Women Directors List Discussion + Suggestions

An ongoing survey of the Criterion Forum membership to create lists of the best films of each decade and genre.
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domino harvey
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Re: Women Directors List Discussion + Suggestions

#226 Post by domino harvey » Sun Jun 10, 2018 4:46 pm

As I recall from the All Time List, zedz, you haven't seen Modern Romance either, so you should think about doing a double feature sometime in the future with the Heartbreak Kid, which is a very different kind of comedy compared to A New Leaf (having seen all of May's films, I'd argue she has no consistent voice as a director), and I think you'd quite like both films' dark and uncomfortable comic sensibilities!

I don't care for Wanda at all, but it definitely seems like one you'd enjoy too based on other films I know you like-- is that an insult or an insightful recommendation? You decide!

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zedz
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Re: Women Directors List Discussion + Suggestions

#227 Post by zedz » Sun Jun 10, 2018 5:43 pm

domino harvey wrote:
Sun Jun 10, 2018 4:46 pm
As I recall from the All Time List, zedz, you haven't seen Modern Romance either, so you should think about doing a double feature sometime in the future with the Heartbreak Kid, which is a very different kind of comedy compared to A New Leaf (having seen all of May's films, I'd argue she has no consistent voice as a director), and I think you'd quite like both films' dark and uncomfortable comic sensibilities!

I don't care for Wanda at all, but it definitely seems like one you'd enjoy too based on other films I know you like-- is that an insult or an insightful recommendation? You decide!
I think we know each other's tastes pretty well by now, even if we don't share them, so I'll take that as a recommendation!

Still haven't seen Modern Romance, and I found Lost in America okay but, same with those other Mays, nothing that was going to drive me to see the director's other work unless it fell into my lap.

In terms of recommendations for you from my list, I expect you'd hate Muratova (and most of the rest) but suspect you'd get something out of Summer 1993.

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domino harvey
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Re: Women Directors List Discussion + Suggestions

#228 Post by domino harvey » Sun Jun 10, 2018 8:15 pm

I’ve been going through the Cesar Award results lately and it’s interesting that in the hubbub recently about Hollywood not supporting or recognizing women directors no one brought up France, because it seems like every year’s results include at least one woman nominated for Best Director. Perhaps this is a sign of France being more progressive (plausible) or of there just being more French female directors out of the total pool versus that number in the US (also plausible). Apart from the specific topic of this thread, though, I’ve really become quite fascinated with looking through these Cesar results, as it’s at times a mirror into an alternate universe— I know a great number of films never make it over here in subtitled distribution, and even less now that the heyday of DVDs and Netflix on-disc service has died, but there is truly a large amount of films from a country whose cinema I thought I knew pretty well that are unknown to me. I suspect, like my foolhardy lifelong commitment to the Best Picture Oscars, that digging deeper won’t necessarily uncover copious amounts of treasure, but it’s always fun and a little bit scary to be reminded of how much one doesn’t know! (And I would, in a heartbeat, participate in a Cesar Best Film Mini-List. But would anyone else?) That said, my first specific dip into this well wasn’t all that fruitful, but:

Le Goût des autres (Agnès Jaoui 2000)
Ensemble piece exploring a gaggle of characters surrounding Jean-Pierre Bacri’s crude factory owner. Bacri falls for an aging actress and poorly tries to inundate himself into her BoHo lifestyle. Though the film has a light comic touch throughout, this isn’t played for laughs— but I kept thinking it should be. The message here is pretty lame (people with bad taste aren’t necessarily bad people— ie “no shit” to everyone who isn’t Rob Gordon), so why not amp up the comic possibilities? The film is too fond of Bacri to really make him uncomfortably boorish, and the kid gloves approach undercuts the message this movie wants to sell. Had the film been more in the vein of the Collector-as-romantic comedy, this might really have been something! I was mildly horrified that the film eventually asked us to buy into the actress falling for the lout, because all I saw in the film was this being the result of her pitying him. Not a good foundation for a relationship! Speaking of relationships, we also get some La ronde antics with Bacri’s bodyguard and driver and a drug-dealing barmaid played by the director. These b-story strands are infinitely less interesting than the more directly Bacri-related material, though I did enjoy the weird running gag about Alain Chabat learning how to play the flute. This won the top Cesar Award and was nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar (albeit aided by Miramax's acquisition), so I guess the tastes of others truly are unknowable.

