The Giverny Document
Much of the film industry has been sitting around waiting for things to go back to "normal", a normal that seems to be receding every day. None of the films on my list that I've seen in a theater, and access was both easier (some far-away festivals that I could attend from my bathtub for the price of a regular movie ticket) and more difficult (geoblocking, ticket caps, outrageous virtual pass) prices). Despite all of this, the number of women working in the film industry has steadily increased. While many long for the normal, remember: normal is not what got these women behind cameras, normal doesn't make change possible.
10. Save yourselves! (Co-Dir. Eleanor Wilson & Alex Huston Fischer)
Warning: indie-sci-fi-it's-complicated-rom-coms are a genre that I knowingly have a weakness for! Save yourselves! Stars Sunita Mani (Su) and John Paul Reynolds (Jack) are a millennial couple who turn to a friend's empty cabin in the backcountry in an effort to break away from their over-connected lives. As their self-imposed telephone detox begins, the two are forced to face themselves unaware of the events that are happening beyond their quasi-rustic retreat: deadly, tribble-esque aliens have descended on Earth. A struggle for survival ensues. Beneath the privileged punch lines and toxicity of internet bubble life, a bleak (hopeful?) Future emerges wrapped in a warm blanket of contemporary nostalgia and seamlessly blended special effects. The film premiered at Sundance in January but predicted the following months: Isolation, a deadly intruder – there are even leaven starter jokes.
9. Time (dir. Garrett Bradley)
The absence of Rob Rich is an omnipresent truth in the daily lives of Fox Rich and her sons. No father to see graduation, no husband to attend milestones – moments, gentle and sharp, marked by the prison's industrial complex. The documentary is kept in a calm, low-contrast gray, with voice-over mainly from Fox, who tells her life in an effective, dreamy, intimate and yet mythical narrative tone. Home video diary interjections from hours of footage Fox personally shot for her husband over two decades are folded into the present, a gift testified by director Garrett Bradley (and edited with a slight continuity by Gabriel Rhodes). In time, modes of storytelling collapse to a greater purpose, a reminder that documentary form is as much an illusion as the concepts of time and freedom. Society is tied to narratives, even when real life is lived behind them.
8th. Spring Blossom (dir. Suzanne Lindon)
Spring Blossom captures the superficiality, confusion, and complex joy of a young girl's sexual awakening. There is that tingling warmth of first love and the buzzing of attention that feels euphoric and tragic at the same time. The character of Suzanne exudes this energy when she looks at an older, immature romantic, a traveling actor performing at a playhouse in her Parisian neighborhood. She pursues its periphery in hopes of organizing a meeting and waits for the chance to be noticed. While the film doesn't go too deep, it skims the fleeting emotional landscape of growing up, the meticulous process of balancing femininity and girlhood through the donning of a shirt and a makeup stain. A few sporadic and muted dance sequences pull through with a gentle chastity that attracts a smile. It is a jumble of longings that can only be unraveled when you are for the first time.
7. There will be no more night (dir. Eléonore Weber)
“There's always someone behind the camera. Even if we think there is nobody … there is always someone watching. Someone to record and watch. “This is what the narrator of this found footage documentary warns. The film consists of images of military helicopters hovering over war-torn countries like Syria and Afghanistan and watching, waiting to strike if any wrongdoing is found below. The film's voice-over is measured in the delivery and focuses on a remembered interview with a helicopter pilot, questions and explanations rattle. It's a monitored digital archive of the recent past, a record of life and in some cases death being monitored "over there". Observing through the crosshairs involves the viewer in an astonishing way in the act of war and the act of digital surveillance. The truth is that most people are involved in these acts on a daily basis and ignorance is just another form of self-preservation.
6. Landing (dir. Cecilia Aldarondo)
Cecilia Aldarondo's documentary Landfall shows Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. The film has an unmatched level of intimacy, with moments when people openly tell stories and open their phones / extended memories to the director and audience with a delicate intimacy. A dinner party becomes a place of sharing, friendship and processing. A drawn map overlays the screen to give a sense of the place while also strengthening the human hand behind the stories. Moments of the archive footage invade the screen for brief, wonderful intervals to explain and contextualize them. The entire film has an edge and care, but also an edge of fear and worry. The past never really gets washed away, no matter how many new paintwork it covers (or how many opportunistic American Bitcoin brothers lurk). Human resilience and collective power should never be underestimated.
