|Mikey and Nicky
|The Tied Balloon
|Portrait of a Lady on Fire
A personal reassessment which doesn't trade its subjectivity for universality; a testament to the fragile responsibility of telling film stories; a deeply moving ethical reassessment of what it means to be a camera and a person – never fully entwined, never fully separate.
How can a woman ever afford to be both wayward and astray? Wanda showed us how it's done without telling us why (or why not) – Barbara Loden's crisp sensitivity and sudden spikes of ambivalence are immortalised in her directorial debut and only film.
Mikey and Nicky
Friendship at its most vulnerable is at the centre of this superb crime drama while Mikey and Nicky figure their stuff out – silently and through outbursts – with the help of a neurotically pronounced John Cassavetes and a determinedly wholesome Peter Falk. Elaine May depicts male bonds as enduring while they bleed – a raw, unforgiving look full of unconditional love.
Holding up a distorting mirror to what patriarchy expects of women, Chytilová probably anticipated the consequences this bold – yet delightfully playful – satire would bring her. Daisies I read as an almanac of non-conformity and a friendly wink (to eternity and back).
Claire Denis has taught me things about the body – male and female – I didn't know existed. Beau Travail possesses an internal motion, one which is strictly irreducible to its pacing, cuts, and editing in general. On the contrary, its motion is made up of micro-motions: the film vibrates as if conducted by Denis Lavant's body, it jumps, it shifts its weight, it sways, it crouches and expands with the choreography of desire.
There are potentialities in this world, also outside of it, on its side, on top, and under. The unflinching desire to transcend quotidian and imaginary lives characterises Maya Deren's protagonist in her journey to splice reality with its hidden counterpart – a promise for the future of woman to come.
The Tied Balloon
The film had a two-day run before it was banned for thirty years. The Bulgarian socialist government, rumour has it, was offended by a metaphor read into the figure of a donkey, which supposedly satirised the party leader. Binka Zhelyazkova was not a director for the allegorical, but The Tied-Up Balloon survives as one of the surrealist films of the 20th century, heavy on symbolism but light on humour. The ingenuity of its script and style has made history for European filmmakers at the time, let alone women – and not only thanks to the balloon-character, nor the donkey.
Aside from the sheer scope of the film, its duration and thematic meandering, Happy Hour remains a minimalist masterpiece by virtue of the carefully sustained attention to all four protagonists (women in on way or another without men). Sharing one's solitude is the material of cinema and Hamaguchi knows it well.
Love stories bloom despite likelihood, statistics, credibility, heteronormativity. There is no small love story – all are great from the get-go – and Jenkins shows complementarity and rejection with the same tenderness, while James Laxton's use of PoV shots convey what it is like to fall in love while beholding that one other who is destined to be ungraspable, but never unknown.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Retuning the gaze can be fatal, Hades warns us. But Sciamma's uncompromising film beckons us to do so and through the interplay between historical realism and lurking ghost-like danger, it teaches the viewer a lot more about the act of looking, spectatorship, the composition of the lover's insistent stare. A paradigm for desire as a plot-propeller and a creative force – and here, lesbian desire on screen – Portrait of a Lady on Fire births a new era for the female gaze.
All the films I chose feature desire and love (or lack, or failure, or glitch) in its various, never-ending iterations. I wholeheartedly believe this is the basis of great cinema, in one way or another.