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DarkImbecile
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Re: Women Directors List Discussion + Suggestions

#229 Post by DarkImbecile » Sun Jun 10, 2018 9:13 pm

domino harvey wrote:
Sun Jun 10, 2018 8:15 pm
(And I would, in a heartbeat, participate in a Cesar Best Film Mini-List. But would anyone else?)
Checking to see what films would qualify for such a list made me realize I've never actually seen a Cesar statuette before:
Image
Looks like they took all the other awards and put them together in a trash compactor... and it came out pretty well!

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Re: Women Directors List Discussion + Suggestions

#230 Post by Werewolf by Night » Sun Jun 10, 2018 10:04 pm

domino harvey wrote:I’ve been going through the Cesar Award results lately and it’s interesting that in the hubbub recently about Hollywood not supporting or recognizing women directors no one brought up France, because it seems like every year’s results include at least one woman nominated for Best Director. Perhaps this is a sign of France being more progressive (plausible) or of there just being more French female directors out of the total pool versus that number in the US (also plausible).
Other factors include strong state support for filmmaking in France and a fundamental commitment to giving money and opportunities to female filmmakers.

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Re: Women Directors List Discussion + Suggestions

#231 Post by Mr Sausage » Mon Jun 11, 2018 7:02 pm

The winner, Beau Travail, is our current discussion topic in the Film Club. Come on over and tell us why you all loved this film so greatly.

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domino harvey
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Re: Women Directors List Discussion + Suggestions

#232 Post by domino harvey » Tue Jul 03, 2018 9:37 am

Image

Victoria (Justine Triet 2016)
Virginie Elfra from Mouret’s wonderful Caprice is the titular Victoria, a divorced French lawyer who gets suckered into representing her friend in a criminal case after his girlfriend accuses him of stabbing her at a wedding. Elfra has her own problems apart from the case, though, as her ex has started a “metafictional” blog about her, accusing her of sleeping with judges to win cases among other insults. In the midst of all this, she goes on lots of awkward one night stands and invites a former client, an ex-drug dealer, to live with her as an au pair for her young girls. I loved the friendship between the protagonist and the former dealer in the first half of the movie and I guess I should have known it would blossom into love considering this is a romantic comedy, albeit a strange one, but I liked their interactions so much more when it didn’t hit those conventional beats. The movie’s biggest asset is Elfra, who is staggeringly beautiful but believable here as a fuck-up in a tailspin whose flaws make her more interesting and increase audience investment. I could have done without the finale in which she has to get shit on by her paramour before they can reconcile, but, honestly, his complaints aren’t wrong. If a film as unexpected, dark, and often quite negative as this is what passes for popular romantic comedy entertainment in France, no wonder they’re so much more fucking cultured than us! Recommended.

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Re: Women Directors List Discussion + Suggestions

#233 Post by Drucker » Wed Jul 11, 2018 10:32 pm

My viewing history doesn't get close to seeing enough films from this list to have contributed one, but I did just get back from a screening of Girlfriends by Claudia Weill and noticed it didn't seem to get on any list or any discussion. It looks like it's out on Warner Archive so I'm sort of shocked. It gets favorably called out as a precursor to Girls, but it's a much more mature work, and somehow even more insecure, lending it an even greater air of reality. The obvious standout is the role of Susan, and Melanie Mayron is phenomenal. There are a few moments of the film which are not critical scenes, but which she carries. Her ability to improvise in the opening photography scene or the moment she leaves an office and starts trailing off to herself (while the mic DOESN'T follow her, allowing her voice to get further away) is so key to her character.

