Tag Archives: Celine Sciamma

New Shows + Movies by Women — February 18, 2022

It’s funny when weeks take on themes. The week after Valentine’s Day is apparently the time for TV shows about affairs and breakups. Everyone all right out there? I’ve got to look at past years and see if this is a regular occurrence, or just a coincidence this week.

It’s also a time for horror movies, and this is something I know is pretty common to February. Composed of mid-budget and low-budget films, horror likes to lurk where event movies don’t. Superhero and action films are waiting for those prime summer dates, so they aren’t sucking up all the audience right now. That provides an opportunity for films that lack the marketing budget to compete – and these days, that typically means horror, which has found a lot of success in these off-peak months.

I’ll also point out that a new Celine Sciamma film drops this week. It doesn’t fall into either of those categories, but as the filmmaker behind “Portrait of a Lady on Fire”, “Girlhood”, and “Tomboy”, Sciamma has a strong argument as the best director working today.

Netflix has a number of short films debuting by both women and men this week. This includes Ashley Eakin’s directorial project “Forgive Us Our Trespasses”, a 13 minute short about a disabled boy who must escape Germany’s Aktion T4 program during Nazi rule. The program of forced euthanasia resulted in the murder of 300,000 disabled people in Austria, Germany, occupied Poland, and parts of what is now the Czech Republic, often with the aid of regional Catholic and Protestant authorities.

Marielle Woods directs Netflix short “Heart Shot”, a 19 minute film about two teenagers in love, but facing an unspoken danger. Woods has worked on stunts for “John Wick: Chapter 2”, “Baby Driver”, “Bright”, and stunt coordinated on “Westworld”.

New projects this week come from Australia, Brazil, France, Japan, Sweden, the U.K., and the U.S.

NEW SERIES

Aftertaste (Acorn TV)
showrunner Julie De Fina

Easton West is a celebrity chef with anger issues who burns all his bridges and has to retreat to his hometown in Adelaide, Australia. There, he takes on starting a new, more humble restaurant with an unexpected partner.

Julie De Fina created the show with Matthew Bate and showruns and writes on it.

You can watch “Aftertaste” on Acorn TV. All six episodes are available immediately.

Lov3 (Amazon)
half directed by Mariana Youssef

In this Brazilian series, three siblings navigate dating by pursuing unconventional relationships in the wake of their parents’ separation. There’s no English trailer available, but the series itself does have English options.

Mariana Youssef directs three of the six episodes. It’s her first time directing on a series; she’s previously worked on documentaries and short films. “Lov3” was co-created by Rita Moraes.

You can watch “Lov3” on Amazon. All six episodes are available immediately.

Fishbowl Wives (Netflix)
half directed by Namiki Michiko

Sakura Hiraga lives a glamorous life of luxury that hides her husband’s abusive behavior from others. Unable to leave, she makes a connection with another man that reminds her of the dreams she’s given up. She’s just one of six women who pursue affairs in the Japanese series “Fishbowl Wives”.

Namiki Michiko directs at least four of the eight episodes. She’s directed a number of Japanese films and series, including the modernized 2019 adaptation of “Les Miserables”.

You can watch “Fishbowl Wives” on Netflix. All eight episodes are available immediately.

NEW MOVIES

Petite Maman (MUBI)
directed by Celine Sciamma

Nelly is a girl who’s lost her grandmother. She goes on a trip to help her parents clean out her grandmother’s home. Exploring the forest there, she meets another girl building a treehouse. The French film is told from a child’s perspective.

Writer-director Celine Sciamma is the first name that comes to mind when you ask me about the best director working today. She directed “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” and my #3 pick for best films of the 2010s, “Girlhood”.

You can watch “Petite Maman” on MUBI.

A Banquet (VOD)
directed by Ruth Paxton

Sienna Guillory plays Holly, a widowed mother who tries to cope with her daughter Betsey declaring her body now belongs to a higher power. Betsey refuses to eat, but doesn’t suffer or lose weight, and Holly is forced to contend with who or what this higher power may be.

