with a story.

Oscar and Lucinda (Gillian Armstrong 1997)

Failed Oscar bait vehicle with Ralph Fiennes and a pre-Elizabeth Cate Blanchet as gambling soulmates who traverse a complicated generational story that bears every marker of once being a Long Important Novel. There are feints at exploring religion and its views on gambling, but a better film would focus on the novelty afforded by the story rather than slavish devotion to adapting a long novel. This is a handsomely-made film, entertaining and with reliable perfs from the top billed duo, but there’s still not much else here beyond disposable medicine cinema. As awards fodder goes, it’s better than most (especially in the 90s), but that’s a low bar indeed.

Respire (Mélanie Laurent 2014)

A successful film directed by a French actress— they do exist! Two young girls form a close friendship, with the wilder one leading the quieter one into mischief. Sounds pretty rote, and indeed despite effective perfs and glossy filmmaking, I was pretty skeptical of this for the first half. It seemed to be wandering towards familiar paths already cut by Fun or Fucking Åmål. But then the film reveals its true subject, which I won’t spoil, and I admired the fresher notes it began to sound. That admiration carries over to the finale, which I think expertly toys with the audience by leading us where we know this story inevitably must go, but playing at what we think we know about the characters:
SpoilerShow
How we know a violent act is coming, and yet when it looks like the tormentor will be inadvertently taken out by accident, Laurent’s film gives us the far more horrifying outcome of what happens when someone internalizes so much rage and anger and finally lets it pour out, especially once the hull has been breeched. The title then becomes quite cleverly cloaked in multiple meanings, and the end is sad and depressing, as it should be.
This was based on a YA novel, unread by me, but the fact didn’t surprise me to learn after watching. These kinds of books often tackle important topics like this for teens in much darker ways than many adults seem to realize. Recommended.

Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley 2013)

Sarah Polley interviews her family and friends in a portrait of her mother, a onetime Canadian stage actress. One of Polley’s sisters raises the obvious objection early and it’s not one the film ever quite manages to shake. Namely, who the fuck cares about the Polley family? Polley cloaks the ego inherent in this project by peeling back layers to the story as the film unfolds in a highly manipulative oral history. When the bombshells start to drop, I grew less interested, not more, as it became apparent Polley was fucking with the audience by intentionally withholding or misrepresenting certain key facts in order to score cheap meta points as the film rounds the corner to the finish. One late reveal (those who have seen the film know exactly what I’m talking about) upended nearly all of my nascent investment by coyly copping to a long ruse that was misrepresented for the length of the film solely to get cheap “ah ha”s at its discovery. The more I think of this film and its faux intelligent “playfulness,” the more I’m convinced it’s a sham that tries to excuse its unnecessary existence by raising questions it isn’t qualified to ask, much less answer.

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Re: Women Directors List Discussion + Suggestions

#166 Post by Kirkinson » Mon May 28, 2018 3:25 am

Not Wanted (1949) and Outrage (1950) — I don't have much to say about these that Satori didn't already cover in his great Ida Lupino write-up earlier in this thread, but I will say I was really surprised by how much I liked both of these. I watched The Hitchhiker several years ago because it was Lupino's most acclaimed film and the easiest one to get a hold of and didn't really like it at all (I've also seen The Trouble with Angels because it's one of my mom's childhood favorites) but I thought both of these films were really impressive, despite and occasionally because of how rough around the edges they are in places.

Wadjda (Haifaa Al-Mansour, 2012) — Entertaining enough, but it also feels pretty lightweight and a large portion of its interest comes from the novelty of its very existence. I was going to say it was interesting enough that I would definitely check out whatever this director did next, but then I checked online and discovered that her next film is the Elle Fanning Mary Shelley, which looks pretty disappointing. I'm still happy I watched this, at least.

