10 Films Directed by Women

Today (8th of March) is the International Women’s Day, and I think it is perfect time to celebrate female directors and their achievements. Therefore, I am taking this opportunity to present 10 films by 9 great female directors which I previously reviewed on this website. There is a lot of talent when it comes to women directors, and I am glad that this year the following women are receiving their recognition: Regina King (One Night in Miami), Chloé Zhao (Nomadland) and Kelly Reichardt (First Cow). Some of my favourite female directors also include Jane Campion, Claire Denis and Sofia Coppola, and I previously made posts on Maya Deren and Lynne Ramsay (You Were Never Really Here). This year, I am also planning to draw attention to the following female directors on my blog: Penny Marshall, Chinonye Chukwu (Clemency) and Lucile Hadžihalilović (Evolution).

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10 Great Films Based on Plays

Did you know that classic film Casablanca [1942] was based on an unproduced play titled Everybody Comes to Rick’s? by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison?; or that film Moonlight [2016] was based on another unproduced play titled Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney? Many a great film first originated in a play, and because of this origin, these films often rely much on performances and have certain “intimacy” to them not found in other films. I previously reviewed such plays-turned-films as Prelude to a Kiss [1992], Carnage [2011], It’s Only The End of the World [2016], Marjorie Prime [2017] and Una [2017], and other notable films in this category include Seventh Heaven [1937], Brief Encounter [1945], Steel Magnolias [1989], Glengarry Glen Ross [1992], Meet Joe Black [1998], Closer [2004], Doubt [2008] and August: Osage County [2013]. Below are ten great films that first originated in plays (excluding Shakespearean adaptations).

I. The Seventh Seal [1957]

Play: Trämålning (Wood Painting) [1954] by Ingmar Bergman

This well-known masterpiece of a film by Ingmar Bergman stems from a one-act play by Bergman himself. He wrote a play titled Trämålning (Wood Painting) and it was initially supposed to be a play to be performed by students. In the story, the country is suffering because of the Black Death pandemic and a young Knight with his Squire have just returned from the Crusades. The land is in panic, and, unwittingly, the Knight joins a wagon of travelling performers. Death is also their follower, challenging the Knight to a play of chess. What will be the outcome? Philosophical, visually-striking and full of symbolism, The Seventh Seal is an uncanny portrayal of the Middle Ages and an iconic film in the history of cinema.

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“Nowhere in Africa” Review

Nowhere in Africa (2001)

When I heard about The Home Sweet Home Blogathon, I knew I had to participate. Homes and families have always been such an important theme in films, and it is one of my favourite topics. I previously talked about the meaning of homes in my post “Housing Films: 99 Homes (2014) and House of Sand and Fog (2003)”, and this is another opportunity to focus on families in films, the loyalty that binds them together despite hardships they endure. Directed by Caroline Link, Nowhere in Africa is a German-language film and a winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It is perfect for this blogathon because it focuses on a family reunion and separation, on familial misunderstandings and hope, as well as on finding home in a new place. It is based on a memoir by Stefanie Zweig that tells of a life of one Jewish family that had to emigrate to Kenya in 1938 because of Nazi persecutions in their native Germany. The family, mother Jettel (Juliane Kohler), father Walter (Merab Ninidze) and their small daughter Regina (Lea Kurka), settle on a farm and soon make friends with their cook Owuor (Sidede Onyulo). They initially have very few ideas of what really lies in store for them on the new soil. This film, which has beautiful production design and a feel of a real life lived daily, is something much more than one’s usual story of a new settler or a story of the WWII told from a perspective of someone living in Africa. The adaptation is a touching tale of a family enduring frightful separations and hopeful reunions through the years, staying true to their family bond despite immense hardships. It is a film about the meaning of home and identity, an important story to tell about the need to welcome and to cherish people’s differences.