Ruth Paxton started as a production designer and art director, and has written and directed several shorts that interpret painting and dance. This is her feature-length debut.

See where to rent “A Banquet”.

CW: imagery of suicide

Knocking (Shudder, VOD)
directed by Frida Kempff

After undergoing a trauma and a stay in a psychiatric ward, Molly moves into a new apartment. Yet she keeps hearing knocking. She can’t sleep or live a normal life, and no one else hears it or believes her. “Knocking” is adapted by Emma Brostrom from the novel by Johan Theorin.

Frida Kempff is a Swedish director who’s primarily helmed documentaries before this. “Knocking” is her first narrative feature.

You can watch “Knocking” on Shudder, or see where to rent it.

Horror Noire (AMC+)
co-directed by Zandashe Brown, Robin Givens

This anthology film presents six horror stories from Black directors and screenwriters. Tony Todd, Peter Stormare, and Lesley-Ann Brandt star.

Zandashe Brown is a relatively new director. Robin Givens is known for her acting career, which has ranged from “Head of the Class” to “Riverdale”. This is her third feature as director, and she’s helmed some episodes on “Riverdale”.

You can watch “Horror Noire” on AMC+.

The Space Between (Hulu, Paramount+)
directed by Rachel Winter

Kelsey Grammar plays an eccentric rock musician who’s losing track of reality. He has to contend with the people his label sends to force him out of his contract, but may be on the verge of rediscovering his music.

Rachel Winter has produced on films like “Dallas Buyers Club” and “Krystal”. This is her first feature as director.

You can watch “The Space Between” on Hulu or Paramount+.

Flee the Light (VOD)
directed by Alexandra Senza

A psychology student accidentally releases an ancient supernatural force when she tries to cure her sister’s psychosis.

This is the first feature directed by Alexandra Senza.

You can rent “Flee the Light” on iTunes or Vudu.

Take a look at new shows + movies by women from past weeks.

If you enjoy what you read on this site, subscribe to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to continue writing articles like this one.

New Movies by Women — March 27, 2020

There’s an incredible number of new films and shows by women, so I’ll skip the preamble. Let’s just dive in:

NEW RELEASES

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Hulu)
directed by Celine Sciamma

“Portrait of a Lady on Fire” did get a limited theatrical release, but coronavirus has scrambled what a lot of these categories (new vs. recent release) mean. It was still expanding in theaters when the pandemic started shutting them down, and it’s a film from arguably the world’s best active director, so it’s going up top.

Celine Sciamma delivers masterpieces. There’s no other way of putting it. I highlighted her film “Girlhood” as my third best film of the 2010s. Her films often address characters who are non-binary or gender-fluid. She’s a director who can deftly fold touches of magical realism into scenes in ways that feel so real and natural we don’t even think to question what just happened.

Her films have heightened senses, storytelling patience, and themes that constantly show themselves rather than being told to you.

Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution (Netflix documentary)
c
o-directed by James Lebrecht and Nicole Newnham

Camp Jened was a summer camp for teens with disabilities. Many who attended the camp later took part in the disability rights movement that revolutionized accessibility laws. For many, the camp offered a space where everyone saw them as people. Society was essentially legislated to discourage this. When those who attended the camp returned, they didn’t shrink from the moment. They saw a need to change that legislation rather than fit back into it.

For films that are co-directed by women, I’ve been including their names in describing the film and not really worrying about the men. That is, after all, what this feature is about. James LeBrecht is a lifelong disability activist who’s fought for his own and others’ rights as someone with spina bifida. Representation matters and a core part of why I’m writing this is that people telling their stories through their perspective – and widening our own – matters. It seems unthinkable in this case to not include his name as well, and to do so in the order prescribed by the film.

