Women Directed September

I’ve decided that I will spend September watching only films directed by women. It’s by no means as ambitious a task as A Year With Women, but it is still a conscious effort I want to make (and was partly inspired by Directed by Women). I’ve mostly been trying to mine the films I already have copies of, but I’m going to run out of those soon because there are shamefully few in there directed (or co-directed) by women. Of course, I don’t want to limit my viewing of films directed by women to one month a year, and I want to make more of a conscious effort to actively seek them out in the future, but I thought it was an interesting challenge to set myself for the month. (Note: I’m including only first time watches, not rewatches, but perhaps I’ll try that next time!)

This photo released by Fox Searchlight shows Gugu Mbatha-Raw, left, as Dido Elizabeth Belle and Sarah Gadon as Lady Elizabeth Murray, in a scene from the film, "Belle." The movie releases in US theaters on Friday, May 2, 2014. (AP Photo/Fox Searchlight, David Appleby) ORG XMIT: CAET339

Belle dir. Amma Asante, 2013

I’ve also made a category on here for the films I’ve written about directed by women (not nearly enough) and a list on letterboxd of all the films I’ve seen directed by women (better, but only about 10% of all the films I’ve logged on there).


The Dish & the Spoon dir. Alison Bagnall, 2011

So far, this month, I’ve watched (I’ve linked my letterboxd reviews):

Paris is Burning dir. Jennie Livingston, 1990

Belle dir. Amma Asante, 2013

The Riot Club dir. Lone Scherfig, 2014

The Dish & the Spoon dir. Alison Bagnall, 2011

The Cake Eaters dir. Mary Stuart Masterson, 2007

Copying Beethoven dir. Agnieszka Holland, 2006

Point Break dir. Kathryn Bigelow, 1991

Lebanese-born American actor Keanu Reeves and American actor Patrick Swayze stand on a beach as Swayze holds a surfboard during the filming of the action movie 'Point Break' directed by Kathryn Bigelow, 1991. (Photo by Richard Foreman/Fotos International/Getty Images)

Point Break dir. Kathryn Bigelow, 1991

Point Break has, without a doubt, been my favourite so far. I still can’t articulate why but it’s brilliant and I loved it completely and utterly. I’m so frustrated at myself for not having watched it sooner – I’ve got so many years of potential rewatches to catch up on!

I’ll probably do another post at the end of the month, as a round up, and might write about some of the films I watch along the way. I’m still working on a more solid posting structure for this blog, but it’s a work in progress. Recommendations are definitely welcome!

The Man From U.N.C.L.E., 2015

I wasn’t going to write about The Man From U.N.C.L.E. here, because I felt a little embarrassed at my enthusiasm (my letterboxd review is nothing if not enthusiastic). Then I thought, wait, that’s silly. I love movies – I mean, why else would I have started this blog? And my enthusiasm should be reflected here. I think my posts lack a lot when I try to be serious and not just resort to effusive rambling (which is my forte, let’s be honest), because I’m not that great at being, well, critical.

XXX MAN UNCLE MOV JY 1187 .JPG A ENTAnyway, this movie just made me so damn happy. I can’t remember the last time I had quite so much fun at the cinema. It was really hard not to clap with joy at certain points in the film. It also makes me extra happy that a lot of my friends, and people whose opinions I respect, have enjoyed it just as much as I did. Falling in love with a film is always wonderful, but sharing that love with others is even better.

It was basically just a whole lot of fun, and really cute, which is all I wanted. I mean, heck, I would’ve gleefully watched Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer ride around Rome on a Vespa for two hours (there was definitely not enough Vespa riding) so perhaps I’m not the best judge here. But as much fun as that may have been, this was still better.D3S_2026.DNGThere’s nothing subtle about this film (especially not the innuendo), which is great, because I’m not that keen on subtle. More is more, I say! But Guy Ritchie does make very stylish, slick films and this oozes style. From the smooth soundtrack to the impeccable costumes, style permeates every aspect of the film.

