At some point, every living film buff needs to sit down and ask him or herself a question: How many women filmmakers can I name off the top of my head, right now? How many films by those women filmmakers have I seen? Of the films I’ve seen, how many pass the Bechdel test, or the Mako Mori test? Enough films? Replace “women” with some other demographic—people of color, LGBTQIA, neuro-atypical—and the questions become even harder, if still possible, to answer. If you click the white-on-steel-blue “W” below the banner that spells out this blog’s name, you’ll be linked to my bio page. (If someone could get in touch and tell me how to turn that “W” into “About [Me]”, which I know is doable, that’d be great. Bio pages shouldn’t have to be goddamn Easter eggs.) I’ve included on that page, for your interest, my current twenty all-time favorite films. A whopping two of them are directed by women. Two. I need to do something about that. So I’m going to.
Last year July, my 31 Days of Cinema challenge got this blog its highest readership yet. This January, I did the same thing with 31 other films in private, without publicizing it online, to see if lightning could strike twice. It did, and I discovered another slew of masterpieces. This October, I’m doing it again, but this time with a theme. Whereas in the previous challenges I made sure I watched one female auteur a week, this month, all of the films will be female-directed. (I’m permitting two co-directed by men.) It’s a curious time to be embarking on something like this. Chances are, this month will build up to America electing its first female president—either that, or we’re giving the nuclear codes to one of the most craven misogynistic bastards in all of American politics. (And a likely amphetamine abuser.) The feminism in the air is propulsive. I polled my Facebook friends to see which project they’d be more interested in: 31 Days of Female-Directed Cinema, or 31 Days of Horror, of course leading up to Halloween. I guessed the wantonness of watching thirty-one horror films consecutively would gain much morbid curiosity. I was wrong: Women received twice as many votes. Democracy in action. So be it.
I compiled my list with rules similar to my prior 31 Days effort: all major continental regions of the world must be represented; all decades since the ’60s must be represented; no country gets more than one film, exceptions allowed for international co-productions; and I must be on my first full viewing of every film. The difficulty I encountered in curating these films was massive, not least because it was twofold. First, I had to do an inordinate amount of research to learn about enough female filmmakers to give me the breadth and diversity that I wanted; and second, I had to narrow down the wealth of discoveries I’d made to a digestible collection of two and a half dozen plus one. And I had to double-check that they were all handily available—read: online. Even now when I’m committing to this, I’m doing so with some trepidation, as any day now, all films being streamed online by the Criterion Collection (without whom such a project would be incomprehensible) will be leaving Hulu and heading to their own domain, a site called Filmstruck that remains shrouded in secrecy. So sometime during what is sure to be a curious and volatile month in more ways than one, this frugal film critic might have to get a new premium subscription. Okay, time to shut up. On with the films:
Oct. 1: Monsoon Wedding (2001, dir. Mira Nair, India)
In with a bang!
Oct. 2: Summer of Sangailé (2015, dir. Alanté Kavaïté, Lithuania)
The Lithuanian Blue is the Warmest Color, or so I’ve read. The critical consensus is that it’s weaker, but right now, I’m very much impelled to curve the critics’ ratings, given the implicit bias against women. Also, this is the first film I’ve heard of to come out of freaking Lithuania!
Oct. 3: An Angel at My Table (1990, dir. Jane Campion, New Zealand)
Campion, best known for The Piano, is probably the most famous filmmaker to emerge from the first nation to give women the right to vote. (There’s also Niki Caro.) This is an epic biopic of Kiwi literary titan Janet Frame, and boasts a pre-Shallow Grave Kerry Fox.
Oct. 4: The Night of Truth (2004, dir. Fanta Régina Nacro, Burkina Faso)
I wrote last year that African cinema is underdeveloped. I was gravely mistaken: turns out, Nigeria’s Lollywood produces enough artistic output to rival the two major film industries that rhyme with it; and Egypt, Senegal and South Africa possess some of the world’s most vibrant filmic voices. The channels by which African cinema may reach the West—surely, those are underdeveloped. And African women’s cinema? Grossly underdeveloped. You can imagine my joy when I found this film online—not to mention, when I found a second African women’s film just as readily watchable.
Oct. 5: Les Rendezvous d’Anna (1978, dir. Chantal Akerman, Belgium)
No way in hell this list is complete without an Akerman. No way.
Oct. 6: The Lesson (2014, dir. Kristina Grozeva [with Petar Valcharov], Bulgaria)
Oct. 7: Ascent (1977, dir. Larisa Shepitko, Russia)
Classic. Shepitko was the wife of Elem Klimov, whose Come and See I currently rank as the greatest war film. If women make better filmmakers, will this outstrip even that? (Maybe you can tell by now I’m trying to get all the Hulu/Criterion picks out of the way early.)