The Heartbreak Kid (Elaine May, 1972) — I'm sorry to say I didn't like this at all, but I think that might be my fault. It's one of those cases where I fundamentally fail to understand on what level other people are engaging with it. It made me feel wretched from beginning to end. Less than ten minutes in I already loathed Charles Grodin's character so thoroughly I wanted to bail on the whole endeavor, and I can't honestly say I feel like I made the right choice in sticking with it. It was like the emotional equivalent of feeling like there were 1000 spiders crawling all over my body for 105 minutes. I will still try to watch either A New Leaf or Mikey and Nicky in the next few days, though.

The Girls (Mai Zetterling, 1968) and Loving Couples (Zetterling, 1964) — On the other hand, I adored both of these, and thought they were so clearly extraordinary that it's hard not to read sexism into their relatively low profile in film history. The Girls manages to be baldly and bleakly political but also incredibly fun, an irreverent mishmash of styles and techniques that all cohere somehow, and it's a riot to watch so much of Bergman's recurring cast let loose like this. Loving Couples is far more subdued in comparison, with a more measured and consistent style, but beneath the surface the same revolutionary spirit is bubbling. Its frankness about sexuality, gynecological horror, and queer relationships was all very surprising, and there's at least one moment toward the end that I'm pretty sure would still shock most audiences in 2018.

Araya (Margot Benacerraf, 1959) — Slow, impressionistic, keen-eyed, immersive, and frustratingly hard to write about. It's influenced a couple of the dreams I've had since I watched it, so I feel very affected by it, but not in ways I can easily describe.

Wayne's World (Penelope Spheeris, 1992) — This was a re-watch that only applied to this project by accident, but having not watched this since I was an adolescent (when I probably saw it around 20 times) I was surprised how well it held up. Back then I took all the juvenile humor at face value and my friends and I repeated it constantly in conversation. Looking back now, it seems much smarter, and the juvenile humor still works because Wayne and Garth enjoy it so much themselves — jokes that are not really funny become funny because of the way they react to them. It's definitely not getting anywhere near my list, but it was fun to revisit.

I Love Beijing (Ning Ying, 2000) — My favorite of the three Ning Ying films I've watched for this project, though it may also be the least distinctive of the three, as it seems to be mimicking Wong Kar-Wai for much of its run time (though it's entirely possible I just don't know Chinese-language cinema well enough to recognize common influences between the two directors). It's not remotely subtle about its comparison of the city's rapid changes (with many, many construction and demolition shots) and the mental and emotional isolation of its youth in the midst of a superficially thriving social scene, but it works really well and was probably the most emotionally effective of the three films for me.

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Re: Women Directors List Discussion + Suggestions

#167 Post by knives » Mon May 28, 2018 10:01 am

zedz wrote:
Sun May 27, 2018 9:59 pm
Beau Travail (Claire Denis, 1999) – I’m guessing this will be the favourite Denis in this exercise, and though it’s a brilliant film, I can immediately think of five of her features I like better (J’ai pas sommeil, US Go Home, Nenette et Boni, Vendredi Soir, L’Intrus). But watching it again, damn! is this a work of genius. Everything is pitch perfect: the music, the stunning photography, the structure of the script, the performances. Denis has always sought out actors who are physically eloquent, as so much in her films is communicated on a non-verbal level, and boy does she hit the jackpot with Denis Lavant. Colin and Subor are superb as well, but Lavant is electric throughout, a tightly wound bundle of anxiety and energy. You think six films by a single director in a list of twenty-five is too many?
Given what I just turned in for my '20s, and what I did with Rossellini in the biopic list, I'd say not. Then again I am perhaps too firmly in the Denis camp to be a fair judge.

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Re: Women Directors List Discussion + Suggestions

#168 Post by Michael Kerpan » Mon May 28, 2018 11:02 am

I seem to have liked Mustang a whole lot more than anyone else commenting here. :-(

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domino harvey
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Re: Women Directors List Discussion + Suggestions