“Crip Camp” is Lebrecht’s directorial debut. He’s worked for the past 30 years as a sound editor and mixer, often on PBS and independent documentaries. Nicole Newnham has been nominated for five Emmy Awards and won one on her documentary work. “Crip Camp” was the winner of the Documentary Audience Award at Sundance this year.

Clemency (digital rental)
directed by Chinonye Chukwu

“Clemency” won director Chinonye Chukwu the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. She was the first Black woman director to win it. It earned her film an extremely limited expansion into theaters in January, competing with almost no advertising against other Oscar hopefuls that had studio-backed awards campaigns. Needless to say, it disappeared. No one knew about it.

In the film, Alfre Woodard plays a prison warden wrestling over the execution of one more inmate. The film itself seems to examine the social and racial implications of what she does, while allowing Woodard the room to play a character losing her own humanity.

“Clemency” is available for rental through Amazon, GooglePlay, Vudu, and YouTube.

Birds of Prey (digital purchase)
directed by Cathy Yan

I’ve pretty solidly raved about “Birds of Prey” since it came out. The super-antihero story follows Batman villain Harley Quinn, but that doesn’t begin to describe it. “Birds of Prey” is easily the best film in the DC Extended Universe, and it stands toe-to-toe with the very best of Marvel. When I compiled a collection of criticism from women on the film, I wrote:

“This is a film with a generationally good action-comedy performance in Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn. It has award-worthy design. The direction is wildly assured and draws from a shockingly large range of influences to create something unique and precise. Its scenes are often thickly layered with dueling perspectives even as Quinn’s own storytelling drives the plot. It’s subversive in a blunt, forward, and challenging way that’s needed.”

“Birds of Prey” is a movie I fully expect to include when talking about the best films, performances, and design at the end of the year. You can check out my spoiler-free review for “Birds of Prey” as well.

Currently, you can only buy the film digitally. The price will be $20 for the next two weeks until it becomes rentable (and it’ll probably be top of this run-down when that happens.) You can purchase it through Amazon, Comcast, Google Play, Vudu, or YouTube.

Unorthodox (Netflix miniseries)
directed by Maria Schrader

This four-episode series follows a Jewish woman who escapes an arranged marriage and her Orthodox lifestyle in Brooklyn. It’s based on the autobiography of Deborah Feldman, “Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots”. The show is told in multiple languages (with subtitles, of course), switching between English, Yiddish, and German.

Showrunner and director Maria Schrader started as an actress in Germany and shifted over to writing in the late 80s and directing starting in the late 90s. Between the German Film Critics Association and the German Film Awards, she’s been nominated as all three – actress, writer, and director.

Cunningham (digital rental documentary)
directed by Alla Kovgan

Merce Cunningham was a dancer and choreographer who changed the face of dance. He was known for a guarded artistic philosophy that entrusted interpretation to his audience. He worked with an unending number of avant garde and experimental musicians – perhaps most notably John Cage. The two were also lifelong romantic partners.

Cunningham had no single focus, but what might be most striking was his use of space. Dancers weren’t foregrounded, and his pieces often challenged the idea of a central performer. He removed focal points, encouraging the audience to choose where to look among multiple performers and to have various, sometimes disagreeing, perspectives. He pursued elements of the random in his work. True to his priorities, Alla Kovgan’s documentary of him seems more focused on Cunningham’s dance and choreography than it is on his own story.

Kovgan herself is a fascinating documentary director. She’s pursued stories of dance and music around the world. She’s been particularly focused on how myth survives cultural upheavals through art, and how that art enables an endurance through those upheavals. Her lens tends to focus on dance, but speaks to all art and what it provides us in terms of perseverance and persistence.

“Cunningham” is currently available for rent through Comcast, Google Play, Vudu, and YouTube. Vudu is the least expensive at a $4 rental.

