Seeking out great films by women about women in an industry that so often fails to allow opportunities for them to flourish is a hard affair, but so worth it to find authentic and genuine filmmaking that seeks to understand the nuances of the lives led by the protagonists. From the complexities of love and sexuality, to barbaric practices of oppression, there’s so many voices to be heard – and many hidden gems to find. This list is comprised of 5 films that in some way, big or small, allow us to intimately experience the different lives of the characters.
Andrea Arnold’s cross-country adventure sees Star (Sasha Lane) seek freedom from the confines of her rundown neighbourhood and child-care duties. When she spots a group of wild youths in a supermarket so begins her desire to move, and to keep moving so that she doesn’t have to stop and think about what is behind or in front of her. American Honey encompasses so much of the want for escapism, and the chosen-family dynamics that drive people to pack a bag and never look back. Arnold makes it easy to understand why, for Star, heading for nothing is easier than heading for something unfulfilling.
Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s Turkey-set film follows five sisters as they prepare to be sent off into arranged marriages. With a focus on the youngest sibling, Mustang’s tact is in the differences of perspective between the girls, each has specific qualities and outlooks, as well as differing feelings about what awaits them outside the bubble of their rooms – where they lay playing with each other’s hair and causing trouble. Lale (Güneş Nezihe Şensoy) waits anxiously for each of her sisters to be ripped away from her, and eventually decides to barricade herself inside her home in an effort to keep the men outside away from her last remaining source of companionship. Mustang is a provocative and powerful insight on a tradition that has a long history with suffering.
Well and truly in the hidden gem category, So Yong Kim’s aching romance chronicling the years of separation and intermittent get togethers of two best friends is the type of heartbreak so true and authentic it has you crawling back for more. Sarah (Riley Keough) faces motherhood alone, and in her quiet need for intimacy falls in love with Mindy (Jena Malone), who remains just out of reach. The chemistry is believable and heartfelt, and the love story is one that camps out in your chest and refuses to leave. Lovesong’s ability to tap into a reserve of all-consuming longing that defies time and distance is both addictive and sob-inducing. The film’s perspective belongs completely to Sarah, and is impressively personal. You’ll want the tissues for this one.
When Cathleen (Margaret Qualley) decides to become a nun, she feels a calling to her faith. A devotion and love so strong that she comfortably dedicates her daily life to it, but when she begins to struggle with her sexuality and desire for another nun, the parallels between devotion to religion and devotion to those we fall in love with are drawn. Cathleen begs to be comforted by the woman she has grown attached to while her internal battle against the shame that grows in her heart intensifies. Director Margaret Betts sets out to ask difficult questions, and is fine with difficult answers – because the sacrificial elements of Novitiate are, at their core, deserving of deep thought.
Jennifer Fox’s examination of the way we manipulate our own memories to survive trauma is difficult to stomach. The director’s own story is fashioned into an explorative and disturbing recount of sexual abuse that, through inspired editing, visualises the realisation that something laying at the back of her mind was much more insidious than she had previously recounted. The fabric of time shifts in layers, and the shocking facts unearthed and pulled from the pile of forgotten days are further made bleak by the admirable portraits of a woman Jennifer trusted, woven into the timeline as if to cause self-doubt. Fox’s film is a brave and uncompromising outing that required hard truths, and is truly unforgettable.
The cinematic landscape is changing, and an influx of new creative voices from different backgrounds can only help to diversify and add interest to yearly lineups. The next big step is recognition for the abnormal contenders that usually go amiss during awards season, and a hope that going forward we will have so many different types of films and creators to pick from that no Best Picture lineup will ever look boring again.