The film also is great because there is never this idea that there is a "destination" of adulthood either protagonist is really going for. Claudia Weill said as much in the Q&A after the screening that she purposefully wasn't trying to call out which woman was taking the "right" path and it shows. But more than that, it doesn't seem either girl is being judged by her relationship to any path at all. Instead they are judged on their own terms. Susan focuses more on her career, and near the end we can celebrate her ability to return career advice to a woman who had earlier given her some. At the end of the day, both women are likely to stay "who they are", and there is no big revelation to illustrate they've turned some major page or anything of the sort. They are treated as real people, and you have to accept them warts and all. The more I think about the film, the more I love it. Especially Eli Wallach as a wonderful rabbi.

Not to compare films, but I love the films relationship to the Jewish experience, especially in comparison to say...something like A Serious Man. Maybe that experience rang true for other Jews, but certainly not me, and obviously the Coens take pleasure in exaggeration. The laid back rabbi here, who once wanted to be an actor and went into being a rabbi because his parents wanted him to is far closer to the reform experience I grew up in. Susan's Jewishness is key to her character, but the film is not trying to throw "the Jewish experience" in your face.

One other note: I saw The Heartbreak Kid for the first time a few months ago (first Elaine May) and I liked but did not love it. One thing I think that held it back is that it often felt more like comedy sketches than a cohesive whole. I feel like people who are underwhelmed by that film could get a lot more out of this one. A more restrained comedy that is less over the top. By the way: in both films, there sure seems to be some quick running to get married, especially quickly after one person has serious doubts about a relationship. Were people really getting hitched that quickly and that un-assuredly in the 1970s? Like...five minutes after pondering whether or not they should really be with the person they end up marrying?

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Re: Women Directors List Discussion + Suggestions

#234 Post by Saturnome » Wed Jul 11, 2018 11:13 pm

Girlfriends was very, very close to making my list, so much that I was surprised at first to read it wasn't in it !

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domino harvey
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Re: Women Directors List Discussion + Suggestions

#235 Post by domino harvey » Wed Jul 11, 2018 11:19 pm

Drucker wrote:
Wed Jul 11, 2018 10:32 pm
I did just get back from a screening of Girlfriends by Claudia Weill and noticed it didn't seem to get on any list or any discussion.
Drucker wrote:
Wed Jul 11, 2018 10:32 pm
It gets favorably called out as a precursor to Girls
I mean

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Re: Women Directors List Discussion + Suggestions

#236 Post by knives » Wed Jul 11, 2018 11:34 pm

I like it a lot, but I think I saw it after this list, literally can't remember. As to the Serious Man comparison I think you hit on it by mentioning reform. Weill definitely presents that, but I think the Coens is more a Conservative presentation with Larry clearly having married into a community more religious/ European than himself. The emphasis on Yiddish and the presentation of the rabbis make that clear to me. I've definitely met a lot of rabbis like the junior one in the film.

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Re: Women Directors List Discussion + Suggestions

#237 Post by bottled spider » Sun Jul 15, 2018 10:09 pm

L'annulaire ('The Ring Finger') (Diane Bertrand, 2005). The main thread is that a young woman finds a job as a receptionist at a laboratory of sorts that preserves and archives any item a customer wants; the preservation of these specimens somehow helps people forget traumatic events. Beyond that, it's a bit hard to describe what the movie's about.

I'd have said the movie had a distinct Japanese quality even if I didn't know it was adapted from a Japanese novel that I haven't read -- my admittedly limited frame of reference for "a distinct Japanese quality" being one Murakami novel, one by Ogai, and a few by Kawabata. Invoking Borges and Calvino would also give some notion of the film's atmosphere. There are echoes, too, of Bluebeard, Cinderella, and the Red Shoes.