Shooting the Mafia (digital rental documentary)
directed by Kim Longinotto

CW: images of murder victims

Letizia Battaglia is a testament to the power of journalism. The photographer worked for L’Ora, a newspaper in Palermo that covered a brutal and bloody Mafia war that spilled into the streets. The result victimized and traumatized the residents, and Battaglia was there to record every moment of it despite the risk to her life. Her work was instrumental in the popular uprising against the violence that followed, and her photographic records contributed to the prosecution of seven-time Italian prime minister Giulio Andreotti. While that prosecution failed, the information it revealed contributed to a change in national politics.

Director Kim Longinotto is a British documentary filmmaker whose verite-centered approach often examines the blending of personal lives into larger, more socially encompassing stands. “Salma” follows a Muslim woman who smuggled poetry to the world while imprisoned by her family. “Divorce Iranian Style” follows three couples in Iran who navigate religious law in a court system, and pays particular attention to how differently women are treated from men. “Shinjuku Boys” follows the lives of three transgender men in 1990s Japan. “Dreamcatcher” explores women leaving the Chicago sex industry.

“Shooting the Mafia” is available to rent from Google Play and YouTube.

There’s Something in the Water (Netflix documentary)
co-directed by Ellen Page

Actress Ellen Page has been increasingly involved on the production side of filmmaking. “There’s Something in the Water” is her directorial debut. The film focuses on environmental racism in Canada and its impact on marginalized communities.

The documentary examines elevated rates of illness in Black Canadian and First Nations communities in Nova Scotia. Contaminated water there has been connected to elevated cancer rates in these communities, and water pollution impacts the health, economy, and quality of life for the Mi’kmaw. Various levels of the Canadian government have been slow to address or even recognize the situation.

Tape (digital rental)
directed by Deborah Kampmeier

“Tape” is a low-budget drama centered around the abusive power dynamic between an aspiring actress and the man who tells her he can make her into a star. There’s very little information on it, and early reviews are divisive – and perhaps not the way you’d expect. Several male reviewers have praised it as being a rallying cry for women against harassment, while women reviewers have given it its most negative reviews. The L.A. Times review by Kimber Myers calls it “disingenuous” and “clumsy”, and Jeannette Catsoulis of the New York Times criticizes the environment of harassment Kampmeier creates as “cliched”.

Catsoulis also calls to mind one of Kampmeier’s previous films in questioning the director’s portrayals of sexual abuse in “Tape”. Kampmeier directed “Hounddog”, a 2007 movie that included a rape scene of a character played by then-13 year old Dakota Fanning. The specific criticism centered not in a topic like that being portrayed, but instead on whether the way it was portrayed was exploitative. Similar criticisms seem to be meeting the subjects being engaged in “Tape”.

It’s not mine to make a judgment on as I haven’t seen either film. I do think it’s important in this case to convey what women film critics are saying in relation to “Tape”.

RECENT RELEASES

Blow the Man Down (Amazon Prime)
directed by Bridget Savage Cole, Danielle Krudy

“Blow the Man Down” looks like the kind of dark, quirky independent film I love. In a strange way, trailers and films like this bring me back to the best indie filmmaking of the 00s. There’s not a lot of information out about “Blow the Man Down” yet, but it boasts a quietly impressive cast that includes Margo Martindale (“Justified”), Annette O’Toole (“Smallville”), and Gayle Rankin (“GLOW”).

Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker (Netflix limited series)
directed by DeMane Davis and Kasi Lemmons

We learn all about the Rockefellers and Carnegies in school. We’re taught they built this country up, and this perspective reinforces ideas of capitalism and millionaires having our backs that just aren’t true. It also overlooks the countless people of color who did so much of the actual building.

There aren’t enough celebratory movies about the creativity, ambition, and success of Black people. There’s just as long and impressive a history, but our culture doesn’t value it. That in turn teaches us not to value it. I’m looking forward to this 4-episode limited series because these stories need to be told. Octavia Spencer stars as Madam C.J. Walker and frankly, I have no idea how she’s still so underrated at this point in her career. Tiffany Haddish and Carmen Ejogo join her. The film’s based on the biography of Walker written by A’Lelia Bundles.