#169 Post by domino harvey » Mon May 28, 2018 11:37 am

Kirkinson wrote:The Heartbreak Kid (Elaine May, 1972) — I'm sorry to say I didn't like this at all, but I think that might be my fault. It's one of those cases where I fundamentally fail to understand on what level other people are engaging with it. It made me feel wretched from beginning to end. Less than ten minutes in I already loathed Charles Grodin's character so thoroughly I wanted to bail on the whole endeavor, and I can't honestly say I feel like I made the right choice in sticking with it. It was like the emotional equivalent of feeling like there were 1000 spiders crawling all over my body for 105 minutes. I will still try to watch either A New Leaf or Mikey and Nicky in the next few days, though.
I think your reaction is on point, I just also think that's what makes it so good. It and later Modern Romance are the exemplars of cringe comedy, and the squirming in the seat is the point. Because both use this tactic to make larger points, they justify the discomfort. It probably also helps to have an interest in "dog catches car" narratives where the protagonist gets what they want only to discover all the thrill was in the chase. As for debating between A New Leaf or Mickey and Nicky, the former is a laugh out loud funny non-cringe comedy celebrating the hilarious excesses of Walter Matthau's fop, and the latter is a Cassvetes wannabe inexplicably loved by the same people who inexplicably love Cassavetes (and conveniently starring Cassavetes and Peter Falk)

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Re: Women Directors List Discussion + Suggestions

#170 Post by knives » Mon May 28, 2018 11:39 am

Though I don't like Cassavetes and do like it, so...

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domino harvey
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Re: Women Directors List Discussion + Suggestions

#171 Post by domino harvey » Mon May 28, 2018 11:43 am

I like it better than every Cassavetes film save Faces. But I still don't like it!

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Re: Women Directors List Discussion + Suggestions

#172 Post by domino harvey » Mon May 28, 2018 12:00 pm

I never saw the footage-free trailer for A New Leaf, but it's pretty funny too. Kind of interesting how some of the pairings haven't stood the recognition test of time in the interim ~50 years

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zedz
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Re: Women Directors List Discussion + Suggestions

#173 Post by zedz » Mon May 28, 2018 7:17 pm

Two more:

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Nenette et Boni (Claire Denis, 1996) - This has been my default favourite Denis film for more than twenty years now, and it still seems amazingly fresh and surprising. A lot of her other films do particular things better (Beau Travail is more visually stunning, L'Intrus is more hypnotic, 35 Rhums is more charming, Vendredi Soir is more immersive. . .) but I can't think of a film of hers that does as much as this one. It's funny, mysterious, brutal, grittily realistic, goofily surreal, erotic, harrowing - all in turn, sometimes all at once, but with no sense of tonal whiplash. Everyone here is at the top of their game (casting-wise, it's kind of an extension of the wonderful US Go Home, with Gregoire Colin and Alice Houri once again playing siblings, and Vincent Gallo once again playing the lost American) and the Tindersticks score (one of the key tonally stabilizing influences on the film) is to die for: you realise that this is the musical collaboration Denis had been striving for, and it's no surprise they'd go on to be a modern Hitchcock / Herrmann. The film is audaciously economical - the extremely significant secondary plot involving the siblings' father is completely outlined in four or five scattered minutes of screen time - and joyfully generous. The way the subplot of the baker's wife plays out is wonderfully unexpected: someone who would remain a punchline in most other films is fully fleshed out and even indulged with a giddily romantic flashback (scored to 'God Only Knows'). The couple also get the film's most privileged musical moment, the sublime 'Tiny Tears' sequence.

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Sweet Bean (Naomi Kawase, 2015) - This was more accomplished than The Mourning Forest, but I found it rather bland and sentimental, and I actually missed Kawase's pantheistic idiosyncrasies. Well-made, well-acted and entertaining, but nothing especially exciting about it. The most interesting thing was the way the premise melded two middlebrow drama staples (mystical foodie journey of discovery / terminal disease weepie) but once you realise that's what happening, the film plays out in a predictable fashion.

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domino harvey
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Re: Women Directors List Discussion + Suggestions

#174 Post by domino harvey » Mon May 28, 2018 10:30 pm

Nathalie Granger (Marguerite Duras 1972)

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Here are some detailed reasons why we think this is a great film

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zedz
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Re: Women Directors List Discussion + Suggestions

#175 Post by zedz » Mon May 28, 2018 10:52 pm

We are not salesmen.

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