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Recently Watched: Films: The Servant (1963), A Kiss Before Dying (1956) & Isle of the Dead (1945)

I. The Servant (1963)

Directed by Joseph Losey, The Servant is considered by some to be one of the finest British films. It tells of Tony (James Fox), a flamboyant member of the upper class, who has just moved in to his central London residence after a period spent in Africa. He immediately hires a man-servant for himself, demure, respectful and knowledgeable Hugo Barrett (Dirk Bogarde). Hugo not only knows how to cook and take care of a house, but he is also an expert interior decorator and has been a gentleman’s servant for many notable Lordships. This tale of a friction between the upstairs and the downstairs reaches the zenith of tension when Hugo introduces “his sister” (Sarah Miles) to the household and when Tony’s own fiancée (Susan Stewart) decides to make the house her own dominion. The Servant works delightfully as a satire on class differences and servitude, showing a thin line that often separates usefulness from a nuisance, and kindness from submissiveness. This tale of hidden corruption has a frightening change of dynamics.

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The Animation Tag

I got an idea for this post through winst0lfportal and his animation tag post. Borrowing some questions from it, I created my own tag. I love animations, and am a supporter and promoter of international animations (see my previous posts on Russian, French, Chinese and Japanese animations).

1. Favourite Disney animation?

Beauty and the Beast” (1991).

2. Favourite non-Disney animation?

It is tempting to say “Spirited Away” (2001), but I have a soft spot for “Howl’s Moving Castle” (2004) and would like to make one day an in-depth comparison between it and “Beauty and the Beast” (1991) (a fun one since both are based on other source materials). I also love the works of Satoshi Kon and Makoto Shinkai.

3. Criminally-underseen animation you recommend to everyone?

The Illusionist” (2010) is a lovely, heart-warming animation from Sylvain Chomet (“Les triplettes de Belleville” (2003)). In “The Illusionist”, a French illusionist finds himself unemployed and travels to Scotland. There, he meets a young girl and their destinies collide.

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“Soul” Review

Soul (2020)

This new animation comes from the creators of Inside Out (2015), and is about a music teacher and aspiring jazz pianist, Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) who dies by falling into New York City’s manhole. He begins his journey in the world “beyond” (“The Great Before”) and his reluctant companion becomes a yet-unborn soul called “22”. As it turns out, the two have much to teach each other about life, death and human destiny. Soul is best when it is rooted in simplicity, heart-warmness and quiet moments. It certainly loses some of its coherence and has many undercooked ideas, as well as mixed messages, when it tries to present the world of “The Great Before”. Nevertheless, the overall effect is that of one lovely animation, with one lovable character at its centre, which portrays New York City and the jazz scene beautifully. Soul has many redeeming elements, and those messages in the story that finally do get through effectively to the audience make it a wonderful cinematic experience overall.

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“Death of a Cyclist” Review

Death of a Cyclist (Muerte de un ciclista) (1955) 

Death of a Cyclist is a Spanish-language film that was the winner of the FIPRESCI Award at the 1955 Cannes Film Festival. Directed by Juan Antonio Bardem (Main Street (1956)), this social realist film tells of a couple of secret, privileged lovers residing in Madrid who are involved in a hit-and-run accident involving a cyclist. Afraid that their illicit affair will be known to everybody, María José de Castro (Lucia Bosè) and Juan Fernandez Soler (Alberto Closas) failed to stop and help a cyclist who they accidentally hit in their sports car. What follows is a dangerous game of trying to guess who knows what and who can use that information against whom. Parallel to this, Juan Soler, a university instructor, goes through some kind of an existential crisis which leads to surprising results. Death of a Cyclist is one intriguing thriller with Hitchcockian elements. There is plenty in the film on the topic of class divide and the faults of the upper class. Although frustrating at times with a questionable ending, Death of a Cyclist also benefits from nuanced directing which brings out the best in this story about crime and attempts at redemption.