One of my most enjoyable (but alas infrequent) recurring dreams is that of exploring a building with a labyrinth of rooms. That's quite commonplace, isn't it? Part of the appeal of this movie -- deeply appealing to me, anyway -- is the exploration of the laboratory itself, which is housed in a former girls' boarding school.

What the hell, I don't know what else to say about it. The cinematography is beautiful, Kurylenko is beautiful and occasionally naked, and the score is excellent. So watch it already.

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zedz
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Re: Women Directors List Discussion + Suggestions

#238 Post by zedz » Wed Aug 01, 2018 5:28 pm

Kirkinson wrote:
Tue Jun 05, 2018 12:38 am
zedz wrote:
Mon Jun 04, 2018 7:22 pm
I see Massadian finally released a follow-up last year, Milla. Has anybody seen it?
I have, I thought it was excellent and it's currently #2 on my 2018 top ten (I saw it in February at PIFF, but it's getting distributed in the US later this year by Grasshopper, I think). I still haven't seen Nana, but much of your description could just as well apply to Milla. The formal elements sound exactly the same, and there are similarities in the story as well, though this time the protagonist is in her late teens or early 20s, and she has a boyfriend who initially shares half the screen time. The story goes in some pretty unexpected directions, though, and because it has the same distant style you describe in Nana, its emotional impact snuck up on me so slowly that I don't think I fully appreciated it until several days after I had seen it.
I saw Milla last night and agree with your assessment, but I really didn't like it at all for the first half. It just seemed like a nicely shot, aimless record of two shallow characters behaving badly. (I was worried that this film was going to be twice as long as Nana but not even half as good!) But I found the more Milla-focussed second half a lot more engaging (even when it was just quietly documenting cleaning duties at a big empty hotel). Then, in the last stretch I realized just what this film was doing and became extremely impressed with how it had strung me along.
SpoilerShow
The plot, what there is of it, is as follows. A pregnant young girl and her indigent boyfriend are mooching around Normandy. They break into an empty cottage and shack up there, mildly trashing it as they go. Little happens: they drink, giggle, read books, party. Eventually he gets a job on a trawler and develops a new circle of friends, leaving Milla more and more isolated (and more and more pregnant). He drops out of the movie. Milla gets a low-paid job cleaning a hotel, and makes a new friend with her co-worker. She gives birth, gets a flat of her own, raises her child, gets a new job, thinks about doing a course to become a Special Educator. . .

The Milla of the first half (like her useless boyfriend) is basically a blank state, albeit an irritatingly giggly one. By the end of the film, she has got her life together, turned out to be a great mum, and is looking for further advancement. What the film is documenting, in tiny little steps, is how an unformed person becomes formed, how an immature person in a 'dead-end' situation matures and attains a modicum of self-determination. It's all presented in an unfussy, non-dramatic manner and is a refreshing instance of major life changes not being an effect of narrative fiat but of patiently applied daily practice.

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Re: Women Directors List Discussion + Suggestions

#239 Post by zedz » Sun Aug 05, 2018 10:05 pm

Over the last couple of weeks I've seen about twenty new films by women directors, so here they all are!

Angels Wear White (Vivian Qu) – Solid low-level crime / conspiracy film in which a young, undocumented hotel worker observes (what turns out to be) the rape of two schoolgirls, and has to figure out what to do with the evidence. There’s a good deal of social critique (not all of it subtle) about the pervasiveness of corruption and the commodification of virginity, and a grim twist at the end that ties all the themes up in a disgusting bow. Good performances throughout, a great use of its well-defined setting, and it ends on a tiny glimmer of hope. This is the kind of dark, pessimistic thriller I associate more with Korea than China. It’s nothing startlingly fresh, but it’s a solid genre film done very well. I didn’t see Vivian Qu’s previous film, Trap Street, but now I’m looking forward to her next one.

