1. Estiu 1993 / Summer 1993 (Carla Simón, 2017)
2. Visages villages / Faces Places (Agnès Varda / JR, 2017)
3. Desperately Seeking Susan (Susan Seidelman, 1985)
4. 2 Friends (Jane Campion, 1986)
5. Stories We Tell
(Sarah Polley, 2012) (re-watch)
It's pretty much a tie between this and Away from Her
for me, both great, great films and on this re-watch I have to say I'm also more interested in giving the director's second film Take This Waltz
another shot, as I suspect that some of her rather sanguine views on love and relationships and marriage as evidenced here will resonate more with me now. This is really a masterful work on identity and memory that has few precedents - Françoise Romand's Mix Up
from 1986 might be one though my own memory of that isn't too clear. Director Polley investigates her own family history and finds some truths about her parentage that she suspected - but suspected wrongly - which lead to all kinds of other questions about her mother, about the relationships within her fractured family of multiple half-siblings and divorcees, and about the degree to which acting parts and telling stories (lies or half-truths at best) impacts our histories and senses of self-identity and family. I remember being absolutely riveted when I watched this the first time and now - with more complexity added to my own family history in the past five years - it's just as strong or maybe stronger.
6. Bright Star
(Jane Campion, 2009)
I skipped out on Jane Campion's work after the disastrous (my feeling at the time, anyway) Portrait of a Lady
, and now it's time to catch up. To be fair, her subsequent work hasn't mostly fared well at the box office, and most of her features probably only played for a week or two (if that) where I have lived - and I still watch most new films in the cinema, and often stuff that I don't see there just gets shelved on infinite lists. Anyway this ended up well worth seeing, if nothing close to the series of great/near-great films that she made up through 1993. It's the story of the love between the poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish) in the final couple of years of Keats' very short life, and it succeeds mostly on the strength of Cornish's fantastic performance, the rhapsodic score by Mark Bradshaw, and Greig Fraser's lovely photography. I'm not sure I quite bought Whishaw, but this is not as fatal a mistake as it might be were the film more specifically about his feelings and "soul"; as it is, the feeling and emotional aspects work best when communicated through Fanny and through eyes, hands, and nature. Poetry is nearly always elusive and film and remains so for the most part here, though there are moments that are pretty nearly transcendent.
7. Not Wanted
(Ida Lupino/Elmer Clifton, 1949)
Lupino's first film as director, which she co-wrote and co-produced, was started by Clifton but completed by Lupino when Clifton suffered a heart attack, and she refused to take screen credit for her directorial contribution. But her fingerprints are all over the finished product, one of her best works and a signal that a progressive, feminist voice was now present in Hollywood behind the camera; sadly she was so far ahead of her time that her career as a filmmaker really never made an impact at the time, and now alas much of her works (save perhaps the scary noir The Hitch-Hiker
) seems dated and severely hampered by the censorship of the time. Nevertheless this film about an unwed mother is given enough power by Sally Forrest's outstanding performance, and Lupino's handling of both the more sensitive and exciting aspects of the story - the taut and powerful ending shows even at this stage the director's talent for action and thrills even in the context of a "women's" picture - to achieve something pretty close to greatness. The story seems pretty familiar today - naive girl Forrest is taken in by hep musician Leo Penn, quickly abandoned by him, finds love with sensitive garage manager Keefe Brasselle, but then receives the news that changes her life forever. In 1949 though this was fairly strong stuff, and it probably only got made at all because it came out of Lupino's own company on a very low budget. In any case, this film and all of Lupino's work behind the camera really deserves more attention than it's gotten; if you can forgive the moralizing and rather simplistic social commentary statements that seem to crop up - usually for just a minute or two - in most of the films that seem designed to instruct audiences of the day that these are real problems we need to address, and the sometimes slightly too-happy wrap-ups, and focus instead on the usually excellent acting and Lupino's ability to tell fairly compelling stories in 75-90 minutes and her always fluid camerawork and good location work, I think you may be rewarded.
8. Never Fear
aka The Young Lovers
(Ida Lupino, 1949)
I won't go into this one in that much detail, both because it has a great many of the same positive and negative qualities detailed above that one finds in most of Lupino's work, but also because to my mind this is less interesting and overall a lesser work. Sally Forrest is again the lead and is again terrific, in this case as a young dancer stricken with polio just as her career and love life are taking off. I've never been much for medical issue to films so that may be part of my somewhat lesser enthusiasm here, so I don't want to dissuade others, and this is still a pretty solid film all things considered, with a little less overt moralizing (maybe because polio isn't just a condition that affects women, the young, or the poor), and fewer platitudes. It's solid work, just not my personal cup of tea, but I have to admit that the last scene is quite powerful, and even more than in Not Wanted
I got a sense that much of what Lupino is doing in these social-issue films is working out some of her own doubts and fears in her early life or for that matter in her new struggling career as a filmmaker; it's probably no coincidence that Forrest at time bears a striking resemblance to the director.
(Ida Lupino, 1950) (re-watch)
I'm going to SPOILER this whole thing, because it's impossible to discuss it in any meaningful way without getting into the central plot.
Like Not Wanted this has some noir-ish/thriller aspects to it, though it is certainly more directly a "women's issue" film, in this case sexual violence. Mala Powers is the young star in this one; like Sally Forrest she was a discovery of Lupino's more-or-less and got her first starring role here. She plays a young woman planning to get married who works late one night and is followed home by the lascivious lunch-cart guy who we see eyeing her at the beginning of the film. This sequence of Powers walking, then running up and down dark, vacant streets, the sounds of footsteps magnified, slowly increasing, the low-key lighting, is a masterwork in noir filmmaking and if the rest of the film was up to that level this would probably be considered one of the great films of the 50s. But it goes in a different route, and the noir elements are merely undertones through most of the film, and unfortunately this is disfigured by just a bit too much overt proselytizing about the Evils of Modern Society to ignore. But as with all of Lupino's films it features some fine acting - Tod Andrews as the young minister who befriends Powers after she runs away is a standout - and some terrific camerawork and editing. And while perhaps it might have been a better film had it gone off into more noir-chase territory, it's clear that Lupino had something else in mind, and as one of the first films to deal with rape and it's effects on women and on the fear of talking about it or dealing with it, it deserves remembrance for what it is as much as what it could have been.
(Sofia Coppola, 2010)
I thought about writing up a real screed about this piece of dreck, but honestly I'm not in the mood to write about bad films at the moment, and I don't know what more I can say than what is contained in the top three comments here
I will say that yes, Elle Fanning is terrific in this, and also that the photography and locations/sets are nice, and there are lots of beautiful women wearing little or no clothing - but there are several other much better films with Elle Fanning, and I could just watch glossy soft- or hard-core porn for the rest.