I like Henry Cavill a whole lot (ha! That’s an understatement if ever there were one) so to finally see him in a film I thoroughly enjoyed (in a lead role, at least) is nice for a change. He was maybe a little stiff as Napoleon (especially if you have Robert Vaughn’s performance in mind) but there was obviously a particular (and quite different) vision for Napoleon in this film, and I think he fulfilled that vision really well. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Armie Hammer, but I just loved him as Ilya (and his Russian accent was a lot better than I had thought it would be). Hammer and Cavill have great chemistry, actually – I mean, that scene where they were squabbling over clothes in the boutique was hilarious – and watching interviews with them it’s clear they get along really well.

And Alicia Vikander is lovely and very funny as Gaby. She was a refreshing character in this sort of film, and anyone who dares to dismiss her as a ‘Bond girl’ or ‘male fantasy’ is so wrong. My friend on Tumblr wrote a great thing that articulates well what I intuitively felt about her: if she’s any kind of fantasy, she’s most assuredly a female one. And obviously I want all of Gaby’s clothes.

I also really loved Hugh Grant as Waverly and I’m sad there wasn’t more of him in the film. As it’s unlikely there’ll be a sequel if the box office is anything to go by (which is awful and wrong), I doubt I’ll get to see more of him as Waverly in the future. Elizabeth Debicki stayed just this side of hammy as Victoria, and she made a pretty convincing criminal mastermind, I think.


I wasn’t expecting a whole lot here but I got what I wanted and more: a fun, stylish ’60s spy film with handsome actors and pretty clothes. And I think it’s really a solid spy/action film, to be honest. It got a little murky toward the end, and the ‘flashback to just moments before’ thing got old pretty quickly (especially upon rewatching), but the rest more than made up for it. And though much of it was maybe predictable, the biggest ‘twist’ managed to surprise me. Having been disappointed in the past, I lowered my expectations considerably, so maybe it wasn’t difficult to exceed them. But deep down, I always knew I was going to love this film. I can easily see it becoming an all-time favourite once I can rewatch it obsessively on DVD.

White Bird in a Blizzard, 2014

Gregg Araki is one of my favourite directors, and has been since I discovered his work in my late teens (or early twenties). I prefer his films on the more bizarre end of the spectrum (Nowhere, The Doom Generation, Kaboom, etc.), but I still love his less strange films. So, I was excited when White Bird in a Blizzard was announced. The premise sounded interesting (I love mysteries!) and it was going to star Eva Green? How could that get any better. It wasn’t well received, but Araki’s films rarely seem to be (except maybe Mysterious Skin) and his work falls definitely in the Love or Hate category (or, perhaps, ‘get it’ or ‘don’t get it’). I think it’s hard to explain to those who don’t ‘get’ Araki’s work, why his films are so enjoyable and so great. (Maybe someone else has the capacity to describe their appeal beyond flailing and gushing, but I sure don’t).


So I went into White Bird with caution, but I shouldn’t have because I loved it. It’s not surprising – usually when it comes to my favourites I’m rarely disappointed. I’m not particularly discerning or critical, especially when it comes to both mysteries and movies about teen girls. The story centres on Kat Connors (Shailene Woodley), whose mother, Eve (Eva Green), goes missing when she’s seventeen years old. The story is told in scenes from the present day (1988), flashbacks of Eve’s earlier life narrated by Kat’s voiceover, before taking us forward to 1991, with still no word of Eve’s whereabouts.


It’s photographed beautifully, has a dreamlike quality to it, and the soundtrack is superb (as always). Araki definitely knows how to make a stylish film. I love that he is equally capable of crafting the absurd atmospheres of Nowhere and The Doom Generation as he is something less ‘out there’, but equally surreal in its own way, as White Bird.