Emma. (digital rental)
directed by Autumn de Wilde

Universal is making their new films available to rent digitally because of the coronavirus pandemic. This includes Amazon Video (as a separate rental, not included with the price of Amazon’s streaming service), iTunes, and Vudu, among others.

From my review for “Emma”: “The design in ‘Emma’ is a living, breathing thing. It’s constantly guiding the audience through the film. It doesn’t just accentuate the comedy, it often causes it. It subverts the characters even as they admire it. It undermines when it needs to and it gives support when no other element of the story – least of all its characters – will. This isn’t just a film that’s a successful exercise in design (not that there’s anything wrong with that). This is a film that tells a story through the participation of its design. The design isn’t only accentuating or shaping a moment, it’s not only elevating a mood, it’s not only there to elicit emotional reactions. It’s here to tell the story itself. That’s what makes ‘Emma’ so good and so unique.”

At $20 for a 48-hour rental, this is expensive if you’re living on your own. At the equivalent of two movie tickets, though, it makes some sense as the price for a new film that would’ve otherwise stayed solely in its theatrical run for weeks.

Feel Good (Netflix series)
showrunner Ally Pankiw

Charlotte Ritchie is the kind of actor who can make you a fan in one sitting. In my case, she acted as the core of a “Doctor Who” New Years episode called “Resolution”. Sometimes it’s lightning in a bottle and you never hear from that actor again. Sometimes, they turn up unexpectedly in something you’re already looking forward to.

Why was I already looking forward to this? Showrunner and director Ally Pankiw. She’s been an up-and-coming voice in music videos. Check out CYN’s “Holy Roller” to see the amount of visual confidence she brings as a director.

The core of the series is co-writer and lead Mae Martin, who is the voice in this that I know the least about. She’s had a good deal of success in Britain and has won two Canadian Screen Awards (the equivalent of Emmies in the U.S.) for writing on the “Baroness von Sketch Show”.

Little Fires Everywhere (Hulu miniseries)
showrunner Liz Tigelaar

This show is based on Celeste Ng’s novel of the same name. I don’t normally go in for big long lists of names but bear with me a moment. The script is adapted by Liz Tigelaar, who also acts as showrunner. Raamla Mohamed and Nancy Won also contribute episodes. It’s executive produced by Tigelaar, star Reese Witherspoon, star Kerry Washington, Lauren Neustadter, Pilar Savone, and Lynn Shelton – who also directs multiple episodes. In other words, the project is completely run by women.

It’s hard to get a grasp on exactly what the series will be like – how far it will shift between drama and melodrama, but the amount of talent from novel to crew to cast is considerable.

Frozen II (Disney+)
co-directed by Jennifer Lee

This was made available early, on Sunday, March 15. Disney collapsed the usual period between theatrical and home release because of coronavirus. It’s a boon for families who are learning how to navigate the social distancing that requires everyone stay home. It’s easy to start feeling underfoot of each other. The “Frozen” franchise is luckily one of those that children and adults can enjoy without rolling their eyes at the other one.

Lost Girls (Netflix)
directed by Liz Garbus

You may not have heard of Liz Garbus, but she’s been nominated for two Oscars as a director. This was for documentary films. “The Farm: Angola, USA” documented life in Louisiana State Penitentiary, a maximum-security prison. The second was “What Happened, Miss Simone?” It addressed the civil rights activism of singer Nina Simone. She also directed “Bobby Fischer Against the World” for HBO.

You may know some of her other films better. She executive produced “Street Fight”, about Cory Booker’s 2002 campaign for mayor of Newark, as well as “Ghosts of Abu Ghraib”, which discussed the torture of prisoners and human rights violations conducted by U.S. Army and C.I.A. personnel at Abu Ghraib. Her list of documentaries both directed and produced makes her one of the most important filmmakers you probably haven’t heard about.

