Senior Research Fellow in Art, University of Reading
|Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
|The Watermelon Woman
|The House Is Black
|Killer of Sheep
Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
This is slow cinema, before slow cinema arrived; it is feminist queer cinema, but of a distinctly different quality. It is a crushing indictment of European culture, measured out in peeled potatoes and burnt coffee.
An astonishing film about female labour that divided feminist critics, some of whom misguidedly saw it as a saccharine paean to family values, rather than the brutal horror-movie that it is, filled with sunshine and misogyny.
Sembène's film, made in the aftermath of decolonisation, shows how complicity in wage slavery remained a commonplace in bourgeois French households. Its exceptionally pared back narrative, featuring an outstandingly underplayed performance from Mbissine Thérèse Diop, is a searing example of Black feminine refusal.
The Watermelon Woman
Featuring 'Cheryl', a fictionalised version of Dunye, a Black lesbian who works in a video store by day and is a filmmaker by night uncovering the story of a Black lesbian actress of the 1930s, this is a brilliant example of the queer archive at work, traced with humour, humility, and plenty of lesbian making-out! It is also cinephilia in its purest form as an open, questioning, critical love of movies, seeking out the voices lost in the midst of cinematic history.
This is a truly strange, astonishing film - ahead of its time and timeless in so many ways. It carries with it queer tensions in the figure of Michel Simon as Père Jules, Dita Parlo's powerful, bewitching femininity, and the strangeness of life on the water in interwar France.
Although I am less confident about Ramsay's choices and orientations in her later films, Ratcatcher is beautiful, sensitive, delicate and dangerous: its subject matter is working class Glasgow during the refuse collectors' strikes of the 1970s, but its concerns with death, fragility and child sexuality are compelling, ethereal and uneasy.
The House Is Black
Short films do not feature regularly enough on S&S's polls: but they are films, and they are important. Farrokhzad's is especially significant as one of the birthplaces of film poetry and essay film, which, like Agnès Varda's LA POINTE COURTE in France, paved the way for a new wave of cinema in Iran.
Killer of Sheep
KILLER OF SHEEP is a landmark, almost lost film from the LA Rebellion, drawing on neorealism and a profound compassion for the lives of Black working class people living in LA. Deeply embedded in the community, it walks a compelling line between documentary and fiction. It is a foundational reference point for later filmmakers exploring alternative visions of LA, including Sean Baker's TANGERINE.
This film is rarely screened, but is a landmark in indigenous filmmaking from Aoteroa New Zealand. Tracking the reluctant processes of restitution of a Māori mask from a German museum to its original communities, the film reveals tensions in layers of institutionalisation, suppressed colonial violence, and self-presentation by indigenous people in European-coloniser settings. Barclay, alongside Mereta Mita, needs to be heralded as a foundational figure in indigenous filmmaking.
This film still swirls in my head: it *feels* like Woolf's novel, which is an astonishing achievement. Like many of the films I've outlined in my top ten, ORLANDO is filled with the world of dreams, and sleep, and sexuality: this is what I want from cinema. I want film's capacity to show a world other than what is, and to show me the world that is differently. ORLANDO shows the way to create that new world.
Though I know that some of these films have reached the top 100 in previous years, I know that some of them have not, and some of them will not. Like many other scholars and critics who've been posting their choices on social media, I am interested in bringing visibility to films by feminist, queer and POC filmmakers. I am interested in films which challenge the political perspectives of conventional cinema. In short, am interested in films that give me hope, not necessarily because they are *hopeful*, but because they resist what cinema was always at risk of becoming: a white men's club where everyone else, everything else, is sidelined.