I’m taking up the #52FilmsByWomen pledge this year, and I thought I would also write about these movies after I have watched them. It’s one thing watching 52 films directed by women, it’s an entirely other thing to try and process them.
Keep in mind that I am ordering these films based on viewing order, not based on an assessment of their quality.
So here are capsule write ups 1 to 5!
1) A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night:
A visually dazzling black and white movie. Slow burning, dripping with atmosphere with not much in the way of narrative. It feels more like a series of vignettes set in the fictional Bad City (A city that lives up to its name). Though allegedly set in Iran, it is shot in California, adding to the bizarre otherworldiness of the film.
The titular Girl initially comes off as a quasi-feminist figure, protecting the victimised women of Bad City from the men who exploit them. Her character is coloured by her continued insistence that she is a bad person as well as her killing of a harmless vagrant for no given reason.
Unfortunately I do not have the context to be able to talk about the films A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night pays homage to, but I can say it is a striking feature debut and I look forward to more.
2) Honey Moon:
An unsettling and effective low budget character driven horror movie. The film is at its best when it is operating as allegory. It gets great mileage out of exploring the uncertainty faced by people when their romantic partner no longer appears to be or act like the person they remember them to be early in the relationship. Highlights can be found in scenes where one of the characters is rehearsing and memorising details of their previous life, as if they were trying to continue putting up a facade of what attracted their partner to them in the first place.
Unfortunately, the movie does fall over when it starts relying on more conventional horror techniques, veering into body horror and gore in the last leg, and stretching the allegorical premise too far.
Still, a well shot, tightly paced character study that bodes well for the director’s future.
3) Kung Fu Panda 2:
This movie is gorgeous. It looks absolutely stunning, is popping with style and colour, and has some amazingly staged action sequences. It is not necessarily as snappily written as the first Kung Fu Panda film, but still ends up a surprisingly mature exploration of PTSD and processing trauma. When it fires on all cylinders, it is an amazing piece of pop entertainment. In particular, the stylistic decision to have traumatic flashbacks and night terrors rendered in 2D, while “normal” memories and real life are rendered in 3D allows for one particularly gorgeous sequence when the 2D slowly transitions into 3D. It is story telling through form and elevates the movie above some of the other 3D animated family movies I have seen in complexity and competence.
I am honestly quite surprised that it isn’t regarded as fondly as the first Kung Fu Panda, and that so many people read Po’s struggling to come to terms with his trauma as a dumb character failing to see the obvious truth in front of him.
4) I Believe In Unicorns:
This film is definitely as twee as the title suggests. That said I was surprised by how honest and emotionally raw it was. It is a coming of age teen romance, and the real strength of the movie, other than its stylistic boldness, is the aforementioned emotional honesty. It really feels voyeuristic at times; I felt like I was witness to things too personal to be seen by me.
It is shot on 16mm with fantasy sequences shot on super 8mm. The stylistic playfulness is interesting at first, starts to become grating after a while in its utter tweeness, then veers into a surprising and dark place when the real world narrative does as well. The fantasy sequences trade heavily in stereotypically girly imagery (unicorn toys, glitter, sparklers), and serve to chronicle the main character’s desire for escapism, and her dawning realisation that her real life relationship cannot serve the purpose she wants it to.
Her prince charming, an older skater boy, is her ticket away from her depressing life taking care of her disabled mother. They initially bond over absent fathers, go on an ill advised road trip, and then their individual neuroses start revealing darker, more troubling aspects of each others personalities. She prods and pokes at his emotional scars and insecurities, inviting conflict, and he in turn lashes out with barely controlled anger and violence. Their previous, clumsy, playful exploration of their sexuality becomes more violent and desperate as the film goes on. It is a chronicle of two kids trying to play at being adults without the skills or knowledge to navigate the world, let alone each other’s company.
At this point I have hit what is probably the most personal, and most overtly “female” coded of the movies I have set out to watch this year. While it is stretched too thin, even at a brisk 80 minutes, its emotional authenticity more than makes up for it. Another promising feature debut.
5) Live Nude Girls Unite
A documentary by Julia Query and Vicki Furani that offers a unique and at times very personal look behind the curtain as the employees of The Lusty Lady unionise and fight for safer work conditions.
A well crafted film that is playful, angry, sad, and hopeful. It was a wonder to see the hard won battle to form America’s first Union for sex workers inspire sex workers across the country to challenge abusive work practices.
Julia and Vicki do a good job of quickly laying the groundwork by explaining the terminology behind unionising, as well as the situations that sex workers at various establishments found themselves facing. This frees up time for the film to focus on its characters as they deal with every loss and victory on the path to establishing a union. Each woman’s individual life experiences and circumstances are covered, and in the film’s short running time, they are all fleshed out, underlying the film’s thesis that sex work is just work, and sex workers are employees that deserve to be treated with the same respect afforded to employees in other industries.
Tangentially, Live Nude Girls Unite explores Julia’s relationship with her mother, a doctor who has dedicated her career to aiding prostitutes to lead a safer life. She is an incredibly passionate woman who is doing huge amounts of good with her efforts. Both Julia and her mother are striving to improve the lives and conditions of women in the sex industry, however Julia was not out to her mother about being a sex worker herself. The film gets a lot of human drama out of this, and things come to a head as they both find themselves presenting at the same conference about sex work.
In chronicling the struggles of the employees of the Lusty Lady, as well as the relationship between Julia and her mother, Live Nude Girls Unite explores the complexities of the sex industry, the women who choose to work in it, and feminism’s differing opinions of sex work and sex workers.
So that ends the first 5 capsules of my series. I am still sitting at 49 films on my list (and one of them is an anthology of 26 shorts, with only two of the shorts directed by women). In order to sample a wider range of voices, I have decided to hold myself to watching one film per director. That I am having difficulty identifying films directed by women, or finding a way to watch them legally with the limits placed on travelling to the far reaches of Sydney by my current living situation is something that frustrates and upsets me.
It is most definitely an unfortunate combination of my own inability to work up the effort and the limited market penetration of films directed by women, and had I the psychic fortitude to hunt these movies down, or the funds for that matter, I would have an easier time of hitting the 52 mark.