“Lost Girls” isn’t a documentary, but it is based on real events. That claim often gives me pause, as films tend to use this term to mislead and exaggerate more than present those real events. Such events aren’t always treated with respect. I do have hope that one of the most important documentary filmmakers we have can translate the story in an accurate manner.

Agatha Christie’s The Pale Horse (Amazon Prime)
directed by Leonora Lonsdale

This is a two-part miniseries based on an Agatha Christie novel. It’s already aired in the UK, and received considerable praise. It’s one of those storytelling triumvirates which is rare in the film industry – a screenplay by a woman (Sarah Phelps), based off a woman’s novel, directed by a woman. This shouldn’t be notable – men are enabled to do it this way all the time – and yet it’s still seen seldom enough that it’s worth noting when it happens. The series itself looks stylish, moody, and tremendously well cast.

Sitara: Let Girls Dream (Netflix)
directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy

I’d also like to mention this short animated film out of Pakistan. It centers on two girls who one day hope to become pilots. To say much more would be to disrupt or ruin the film’s message. It’s only 15 minutes, and it’s well worth watching.

A FEW NOTES

This section will be for older films and films that got a full release that are now available for home viewing.

“Little Women” is Greta Gerwig’s 2019 adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s novel. It was nominated for six Oscars, including best film, screenplay, music, lead actress (Saoirse Ronan), and supporting actress (Florence Pugh). It won for costume design. Many felt Gerwig was in particular overlooked for best director.

“Little Women” is still at a purchase price point from Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, and YouTube. Vudu appears to be the least expensive at $13.

“A Wrinkle in Time” (2018) is already rentable from other services, but it’s become available at no extra cost to Disney+ subscribers. Director Ava DuVernay followed up her searing civil rights history “Selma” with this adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 sci-fi novel.

“Brown Girl Begins” (2017) is directed by Sharon Lewis and is now available on Hulu. It’s an Afrofuturist film that serves as a prequel to author Nalo Hopkinson’s novel “Brown Girl in the Ring”.

New Films by Women — March 6, 2020

From film critics and students to regular moviegoers, a lot of people I know are actively seeking films directed by women. While there are great historical compilations and year-end articles, I can’t find anything highlighting these films on a more regular basis. These movies rarely get the same platforms and advertising that films by men do. Even with a number of event movies directed by women this year, the majority are still being directed by men. An indie film or low-budget movie by a man is still more likely to see a wide release or awards campaign that lets the audience know it exists.

This feature is meant to be useful in a practical way – to help people choose what they want to see. That means it’ll cover what’s new and what’s still in theaters (based on U.S. release dates). Newer and expanding releases will be at the top.

I’m also aware of the impact of coronavirus. In the coming weeks and months, we might not want to head to theaters as often as we have. I’ve listed new and recent original titles on streaming services that are directed by women as well.

NEW AND EXPANDING

Emma.
directed by Autumn de Wilde

Director Autumn de Wilde has been a chameleon of a music video director for the last two decades. She’ll film in complicated sets and hard-to-use locations in ways that characters move through naturally. There’s an incredible amount of technical bravado in her music videos, which she hides smoothly so the performances in them can take center stage. Her most striking and sobering work is Florence + The Machine’s “Big God”.

She has a wicked sense of humor that’s well suited to a Jane Austen adaptation. She finds visual ways to quickly undermine or support characters. A tea party in a lake in King Charles’s “Mississippi Isabel” communicates the un-reliability of the singer’s narrative. On the other hand, consider how Sarah Silverman introduces a 1970s variety show version of Jenny Lewis performing “Rise Up with Fists!!” It mirrors how Lewis presents subversion and anger within a beguilingly traditional musical style.

Bringing these sensibilities to an adaptation of “Emma” is exciting. Watch the trailer and it looks exquisitely designed, but the characters all move through it naturally. This is a director I’ve wanted to see put up a feature for a long time.

“Emma.” has been in limited release for two weeks now, but is expanding into theaters on a larger scale this weekend.