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Alternative Film Posters

I would like to wish all my followers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! (Let 2021 be a happier and less stressful year for all of us!) Below I am presenting some of my favourite alternative film posters, which also includes a poster to Home Alone, a quintessential Christmas film. See also my previous posts – Minimalist” Film Posters and Movie Directors’ Styles Reinterpreted As Architecture. Do you like “film art”? What are your favourite alternative film posters?

I. The “House Architecture” Posters

These are some of my favourite alternative film posters and they often get quite intricate. They work best when a story in a film revolves around one house, but also when there are “layers” to a film story, as in the case of Inception below.

Inception by Chris Skinner
Home Alone by Adam Simpson
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3 Most Underappreciated Songs in Animation

I. You Know Better Than Ifrom Joseph: King of Dreams [2000]

This song, written by John Bucchino and performed by David Campbell, is from the straight-to-video animated film Joseph: King of Dreams. The song is inspirational and feels very personal. It is sung by Joseph when he finds himself near to despair and at the lowest point in his life. He has to start from the very beginning again and build his life anew. The faith and trust in God enable him to do that. The animation is often compared negatively to the great animation The Prince of Egypt [1998], but the comparison is a bit unjust and Joseph: King of Dream should stand on its own as that that has many strong points, including the amazing dream sequences and this wonderful song.

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“I, Daniel Blake” Review

I, Daniel Blake (2016)

Winner of the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake is a kind of film whose theme of the individual vs. the system, brutal honesty and underlying power make it a compulsory watch for everyone. The story centres on Daniel Blake (Dave Johns), a 59-year old widowed carpenter living in the UK, who is forced to rely on the benefits system (welfare system) to support himself after his doctor diagnosed him with heart problems. What follows is his experience being part of that system where a person is just a number and where there is little place for basic human understanding and compassion. All this may sound mundane and even dull, but the film is anything but that. Under Loach’s nuanced direction, we follow Blake as he makes friends with a single mother Katie (Hayley Squires) and does everything in his power to make his own and others’ lives bearable. The true power of this gentle, realistic film that displays the kindness of others and human hope, lies in showing ordinary people struggling on a daily basis against the system that is paradoxically designed to keep them in the same miserable place.

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Recently Watched: Films: Raise the Red Lantern (1991), Quiz Show (1994) & Close-Up (1990)

I. Raise the Red Lantern (1991)

Chinese director Zhang Yimou tells in his film, which is based on the novel Wives and Concubines by Su Tong, the story of a beautiful nineteen-year-old ex-university student Songlian (Gong Li) who decides to become a concubine in the 1920s China. After her decision, Songlian finds herself in the palace of “red lanterns” which has “four houses” for her husband’s four mistresses. She soon gets acquainted with the elderly and indifferent first Mistress, with the friendly and seemingly happy second Mistress and with the still young and beautiful, but jealous third Mistress. All is well, or is it? The palace’s strange, centuries-old traditions and customs first bewilder Songlian and then force her most shameful qualities out, as her husband randomly shifts the power between the four houses. Songlian soon finds herself in a miniature society and under the patriarchal dominance which she has never imagined to exist, with her husband employing arbitrary and complex policies of rewards and punishments to keep the mistresses in line. In this dangerous game, Songlian realises that she must learn to handle not only the three previous jealous Mistresses, but also her hostile maid Yan’er and the realisation of a lifetime imprisonment. Raise the Red Lantern is a psychologically-intriguing film about one oppressive world where the competition for power, hopelessness, despair and the weight of guilt all mingle as the palace changes people and makes them into forms it desires and the master has planned in advance. With the exquisitely beautiful cinematography (by Zgao Fei), Raise the Red Lantern is one of the most important films of the 1990s. 10/10  

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“Tekkonkinkreet” (“Treasure Town”) Mini-Review

Tekkonkinkreet (2006)

Based on a manga Tekkon kinkurito (1993) by Taiyo Matsumoto, Treasure Town is a breathtakingly-beautiful animation about two orphaned boys: street-wise and brave Kuro (Black), and lovable and innocent Shiro (White). Street-raised Yin and Yang of the cruel world around them, the boys defend their only home – the “lost city”, the “city of myth”, the Treasure Town. First their opponents are simply rival gangs, but they soon notice the encroachment of a much more powerful enemy: the yakuza. Members of the notorious Japanese mafia have certain drastic, commercial designs on the city, and the duo of brothers feel that they cannot just give away their decrepit town full of wonder, their small, bizarre universe, their home. This colourful, sometimes violent, but grimly-realistic, animation packs inside much commentary on social issues relevant to Japan, and has both, a touching emotional core (the brotherly love) and a clever structure and plot.