The performances were all fantastic, particularly Shailene Woodley and Eva Green (who always steals the show IMHO).  Eva Green really was the highlight of the film, playing bored, and deeply unhappy, housewife Eve, without being a cliche. Chris Meloni was really good, too. The changes in his character were so subtle. I like that the tone of the film was really different to most mysteries. It wasn’t particularly creepy, or unsettling in an overt way, and the sense of loss is quite subtle. The mystery itself is not particularly substantial, nor did I find it overly shocking, but that’s fine. The rest of the journey made up for it, for me. It’s not an edge-of-your seat thriller but I found beauty in its quietness.

There is definitely a distance, perhaps even a coldness to Woodley’s character, but as someone who finds it difficult to connect on an emotional level (to other people, anyway, no issues connecting emotionally to films or fictional characters), I didn’t see that as a bad thing. And with the way Eve treated Kat, it’s easy to see why she would block the way her mother’s disappearance affected her, just brushed it off as another ‘crazy’ thing her mother had done. (Instead of accepting it as a painful experience that actually happened to her).


Once again, I’m fairly certain I’m in the minority with loving this film, but I’m OK with that (I’ve recently realised I have a tendency to fall for films that were panned by audiences and critics alike). But, as much as I loved this, I really do prefer when Araki goes for anarchic and absurd.

Morgiana. 1972


After watching and falling deeply in love with The Duke of Burgundy, I decided to seek out some of the films Peter Strickland cited as influences for his film. The first (and still, to date, the only) I watched was Morgiana, a 1972 Czech Gothic thriller, directed by Juraj Herz, about a woman who jealously plots the murder of her better liked sister (both roles played by Iva Janzurová). I should preface this with two things: writing this was very challenging for me as I find movies like this tend to be outside my comprehension in any kind of ‘academic’ way; I’m not familiar enough with films of this ilk. But I loved it and wanted to write about it.

Morgiana is a histrionic fairy tale, a fevered dream set in an unspecified European region, brought to life with lush colours and delightfully gaudy sets and costumes. It opens with sisters Klára and Viktoria being instructed by a lawyer on the contents of their recently deceased father’s will: each sister gets one of his properties.


Klara inherits the airy, pretty estate but Viktoria gets a supposedly haunted manor. This sets the tone for the two sisters’ personalities and how they are received by others. It is evident from the outset that Viktoria is jealous of Klára, who is easily amiable, cheerful and well-liked by everyone. Viktoria is the polar opposite of Klara, manifested in their equally different looks.


Both women appear virginal but where Klára is ‘pure’ in the fashion of a fairy-tale princess, akin to Snow White, Viktoria is ‘repressed’, petty and jealous. She is more like the evil virgin queen, ice cold and remote with a deep mean streak (albeit more nervy than any evil queen). We see this in a scene where Viktoria sneaks up on some of her servant girls, bathing in the ocean, carefree and scantily clad, and gleefully throws a rock at one’s head. It’s interesting to think that’s it not just a matter of the virgin/whore dichotomy but that ‘virgin’ women are presented in different ways: it is either a virtue or a sickness.


It is a testament to Janzurová’s acting and Herz’s editing that I often forgot that Klára and Viktoria were played by the same actress. I found the editing and some of the camera ‘tricks’ to be quite interesting, if disorienting, such as filming from Viktoria’s cat’s (the eponymous Morgiana) point of view at times. The first time it happened, I immediately knew the camera had taken on the point of view of a cat, not only from the eye level but the movement which couldn’t be anything other than feline.

The creepiness of Morgiana is more often in the dreamlike atmosphere and intense score (by Lubos Fiber) than in actual content. (Although a woman plotting to murder her sister isn’t exactly not creepy). It is more a psychological exploration than a straight-up horror. Even Viktoria seems a reluctant murderess at first, when she uses the slow-acting poison she procured and immediately tries to get Klára to drink from a different glass. However, once Klara does drink she seems gleeful but nervous. She retires to her own estate, where she becomes increasingly paranoid, going so far as to test the poison on a dog (and then not knowing if the dog, a servant’s son or her own beloved cat drank the concoction).