Birds of Passage (Cristina Gallego, Ciro Guerra) – This is Cristina Gallego’s first directorial credit, but she previously collaborated with Ciro Guerra s producer on The Embrace of the Serpent and The Wind Journeys. This new film retains the ethnographic aspect of those two, but this time it’s folded into an apocalyptic crime epic, unfolding over a decade and a half in Colombia. Great visuals, and an operatic sweep to the narrative. Well worth checking out.

Blue My Mind (Lisa Bruhlmann) – I’m going to have to be coy about what this is about, even though it becomes pretty obvious from early in the film, and that element is the weakest thing about what is otherwise a pretty good adolescent-angst / body-horror drama. To be honest, if I’d known what the main idea of the film was, I wouldn’t have bothered going to see it, because it’s something that’s hard to pull off once, let alone twice, and probably not worth the effort (it would have worked much better as a metaphor). New girl at school struggles to fit in with the cool girls, has some kind of troubled past and an icy relationship with her mother, and discovers disturbing changes in her body. This basic material is handled really well, and it’s a delightful surprise when the Alpha Cool Girl actually turns out to be a good egg. The denouement is what it is.

Capharnaum (Nadine Labaki) – A clichéd mess. It’s trying painfully hard to be a sentimental wallow in misery and injustice, but at the same time it saddles itself with a goofy framing premise and can’t resist the temptation of an upbeat ending. Oh, and the director casts herself as the white knight putting things right. This is a film you should’ve already seen many, many times before in much better versions. Stand by for rapturous reviews and an Oscar nomination.

[Censored] (Sari Braithwaite) – An entertaining and fascinating collage film of bits and pieces that were cut out of films by the Australian censors between 1958 and 1971. The snippets are arranged thematically by subject, which is sometimes disturbing, sometimes revealing, and sometimes both (as with an endless, repetitive collection of shots of men slapping women). The film’s narration details the filmmaker’s struggle with the material, and for me that’s the most problematic aspect of the film, as the gist of it is that she is shocked, shocked! that the bits of sex and violence cut out of films from the 50s and 60s reveal a misogynistic filmmaking culture. Either she entered the whole project hopelessly naïve, or she’s being extremely disingenuous in her commentary. Either way, it kind of dilutes the impact of many of the interesting conclusions she does draw from the project. The two cut sequences that do get the feminist seal of approval are from Varda’s Le Bonheur and Bergman’s Persona – but surely she didn’t expect that those were the only kinds of films being censored at the time?

Djon Africa (Filipa Reis, Joao Miller Guerra) – Fairly standard rambling arthouse quest film, with a Portugese man travelling to Cape Verde to try and find the father he never met. It’s elevated by the winning performance of Miguel Moreira and the majesty of the Cape Verdean landscape.

The Field Guide to Evil (Veronika Franz, Katrin Gebbe, Agnieszka Smoczynska et al.) – A more miss than hit horror anthology. Franz / Fiala’s opening episode looks fantastic, and is about the only one to have any kind of interesting twist / resolution. It’s a middling opener that makes you optimistic for better things that never come. Smoczynska’s entry also looks fantastic, but doesn’t go anywhere after it’s worked through its premise. Gebbe’s ‘A Nocturnal Breath’ is solid, but fairly generic, and has to contend with a demonic CGI mouse as its Great Evil. It does have a reasonably decent conclusion, but like the entire film, there’s a big whiff of So What hanging over it.

Good Manners (Juliana Rojas, Marco Dutra) – This is perhaps the ultimate example of a film of two halves. For the first hour and a bit, it’s a slow-burn mystery about a nanny-housewife’s growing realization that something is wrong with her pregnant mistress (and eventual lover). This section is a well-done mood piece, predicated on the excellent rapport between the two actresses. For the second hour and a bit, the film is completely bonkers.
SpoilerShow
The mother was impregnated by a werewolf, and a little werewolf baby was on the way.