Oct. 8: Joan of Arc of Mongolia (1989, dir. Ulrike Ottinger, Germany/France)
Ottinger’s dialogue-less Ticket of No Return (’79) comes championed by none other than Richard Linklater, and would have made this list were it not for another German film I’m dying to see. This film, an epic feminist-fantasy-comedy-history mishmash, looks intriguingly batshit. Notably, this was Delphine Seyrig’s final film.
Oct. 9: Boys Don’t Cry (1999, dir. Kimberly Peirce, U.S.)
Hilary Swank. ‘Nuff said.
Oct. 10: Sepet (2004, dir. Yasmin Ahmad, Malaysia)
Oct. 11: Vagabond (1984, dir. Agnès Varda, France)
I consider Varda as mandatory for this list as Akerman. How fortunate that as I write this, Reverse Shot—one of my go-to film websites—is doing a retrospective on her work.
Oct. 12: Zero Motivation (2014, dir. Talya Lavie, Israel)
By most accounts, the Israeli woman’s answer to Zero for Conduct. Huge box office success in its homeland. Seriously looking forward to this one.
Oct. 13: The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum (1975, Margarethe von Trotta [with Volker Schlöndorff], Germany)
Based on, and filmed in tandem with the writing of, the novel by Heinrich Böll, one of the few novels that I’ve read in one day, and one of the few novels to have become even timelier in the Internet age.
Oct. 14: In Darkness (2011, dir. Agnieszka Holland, Poland)
Holland is another mandatory one. This is a true Holocaust-set story about a band of Polish Jews whose plan to survive involves hiding in the sewer.
Oct. 15: After the Wedding (2006, dir. Susanne Bier, Denmark)
Confession: I have a weakness for weddings. Bier, also known for Brothers and In a Better World (an Oscar-winner, albeit a weak one, from what I’ve heard), is Denmark’s most famous female auteur, her biggest competition being Dogme 95 icon Lone Scherfig.
Oct. 16: The Silences of the Palace (1994, dir. Moufida Tlatli, Tunisia)
The Middle East’s first major female cinematic voice.
Oct. 17: Sugar Cane Alley (1983, dir. Euzhan Palcy, Martinique)
MARTINIQUE!!! Fun fact: Palcy made a killing in Hollywood with her adaptation of Andre Brink’s A Dry White Season, which makes her the only woman to have ever directed Marlon Brando.
Oct. 18: Loving Couples (1964, dir. Mai Zetterling, Sweden)
The earliest film I could find before collapsing down the rabbit hole of Ida Lupino, Dorothy Arzner, Maya Deren, and a certain Nazi asshat named Leni Riefenstahl.
Oct. 19: Innocence (2004, dir. Lucile Hadzihalilovic, France/Belgium)
She’s married to Gaspar Noé. So of course, the title is bullshit. Bonus: pre-fame Marion Cotillard.
Oct. 20: XXY (2007, dir. Lucía Puenzo, Argentina)
Puenzo is the leading Argentine woman filmmaker after Lucrecia Martel—whose La Ciénaga was the worst film I watched in last year’s challenge, so there’s no way I’m going back to her just yet. This is the only major film I know of about hermaphroditism. (It must be said that Netflix’s current thumbnail image for this film is triggering, and—as a promotional choice—utterly witless.)
Oct. 21: Faithless (2000, dir. Liv Ullmann, Norway/Sweden)
Liv Ullmann adapting an epic Ingmar Bergman script based on their stormy relationship? Yes, please.
Oct. 22: Adoption (1975, dir. Márta Mészáros, Hungary)
Golden Bear winner of yore.
I am going into this next handful of films just about blind, and have no particularly spiffy commentary to offer on them:
Oct. 23: Ratcatcher (1999, dir. Lynne Ramsay, U.K.)
Oct. 24: Treeless Mountain (2009, dir. So Yong Kim, South Korea)
Oct. 25: Take My Eyes (2003, dir. Icíar Bollaín, Spain)
Oct. 26: Blackboards (2000, dir. Samira Makhmalbaf, Iran)
Oct. 27: Attenberg (2010, dir. Athina Rachel Tsangari, Greece)
Oct. 28: Dukhtar (2014, dir. Afia Nathaniel, Pakistan)
Oct. 29: Danzón (1991, dir. Maria Novaro, Mexico)
Oct. 30: My Brilliant Career (1979, dir. Gillian Armstrong, Australia)
Oct. 31: Away From Her (2006, dir. Sarah Polley, Canada)
Hard to think of a better way to close the month than with an Alice Munro adaptation.
See you soon with my thoughts on Monsoon Wedding.