As Klára descends into illness, she begins to hallucinate another version of herself, in a flame-red dress (reminiscent of Viktoria’s red nightgown), who is more like the petty Viktoria than the amiable Klára herself. Mirrors are just one of the motifs used to hint at a fragmenting personality and unsettled psyche (apparently Herz originally wanted the film to end showing that both sisters were just aspects of one woman’s split personality, but couldn’t because of the censors at the time). There are also some kaleidoscopic scenes, that look like a 3D film viewed without glasses, that Klára sees in her fevered state.


The 1970s does Edwardian costumes were swoon inducing and that OTT makeup was to die for. (Pardon the pun).

There was one scene that reminded me a bit of Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon (a scene where one of the sisters is running along some stairs or a road by a beach or similar that reminded me of the repeated scene in Meshes). I’m not sure that this was an intentional inspiration for the film, but I’d only watched Meshes recently, so my mind made the connection. The dreamlike quality of Morgiana fits well with the actual dream represented in Meshes, though.


The make-up of my teen goth dreams.

There is another beautiful, mesmerising scene in which Viktoria is looking through an old trunk, and she pulls out all these gauzy, delicate dresses, letting them float about her as they drift to the floor. The chiaroscuro lighting lends an eery atmosphere, as the dresses become ghostly forms. Strickland lifted this scene to great effect for The Duke of Burgundy.

Morgiana is a strange film that had me captivated throughout the entirety of its running time. It’s definitely one that I want to revisit and think about some more, in the future.


Getting to know you

Around this time, last year, on Tumblr I reblogged a post that suggested making a list of the top 10 films that, right now, would let someone get to know you. ‘not necessarily your ten favorite movies but the ten movies that you, as a person existing currently, feel would help people get to know you’. You can see what I posted back then here.


Red Desert (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1964)

I’ll admit that, while I love the idea, it’s a little abstract for my general way of thinking. While there is a great deal to learn about someone from their interests, I tend to struggle making the connection of what exactly it is I can glean from it. So, my way of choosing films was perhaps different than how others chose films. (Then again, it may not have been). For instance, I mostly chose films that had characters I thought reflected aspects of my personality or to whom I felt a deep connection (other films, like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, were chosen because I’ve loved them for so long I felt they left an indelible mark on me).

Carnival of Souls 30

Carnival of Souls (Herk Harvey, 1962)

But I love making lists, especially ones that challenge me, so I thought it would be interesting to revisit it. Most of my current choices are the same, so this post may be redundant but I did swap out The Philadelphia Story for Stoker, and removed The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I spent a long time thinking about what I would change, but I honestly feel like I’m in such a similar place, now, as I was last year that there isn’t much point changing most of them.

Red Desert (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1964)

Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff, 2001)

Muriel’s Wedding (PJ Hogan, 1994)

Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach, 2012)

Amélie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001)

Muriel’s Wedding (PJ Hogan, 1994)

Muriel’s Wedding (PJ Hogan, 1994)

Les Amours Imaginaires (Xavier Dolan, 2010)

Secretary (Steven Shainberg, 2002)

Carnival of Souls (Herk Harvey, 1962)

Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion (David Mirkin, 1997)

Stoker (Chan-wook Park, 2013)

Stoker (Chan-wook Park, 2013)

Stoker (Chan-wook Park, 2013)

I was going to write a little from each film about what I connected to, and why I picked it, but I feel like it’s more interesting to let them speak for themselves. I will say that I think these films say that I’m still feeling a bit lost and uncertain about life. And maybe that I find it difficult to connect (to others). This is a far more personal post than I am accustomed to, but I just liked the idea so much, and I felt like I needed to revisit it. It would be interesting to see what others would choose!