It’s not exactly good, but I was full of admiration for the filmmakers’ commitment to the complete change in tone and mood: the film even becomes a musical, for Christ’s sake! You want to see something genuinely weird, here you go.

Happy As Lazzaro (Alice Rohrwacher) – I wasn’t a huge fan of Rohrwacher’s The Wonders, but this film won me over. Lazzaro is a Candide-like innocent stranded in a gritty drama about rural struggle in an isolated community, until he unexpectedly becomes a Candide-like innocent stranded in a magic realist urban fable. Magic realism is incredibly difficult to pull off on film without becoming cloying, but Rohrwacher navigates the pitfalls with formidable skill, coming up with a film that ultimately recalls Pasolini (specifically the Toto / Ninetto films) and Bunuel (particularly with an episode in a church that could have come straight out of The Milky Way or The Phantom of Liberty) after starting out in Taviani territory. Her central naif never really becomes a figure of pathos, and I think that works strongly in the film’s favour and helps unify the film’s two halves.

Holiday (Isabella Eklof) – Contrived shocker that didn’t work for me. Little Sascha goes on holiday with her gangster buddies. Is she as bad as them, or she just really fucking dim? In the end, does it really matter? This is the kind of film that’s trying to impress us with how edgy it is by staging a prolonged rape scene in a single shot with a static camera at a distance. No thanks.

Island of the Hungry Ghosts (Gabrielle Brady) – Strange, impressive quasi-documentary film which plays like a European art film, but is a horror movie under its surface, the twist being that the monster lurking in the forests of Christmas Island isn’t the horde of primitive creatures with nasty claws advancing inexorably across the land, but the Australian government. The film juxtaposes the harrowing refugee interviews conducted by a counsellor with her reasonably sunny family life, and with footage of the migration of the island’s red land crabs. There’s a risk with this kind of subject that the suffering of entire groups of people is reduced to the mere catalyst for the protagonist’s trivial personal crisis (see, for instance, another recent Australian film, Jirga), but this film smartly sidesteps that criticism by giving full expression to the refugee’s stories and distinguishing them clearly from the counsellor’s separate but related professional frustrations. It’s an intelligent response to an intolerable situation, and I hope this small, intriguing film attracts the wider exposure it deserves.

Kusama Infinity (Heather Lenz) – Bog-standard portrait documentary of the artist Yayoi Kusama. Her personality carries the film, which is remarkable only in its consistently tin-eyed stretching and crushing of all manner of valuable archival footage to fit the uniform frame. This kind of visual illiteracy is particularly galling in a film about a visual artist.

Liyana (Adam & Amanda Kopp) – Somewhat bland quasi-documentary about a storytelling workshop conducted with Eswatini (Swaziland) orphans. They collaborate on a narrative, which is illustrated and (barely) animated for us. The film intercuts the kids’ brainstorming with the story they’re forging, and the presentation is simplified and upbeat as it if were intended for other children. But the most interesting thing about the project is that the story the children come up with reflects their own personal experiences, which are generally horrific, so they create a brutal story haunted by AIDS, violence and death, in which the heroine is raped and children are kidnapped, caged and trafficked. This makes the presentation of the film a little disjunctive: are kids elsewhere really the right audience for this story? Are they going to understand the cathartic power of exorcising those experiences in narrative form, or are they just going to be confused or freaked out? If this is really a film for adults, then it could really use a lot more grounding in the realities of the kids’ lives and a lot less specious uplift.