First Cow
directed by Kelly Reichardt

If you know Kelly Reichardt’s name, it’s from character dramas that feel quietly real. They can be both affirming and heartbreaking. Her best known film is “Wendy and Lucy”, about a woman who’s living in poverty and loses her dog.

“First Cow” is about a cook and a Chinese immigrant in the 1800s. They start a business with a cow whose milk they don’t own.

Some directors can present entire worlds with all their loudness and complexity. Reichardt is a director who finds in quietness the world inside a character – worlds we may never know because we overlook the types of people her stories are about. Witnessing their daily lives communicates what should be an obvious humanity that we otherwise pass by and ignore in real life.

She’s often shown a fascination with frontiers, harsh living, the dreams and determination of people who live on the edge. She doesn’t glorify poverty, though. She just remembers the people who are often numbers and causes are still people – something movies are not usually terribly good at doing.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire
directed by Celine Sciamma

Celine Sciamma delivers masterpieces. There’s no other way of putting it. I highlighted her film “Girlhood” as my third best film of the 2010s. Her films often address characters who are non-binary or gender-fluid. She’s a director who can deftly fold touches of magical realism into scenes in ways that feel so real and natural we don’t even think to question what just happened.

Her films seem to have heightened senses, storytelling patience, themes that constantly show themselves rather than being told to you. She delivers masterpieces, and there’s a strong argument she’s the best director working right now.

“Portrait of a Lady on Fire” is essentially in limited release, but was still expanding into more theaters last weekend. It should still be in a number of independent and art house theaters.

Guilty (Netflix)
directed by Ruchi Narain

This is an Indian film by director Ruchi Narain. A songwriter’s boyfriend is accused of rape and what follows plays out both on a personal level and in the media. It’s a bit difficult to get as much information about the film as I’d like, but it’s supposed to look into aspects of victim-blaming. It’s advertised along the lines of a thriller over whether the accusation is real or not. That gives me some pause. I don’t know how it intends to handle an accusation like this. I’m wary of the potential of a twist that might undermine belief in the victim, though this worry could be unfounded just because of the “thriller” nature of how it’s being advertised.

Knives and Skin (Hulu)
directed by Jennifer Reeder

This is one of the stranger ones on here. At first it seems it’s straight out of the vaporwave horror movement. The trailer reminds me quite a lot of “Lost River”, which most critics panned and I loved. It’s also reminiscent of “It Follows” and “Donnie Darko”. That may be the trailer trying to capitalize on those connections, but it’s hard to tell if the satirical throughline is more openly comedic than in those movies. All these films take place in a heightened sense of a satirized reality, but they still take themselves seriously enough to be tense and frightening – and films like this usually don’t get the kinds of theatrical pushes they deserve.

RECENT RELEASES

Birds of Prey
directed by Cathy Yan

I’ve written extensively on what I think is the best superhero movie we’ve had out of the various ongoing extended universes. The film about villain/anti-hero Harley Quinn is subversive, colorful, and forthright. Director Cathy Yan gives us some of the most creative set designs and fight scenes in the genre, while Margot Robbie delivers a generationally great action-comedy performance.

If you want to know a bit more, read my review. If you’ve seen the film, read these articles that examine its influences and the backstory of its director and producer.

The Photograph
directed by Stella Meghie

I don’t know much about director Stella Meghie. She comes over from production and TV direction. “The Photograph” is a romantic drama that wraps two love stories together – one in the present and one in the past. A woman estranged from her famous mother learns of her death. She begins to learn about her mother’s life, while also falling for the journalist investigating it.

System Crasher (Netflix)
directed by Nora Fingscheidt

This is a German drama about a nine year-old girl who needs mental health issues addressed before returning to her mother. It was Germany’s entry for the Oscars under Best International Feature Film (previously the award was called Best Foreign Language Film). It earned nominations in the European Film Awards under Best Film, Best Actress, and the University Award (an award voted on by students).

