Friday, January 3, 2020

The Director Was a Woman

The theory is that Little Women has been largely snubbed by the Golden Globe and SAG folks because few of the men who run those organizations want to see a movie that’s all about GIRLS. The members of the Hollywood Foreign Press, a small and exclusive group, didn’t include a single woman among their Golden Globe nominees for best director and best screenplay. This despite the contributions of, among others, Greta Gerwig (Little Women), Marielle Heller (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood), Kasi Lemmons (Harriet), and Lulu Wang (The Farewell).

Meanwhile, BBC Culture has just presented the results of its latest polling. After surveying 368 experts from 84 countries, they’ve compiled a list of the 100 greatest films directed by women. Why choose this topic? It came out of the BBC’s realization that after several years of polling on various film-related subjects (greatest foreign-language films, greatest film comedies, greatest American films, and so on), they rarely found women’s achievements represented. I’m sure there are PhD dissertations being written at this very moment as to why it’s so rare for women to helm movies. But it’s fascinating to look back and see the names of women who did something wonderful. Too bad so many of them were working in foreign language cinema. French-speaking women, in particular, seem to prevail. On the list we find six films by the late, beloved Agnès Varda,, three by Claire Denis, several by the  Belgium-born Chantal Akerman, and a very recent entry, Portrait de la jeune fille en feu (aka Portrait of a Lady on Fire) by Céline Sciamma. There’s no surprise that Italy is represented on the list by Lina Wertmūller, whose Seven Beauties made her the first woman ever to be nominated for a Best Director Oscar. Nor that Poland’s Agnieska Holland is recognized for the poignant Europa, Europa. It’s hard to accept the name of German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, whose filmmaking talent here outweighs her use of cinema to glorify Adolf Hitler in documentaries like Triumph of the Will. (Women, like men, are not always as wise as they are talented.)

Though I haven’t seen every one of these films, I can hardly argue with the list’s #1 slot, which goes to New Zealand’s Jane Campion for her haunting feature, The Piano. Like Wertmūller, Campion was given a Best Director nod by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. She was not to nab an Oscar for directing, but won instead for her screenplay. There have been only three other female Oscar nominees for Best Director: Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation, Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker (she actually won, possibly because her film had an intensely male focus), and Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird. All three are still active filmmakers, so maybe there’s hope that Coppola and Gerwig too will someday be among the chosen few. I also liked seeing on the  BBC list names like that of Lisa Chodolenko, whose The Kids Are All Right was one of the standouts of 2010, Amy Heckerling (Fast Times at Ridgemont High), Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou).and Kimberley Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry). But I don’t know how the experts could have left out such talents as Nicole Holofcener (for the delightful Enough Said) and Allison Anders (Mi Vida Loca).

Then there’s an entry that continues to trouble me: Lana and Lilly Wachowski for 1999’s The Matrix. The Wachowskis, both transgender, were considered male when they shot this big-budget film. Did that fact help them get past the barriers that stop so many female directors in their tracks? 

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