Mary Wiles

Senior Lecturer
New Zealand

Voted for

Céline and Julie Go Boating1974Jacques Rivette
Cléo from 5 to 71962Agnès Varda
Les VAMPIRES1915Louis Feuillade
Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles1975Chantal Akerman
India Song1975Marguerite Duras
Daughters of the Dust1991Julie Dash
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg1964Jacques Demy
Orphée1950Jean Cocteau
Shoah1985Claude Lanzmann
Man with a Movie Camera1929Dziga Vertov


Céline and Julie Go Boating

1974 France

Cléo from 5 to 7

1962 France, Italy


1915 France

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

1975 Belgium, France

India Song

1975 France

Daughters of the Dust

1991 USA

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

1964 France, Federal Republic of Germany


1950 France


1985 France

Man with a Movie Camera

1929 Ukrainian SSR, USSR

Further remarks

Daunted by the prospect of selecting the ten 'greatest' films in the history of cinema, I am opting instead to name those ten films that resonate with my own personal history. I paid close attention to women as creators, as actors, and as subjects. It was for this reason that I decided upon Céline and Julie Go Boating as emblematic of the Rivette oeuvre; likewise, I chose Cléo from 5 to 7 from the Agnès Varda corpus. Certainly, Céline and Julie offers the most exuberant, haunting expression of female friendship in the history of the cinema; whereas Varda’s Cléo allows us to envision one woman’s destiny as uniquely her own.

I chose to include Louis Feuillade’s serial film, Les Vampires, in which the mischief and magic of Rivette’s elusive heroines are anticipated in the inimitable Irma Vep, the most radical representative of silent cinema’s female characters. The imbricated network through which Irma Vep moves in Les Vampires seems counter to the hollow, minimalist space that Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman inhabits, yet these heroines occupy a comparable place of importance in film history. Jeanne Dielman can best be understood as an aesthetic incursion that tears away everything that preceded it to propose a feminist écriture that eviscerates our illusions.

I felt compelled to include India Song where Delphine Seyrig appears as the mesmeric woman, Anne-Marie Stretter, a bewitching, phantasmic presence around which the Durassian universe of music, movement and dance revolves. The only American director to appear in my list, Julie Dash is an exceptional storyteller, a black woman recording and retelling history in her sublime Daughters of the Dust, a film that locates power in the interweaving of women characters’ voices and in so doing, posits a new genesis derived from the polyrhythmic aesthetic of the African diaspora.

I have chosen to include Jacques Demy’s Umbrellas of Cherbourg, a reinvention of the Hollywood musical that with an uncannily prescient sense of timing exposes the betrayal and hypocrisy that issue from one young woman’s unplanned pregnancy. The Algerian War is the historical and political vanishing point against which Demy stages this bittersweet love story that ends in irrevocable loss.

From those works that form Jean Cocteau’s celebrated Orphic trilogy, I have chosen the palimpsestic chef-d’oeuvre, Orphée, for its promotion of poetic contemplation and experimentation in autoportraiture that anticipates what is today regarded as queer cinema.

I have chosen Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah, a film that stands alone in the history of cinema in its refusal to represent the unrepresentable. I continue to marvel at Dziga Vertov’s Man with A Movie Camera’s dazzling formal beauty that is matched by its irrepressible political force.