The Assistant
directed by Kitty Green

“The Assistant” is director Kitty Green’s debut. It follows an assistant as she grows ever more aware of her boss’s sexual abuses. It’s only been in limited release in a few hundred theaters, and that number seems to be diminishing. If you can find an indie theater presenting it, I’ve heard that it’s a fairly harrowing and realistic take. It’s probably one of the last weekends you’ll be able to see it on the big screen.

Little Women
directed by Greta Gerwig

The most recent adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s novel was nominated for six Oscars, including best film, screenplay, music, lead actres (Saoirse Ronan), and supporting actress (Florence Pugh). It won for costume design. Many felt Gerwig was in particular overlooked under best director. It’s still in many theaters if you want to catch it there.

Frozen II
co-directed by Jennifer Lee

The juggernaut that is the “Frozen” franchise continues. This was released in November last year and it’s still in a number of theaters. The franchise is luckily one of those things that children and adults can enjoy without rolling their eyes at the other one.

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“Girlhood” — Best Films of 2015, Runner-Up

by Gabriel Valdez

“Girlhood” opens with a football game. Despite being a French-language film, it’s American football, not soccer. Both teams are composed entirely of women. It makes no sense within the context of the film’s story. It doesn’t seem that a disadvantaged school in France would feature a women’s football program. What’s really going on?

“Girlhood” doesn’t care about your expectations, that’s what’s going on. The film, about four young women growing up, cares about its characters and it will fiercely defend them. In a movie that feels as remarkably real as this, if a football game suddenly needs to happen, or the lights go out upon a first kiss, it doesn’t matter that it’s not real. It’s real to the characters. What’s remarkable about “Girlhood” is how protective director Celine Sciamma is of their experiences.

Everything in “Girlhood” is real, until a particular feeling requires that it stop being real. What else is more accurate to the world of a child? These moments may only happen a handful of times in “Girlhood,” and they are usually understated, but they are special.

“Girlhood” is a film about safe harbor – the lack of it at home, the ways we learn to stand up for ourselves and others, the moments we step into our lives utterly alone and scared because of it, how we learn to create our own safety amid the worst of life. It presents moments where fantasy doesn’t always take place, but characters somehow always strive for fantastic ideals anyway. Sometimes they do so blindly.

After that football game, we see the group of high school-aged women walk home at night. They split into groups, fewer and fewer as they each get closer to home. Bands of men wait for them, to leer, to harass. At first, the women talk so much you can’t make out a word…but when they near the men, they all fall silent. It seems a simple thing, but Sciamma handles it with a deft hand. It’s the silence and its nature that feel overwhelming. In the face of it, hearing so much you can’t keep track becomes a comfort.

The strength of “Girlhood” is that it’s a coming-of-age film that feels experiential. It puts you in every moment, lets you inhabit it alongside its characters. The moments in between major events mean as much as the moments when something crucial is happening; they reveal how a character understands and fits into her world.

The French title of “Girlhood” is more accurately translated as “band of girls.” It may’ve been translated the way it is to take advantage of the similarity to last year’s critical favorite “Boyhood.”

I had a problem with “Boyhood” that Alessia Palanti stated better than I knew how. She wrote in her review, “After so many years the final result is dotted with formulaic plot points, cliches, a number of feel-good heteronormative Americana stereotypes, and an uninteresting family…I can see why it would capture an audience’s attention, and how its middle class, familiar, life scenarios could forge mutual understanding between film and viewer. But is this what boyhood really is? And if so, should we really be so celebratory?”

The problem with “Boyhood” wasn’t just cultural. It was the nature of it. It was nostalgic, not experiential. It didn’t feel like life as it was lived, but rather life as it was remembered. “Girlhood” feels like life as it’s lived, and it mixes in the greater fears and hopes of everyday living because of it. This is my runner-up for film of the year.

Girlhood poster

Images are from Variety and PSU.