5. (Tie) The Forty Years Version (dir. Radha Blank) &
True Mothers (dir. Naomi Kawase)
The forty-year version (dir. Radha Blank)
Radha (the character in the film, not the director) has been named a young playwright who can be seen in the NYC theatrical world. Now he's nearing 40 and has little to show. She teaches students, she wanders in front of an audience that itches with white guilt, she searches for her voice. Small montages are faded in throughout the film, creating a spacious frame that gives the various voices room to breathe on the screen. These moments add another perspective, but also a delicate backstory about the characters (and possibly their off-screen life, a couple of photos carried with love that felt like someone's home). These insights break through the drama of the Middle Ages with an inhalation of the self and an exhalation of expectation, a look inward towards authenticity and a personal voice against a world that tries so hard to strangle it. Being true to yourself is the story and struggle of an artist at any age.
True Mothers (dir. Naomi Kawase)
Simply rejecting this film as an adoption drama undermines the sharpness of its characters and the excellence of its actors. Satoko wants to become a mother, a dream that is diminished by her husband's sterility. Hikari becomes pregnant as a teenager and, at the urging / embarrassment of her parents, gives her child to an adoption agency. Hikari rides from biking through a shower of cherry blossoms full of hope and youth to a crumpled exclusion longing for her lost son. Satoko is a real adult, the instinctive love for her son flashes across her face as quickly as the fear of hearing Hikari's voice on the phone. Each woman (in addition to supporting female roles) embodies a very different outlook on life, each leaning slightly into the next, looking for ways to complete oneself in a complex spectrum of motherhood while exuding deep compassion.
4. The Assistant (dir. Kitty Green)
How can you recount the Harvey Weinstein scandal in an entertaining yet respectful way? Apparently, a young woman was forced to bring his schedule and parade of promising women to the office with pouting lips by fictionalizing it, keeping the predator on the sidelines and focusing on the life of his assistant. The film takes place in a single day in the life of an imaginary assistant named "Jane" who narrates her pre-dawn trip to Manhattan in an office awash with pale lights, the rolling worldliness of office work, and ultimately her lonely exit in the night. The tacit appreciation and lack of action regarding their boss's predatory behavior is shoddy filth that extends over everything and quietly permeates all levels of work culture. The foreboding imbalance of power in abusive labor relationships thrives along with the structures that support them, while maintaining Green's keen sense of dark, stylized intrigue.
3. The Giverny Document (Single Channel) (Director: Ja’Tovia Gary)
Gary's film, a 42-minute part of a larger three-channel series and 2020 gallery installation titled The Giverny Suite, moves in different viewpoints: hand-painted celluloid interviews with women on the street who ask the question Do you feel in yours Body safe? In the world ”, viral videos, lush scenes from Monet's garden today – a frenetic aesthetic change that quickly brings forth intersectional topics with balance and intent. Gary challenges the viewer and takes control with her film – Take a seat – in the mind and heart of the observer working to undermine the tendency to gape. For me, the film gives the feeling that the best way to fight the forces of oppression and indifference is to use whatever means necessary to express your feelings. Film and art become a boundless political act, a place where nothing is destroyed, only created.
2. never seldom sometimes always (dir. Eliza Hittman)
Eliza Hittman is the master of the muted coming-of-ge epic. Her films are born out of reality, but imbued with a symbolic device that makes them gigantic and eternal. Autumn is a young pregnant teenage girl searching for options in her gray Pennsylvania town. Under the guidance of their cousin Skylar, the two get on a bus to NYC to look for an alternative to motherhood. The dialogue is sparse, images and actions speak loudly. Hélène Louvart's cinematography presents a classic beauty: Skylar, facing a line of demonstrators from the abortion clinic, looks like a modern religious renaissance scene, the floral motifs in a dusty waiting room, crude expressions of femininity. The film is devastating, beautiful – it elevates the mundane, it doesn't linger, and it's not arrogant. Never Seldom Sometimes Always Calm, To put it rationally, the multitude of ways that circumstances can slowly undermine choice and how moments of self-determination are sometimes the only options for survival.
1. Nomadland (dir. Chloé Zhao)
Frances McDormand is cast as Fern, a "homeless" widow who, after seasonal work, sets off across the American West to join the nomads of RV life. McDormand performs alongside a cast of actors and non-actors, with the latter real wanderers living the lifestyle the film portrays. Moments of reality break through fiction – a hug from a departing friend feels beyond a script as a newly shared memory is created, filmed with an unfathomable, tearful heart that even seems to give McDormand a break. The suffocating life of a delivery truck is surrounded by massive, earth-shaking landscapes, one of many dualities that are underscored by the great vision of director Chloé Zhao. Fern's constant movement is caused in part by her own wanderlust, but it also reflects much larger conflicts and forces in America today, a place that is rapidly evolving but continues to loosen humanity.