By Barbara Kryvko
The field of women directors is been growing by leaps and bounds. From big studio blockbusters to quirky independent movies, these filmmakers really shine when they are exposing the lives of women from various societal situations who are coming into their own.
One Sings, the Other Doesn’t (French: L'une chante, l'autre pas) is an amazing musical trip into the heart of its director, Agnès Varda. The lovely and quirky strains of feminist folk music drift in and out of the film through the lead singer of the group Orchidée, Pomme. Varda uses Pomme and her neighbor Suzanne to fight her own war - the war for women’s rights in France. Pomme helps Suzanne secure an abortion in 1962. This incident bonds unlikely friends, and when the action picks up fourteen years later when both women are heavily involved in the women’s rights movement.
As if that wasn’t enough to make a strong movie on the plight of women in the mid-20th century, Varda takes Pomme to Iran with her boyfriend, into a very different culture for her and all of the women whose paths she crosses. This extrapolation of Varda’s political interests could easily dive into hopelessness, but the music is so good that you’ll be humming feminist tunes all week.
Directed by Iranian film director Marzieh Meshkini, consists of three vignettes each depicting women at different stages of their life. All three women are shaped by what society expects of them, and they handle it in various ways. Hava is nine years old, and becomes a woman with a new set of expectations for dress, socialization, and obedience. Ahoo is a young married woman who loves cycling – not a hobby that her husband and her family encourage. Hoora is an elderly widow who receives a large inheritance and goes on a shopping spree. This film is a poignant peek into what it means to be a woman in Iran, exposing similarities to how women feel growing up in Western countries.
This coming-of-age film turns the tables on the typical film of this type. Brandy is having a painful start to the summer after high school, culminating in rejection by her long-time crush. Her sexual to-do list and the encounters and hilarity that ensue are reminiscent of such teen comedies as Porky’s or American Pie, but instead of being revered for her exploits, she has much more devastating reactions from various social groups. This is a pointed commentary on the double standard that young women face, but with a comedic edge.
Winner of the Cannes Jury Prize, this thriller explores the world of surveillance television, and how it is used as a tool for one woman’s elaborate revenge plot. Jackie is an isolationist, living alone in a downtrodden area of Glasgow. Ironically, she works as a surveillance camera operator, which allows her to peek in on everyone else’s lives. During one of her sessions, she spots someone from her past that ignites some very dark feelings. Red Road is a slide down into the psychological world of revenge, playing into fears of modern technology.
Now a popular Broadway musical, Waitress is more than a cheery comedy full of catchy tunes. Keri Russell portrays Jenna, whose abusive husband keeps her from doing anything at all, except working in a diner. Her creative pie-baking skills are all she has, until she becomes pregnant and starts thinking about her future. The songs are amazing, but so is Jenna’s transformation from weak co-dependent to strong mother. How she gets there is not altogether typical, but it will have you cheering for her until the end.
One of the earliest women directors, Lois Weber, used film as her soapbox to fight for women’s rights. In The Blot, The Griggs family lives in poverty, their only hope resting on marrying young Amelia to the right man. Mrs. Griggs forgoes mortgage payments and steals food in order to impress Amelia’s suitors and hide their financial situation. When Amelia becomes ills, the family’s situation becomes more precarious, until an unlikely man rescues them. Weber’s silent film is low on sound, but speaks volumes about the lack of opportunities afforded poor women in the early part of the 20th century.
It should be no surprise that the highest grossing film by a woman director is a superhero flick. From her genesis on the hidden island of Themyscira, warrior Diana travels to WWI Europe to save the world. During her quest, she battles through many situations where her strength and tenacity are underestimated. Jenkins takes a movie that could have been just a CGI-fest, and adds a deepness and social commentary that is common to all women.
Barbara Kryvko is an IT professional who keeps her eyes on the technical aspects of any film. Bring on the biggest explosions, the longest long shots, the most outrageous martial arts, the darkest space odysseys, the cheesiest CGI sharks, and she'll be occupied for days. Don't forget the popcorn.