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Previews: “News of the World”, “The Last Duel” and “Deep Water”

I missed writing the kind of posts where I preview films to be released at some future date (I previously wrote only three such instalments, one in 2015, one in 2016, and one in 2017). Now, I am talking about three films I am excited to watch in 2021, and all three of them are based on books – Paul Greengrass’s News of the World, Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel and Adrian Lyne’s Deep Water.

A poster to Paul Greengrass’s new film News of the World.

News of the World (2021)

Story: Based on a novel by Paulette Jiles, this film tells the story of Captain Kidd (Tom Hanks) who, in the year of 1870, travels across the US, spreading “the news of the world” to people. When he comes across a little girl, who has recently been an Indian native and is now left abandoned and homeless, he decides to take charge of her and return her to her real family in South Texas. The issue for the Captain, though, is that Johanna still considers herself a Kiowa, an Indian native, and, as the two travel together, they soon discover many things that bond them in the increasingly hostile and threatening world around them.

Director: Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips (2013)).

Leads: Tom Hanks and Helena Zengel.

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7 Great Films About Pianists

My last review focused on a cellist who was forced to abandon his chosen profession and resort to a more undesirable one. This got me thinking about musicians in films, and I am presenting below seven great films that focus on pianists, their lives and struggles. While some pianists below are completely fictional, such as Ada in The Piano or Tom in The Talented Mr. Ripley, others are based on real-life people, including David Helfgott in Shine and Mozart in Amadeus. In no particular order:

I. The Piano (1993)

It is one of those rare movies that is not just about a story, or some characters“, said once film critic Roger Ebert, “but about a whole universe of feeling“. Set in the 19th century, Jane Campion’s very fine film tells the story of a psychologically-mute Scottish woman Ada who travels to New Zealand with her young daughter Flora after an arranged marriage. Ada’s passion for music and for hand-crafted piano is touching in the film as she has to face strict social conventions in a foreign land while also longing for the love that is genuine and freely-chosen. The film also has one of the most beautiful soundtracks ever, composed by Michael Nyman.

II. The Pianist (2002)

This film is based on the autobiographical book The Pianist (1946) that tells the story of a Holocaust survivor, pianist and composer Władysław Szpilman. Masterful and unforgettable in every way, the film by Polanski is all about one Jewish man hiding in apartments across Warsaw as the Nazis brutal, evil regime is set to hunt down and kill every remaining Jewish person in the city. The film emphasises the sheer beauty of the piano music, and how it has the power to transcend life, bring out the best in humanity and unite it.

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“Departures” Review

Departures (2008)

Departures is the winner of the 2009 Academy Award in the category of the Best Foreign Language Picture. Loosely based on a memoir by Shinmon Aoki titled Coffinman: The Journal of a Buddhist Mortician, it tells the story of Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki), an ex-cellist who comes to his home town and finds a very undesirable employment as a nōkanshi, a traditional ritual mortician in Japan. The profession attracts strong societal criticism and prejudice, and soon Kobayashi has to justify his choice not only to his wife and those around him, but also to himself, while finding the courage to finally face the most hated man in his life – his own father. Departures is a wonderful film full of humour and touching moments. This film about one man’s journey of self-discovery and finding forgiveness is also an admirable attempt to challenge and to help alleviate the nonsensical and unfair discrimination faced by people who work in this very difficult and challenging profession in Japan.