Looking for Oum Kulthum (Shirin Neshat) – I’d be totally up for a perfectly ordinary biopic of the great Arabic singer as long as it had wall-to-wall amazing music, but I was totally unprepared for this narcissistic trainwreck. Kulthum’s life and work is barely dealt with, and dealt with in an inanely perfunctory and clichéd manner. Instead, we get a pretentious and self-serving self-reflexive film about how difficult it is being a film director making a film about Oum Kulthum. And this material in itself is just as clichéd as the tired biopic we’re fitfully watching being made. If the filmmaker were striving to make something interesting and individual, and meeting resistance from conservative producers / crew, maybe there’d be a story to tell, but it seemed to me like we were watching a mediocre director making a really shitty biopic, while striving to make an even shittier one. A completely pointless film, and not even the musical numbers can save it. They’re fine, I suppose, but the music is always truncated and often pointlessly rescored.

Milla (Valerie Massadian) – Already commented on above. A wonderful film!

Nico, 1988 (Susanna Nicchiarelli) – Decent biopic, with a great central performance by Trine Dyrholm and a couple of galvanising musical numbers. In the middle of the film there’s a version of ‘My Heart Is Empty’ which the narrative demands be a transcendent performance, and the movie pulls it off. The rest of the characters are pretty sketchy, and whenever Dyrholm is off the screen the energy level drops precipitously, but this is a solid portrait of the unglamorous side of the music business. (Side note: the film is extremely coy about naming Alain Delon as the father of Nico’s son, presumably for legal reasons, which I found mildly surprising. Surely they could at least have identified Delon’s parents as the people who raised and adopted Ari without fear of a lawsuit?)

Rafiki (Wanuri Kahui) – Fairly standard lesbian coming-of-age story with the stakes dramatically upped by being set in Kenya, where same-sex relationships are an imprisonable offence. This follows the predictable ‘forbidden love’ story beats slavishly, which makes it curiously old fashioned in 2018, but it’s watchable enough.

The Rider (Chloe Zhao) – Slight, pretty homemade Malick. It’s a quasi-documentary, but that doesn’t bring much to the table in the way of freshness or insight: the storyline is generic Sundance life lessons all the way, and the film only really comes alive in what are presumably its most purely documentary moments, when Brady is actually working with various horses. This is a project where I don’t think tailoring the raw material into a fictionalized narrative form did it any favours.

Terror Nullius (Soda Jerk) – A joyous, if glib, politicized mash-up of hundreds of Australian films. Brief, punchy and often hilarious, this meticulously edited and altered collage satirizes Australian politics, racism, sexism and illusions of ‘tolerance’ by slamming together the images it creates of itself. Thus the girls at Hanging Rock note a passing Steve Irwin just before they confront the baddie from Wolf Creek, and all of this is observed by Skippy, who then offers a post-colonial reading of the scene. It’s inevitably his-and-miss, but a fun way to spend an hour, and an extremely impressive feat of de- and re-construction.

You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay) – I don’t have any problem with genre films, let alone really well-made genre films, or genre films made by supposedly ‘non-genre’ directors, and I thought Phoenix was terrific in this film. Much as I enjoyed it, though, it didn’t feel to me like there was much substance to it: no other appreciable characters, a bare plot machine without much nuance. Bravura filmmaking, and some nice tricks, but it didn’t stick with me. Maybe it’s because the next film I saw after this was the French drama Custody, a brilliant first film that reminded me how much more difficult it is to make an arresting film about the victims of violence than it is to make one about the perpetrators of it.

Zama (Lucretia Martel) – Doing this in alphabetical order means I’m saving perhaps the best for last. This is a substantial leap forward for Martel in terms of ambition, and it’s a triumph. Like many of the other films in this group, it’s a complex mix of genres and registers, combining a sweeping historical epic with a bureaucratic comedy, but Martel masters the slippery twists of tone and introduces other, stranger flavours at will, including a kind of tinnitus effect that adds an otherworldly dimension to scenes of personal crisis for our woebegone anti-hero. There’s a fleeting visual reference to the panoramic historical paintings of Argentine artist Candido Lopez, which seems to be there only for its visual beauty and to indicate that Martel has done her homework. This is one of those films that affords the pleasure of entrusting yourself to a master filmmaker who’s going to take you a journey who knows where.

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