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Sean Connery (25 August 1930 – 31 October 2020)

Sean Connery as Mark Rutland in Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie (1964)

It was with great sadness that I heard yesterday of the passing of Sean Connery, a Scottish actor and one of the film legends. He was a man of incomparable charisma whose acting and screen presence were always distinguishable and memorable. Possessing innate smoothness, gentleness and his very own recognisable sense of masculinity and vigour, he emanated the persona of a true gentleman and a real action hero on screen and both at the same time, inspiring warmth and a sense of awe in others. If there ever existed an actor or just a human being working in a film industry who personified the word “class”, it was Sir Sean Connery.

Sean Connery won his Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his role in The Untouchables [1987], but most people remember him as being the world’s first ever James Bond, which was also his breakthrough role. And, Sean Connery will always be the James Bond in my eyes. Gallant and almost too nonchalant, but caring, romantically-involved, but objective, Connery was the most perfect cast for Fleming’s famous Agent 007. With his incomparable screen presence, he could get everyone following his character, no matter the location or the plot. Dr. No [1962] and From Russia With Love [1963] were good films, but my favourite James Bond film with Sean Connery has to be Goldfinger [1964]. I think it was Alec Baldwin who put it best in his obituary article of the great man, saying that Connery had a “trifecta dynamic” and he knew [instinctively] “where masculinity, sensitivity, and intelligence intersected“. There had been other handsome actors before and after Connery, but I think it was Connery’s delicate combination of “masculinity, sensitivity and intelligence“, as well as his skill of presenting himself and his character’s actions as immersively as possible, that helped make him into a star.

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5 Films That Centre Around Film-Making

Last week we saw the release of a tease trailer for the new film by David Fincher Mank (2020). This film is written by Fincher’s father Jack Fincher and is about “screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz and his battles with director Orson Welles over screenplay credit for Citizen Kane (1941)”. Films that portray other films, Hollywood or deal with film-making in general are curious since they provide an insight into their own industry. In this vein, we can recall Fellini’s 12 (1963), Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso (1988), Hazanavicius’s The Artist (2011), Hancock’s Saving Mr. Banks (2013), Coen brothers’ Hail, Caesar! (2016), and, more recently, Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019). In the list below, I am focusing on 5 similarly-themed films that usually escape this categorisation on the Internet. In no particular order:

I. A Star Is Born [1954]

Arguably, this film showcases Judy Garland’s phenomenal acting ability the best. Here, Esther Blodgett (Garland), later, Vicki Lester, finds her desired career of a singing actress skyrocketing after she meets already almost forgotten, disillusioned and alcoholic movie star Norman Maine (James Mason). The film by George Cukor (The Philadelphia Story (1940)) clearly demonstrates the pitfalls and disillusionments associated with wanting and trying to be an actress in a movie industry, as Blodgett/Lester tries to navigate tricky behind-the-scenes action and movie studios’ unscrupulous management, being torn between hope and despair, love and hate.

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Documentary: “Tell Me Who I Am”

Tell Me Who I Am (2019)

Any film or documentary that centres on identical twins and their relationship is fascinating in its own right, but if that film or documentary also involves the case of total amnesia, dark secrets and completely buried past, then it becomes one of the most interesting ever filmed (at least for me). Tell Me Who I Am is based on a memoir of the same name by twins Alex and Marcus Lewis, and Joanna Hodgkin, and tells the real story of Alex Lewis, who lost all his memories when he was involved in a motorcycle accident at the age of 18. From that age onwards, Alex had to rely on his identical twin brother Marcus to tell him everything – from how to tie his shoelaces and ride his bicycle to who he was and what were the relationships inside his family. As time passes in the story, however, Alex starts to doubt that Marcus tells him everything. Tell Me Who I Am is too brutal in its portrayal of the truth and distressing because of the subject matter, but it is also a fearless exploration of our reliance on memory that is always an important element dictating our sense of identity and our relationships with others. The documentary presents a powerful and often fragile relationship between two identical brothers torn apart by a dark family secret.

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