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Films and Things: The Women of Kino

Contrary to what the Oscars (and most other award shows for that matter), film studies classes, general conversation about film and history books will tell you, women have been making proper good movies since cinema’s inception.

In fact, the first ever narrative film was made by a woman, Alice Guy-Blaché, all the way back in 1896. Unfortunately, Alice’s films and achievements were mostly neglected in favour of her male counterparts, and as such, she remains an sadly overlooked part of film history.

I’m not entirely sure where I was intending to go with that, but whatever – here’s some female filmmakers who I rate heavily.


We’ll start this list with probably the most well-known female filmmaker working today – Kathryn Bigelow.

She’s been making movies for donkey’s years at this point, ranging from pulpy, nightmarish vampire/western hybrids (Near Dark) to campy, so-90s-it-hurts action flicks (Point Break), but she arguably came into her own with 2008s The Hurt Locker.

I used to think this film was pretty overrated when I first saw it, but I recently rewatched it, and I can gladly confirm that my 15 year-old self was a complete moron. It’s kinetic, frantic and even daring (there’s few films, much less American films, that are willing to confront the fact that many young men take great pleasure in war), and thanks to Bigelow’s expert use of handheld cameras, there’s a air of authenticity to it as well.

Bigelow rightfully took home the Oscar for Best Director, making her the first (and, at the time of writing this, the only) woman to win the coveted award. Her Hurt Locker follow-up Zero Dark Thirty (2012) is pretty decent as well.


Next up, we’ve got one of cinema’s most widely influential and revered filmmakers, the late-great Agnès Varda.

Originally a photographer by trade, Varda first branched out into filmmaking in 1955 with La Pointe Courte, which was, in many ways, the film that really kick-started the French New Wave, arguably the most iconic and revered film movement in all of cinema history.

Varda was pretty prolific throughout her career, making absolute belter after absolute belter. She was a deft hand in both narrative and documentary, with traits of both often bleeding into to the other. Her films explored everything from civil rights to the pleasures of repurposing other people’s rubbish, and were entirely singular in every sense of the word.

Go check out Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962), Le Bonheur (1965) and Vagabond (1985) if your taste buds are strictly honed for fiction, or if you’re on a documentary tip, try The Gleaners and I (2000), The Beaches of Agnès (2008) and Faces Places (2017).


On the more obscure end of the spectrum, we’ve got Barbara Loden, who’s a bit of an anomaly when it comes to the other directors on the list.

See, Barbara only ever made one film, and throughout her life, she was mainly known for her roles as ditzy sex-pots and being Elia Kazan’s (of On the Waterfront fame) second wife.

But with that one film, Wanda (1970), Loden managed to make one of the richest, rawest, most unapologetically honest films I’ve ever seen.

Written, directed and starring Loden, and made on a shoestring budget, Wanda is the morose tale of… errr… Wanda, who, after granting her husband a divorce and relinquishing the rights to see her children, embarks on an apathetic odyssey through the soot-stained landscapes of eastern Pennsylvania with the emotionally and physically abusive Mr. Dennis, a bank robber who’s really bad at his job.

But with that one film, Loden managed to make one of the richest, rawest, most unapologetically honest films I’ve ever seen.

Depending on who you ask, Wanda can be viewed as an impassioned feminist statement, or as a rebuttal to overly-glamorised crime films, or even as an existential treatise on the emptiness of American life. I won’t make any judgements on it here, as I think it’s one of those films that’s best left open to interpretation, but what I will say is, it’s really, really, really good.

But despite early praise from serious cinema-types in Europe, Wanda sadly slipped through the cracks upon its US release, and was quickly written-off (partly by her weirdo husband Kazan, who purported that he actually wrote Wanda “to give [Barabara] something to do”, a claim that has since been debunked) as pointless dirge after her death at the age for 48.

Thankfully, the film’s stature has grown in recent years, and is now being rightfully championed as one of the greatest independent films ever made… which it is. Seek it out right now or else.


No hastily cobbled together list of female filmmakers would be complete without the inclusion of Lucrecia Martel, who is (in the humble opinion of this writer) one of the best directors working today.

Born and raised in Salta, Argentina, Martel first exploded into the film world with her extraordinary debut feature La Ciénaga (2001), a woozy, sweaty drama about a stagnant and indulgent bourgeois family who whittle away their days by drinking bucket-loads of wine, abusing the help and generally being a bunch of nasty bastards.

Laced with caustic humour and filled with festering dread, La Ciénaga unfolds like a sort-of drunken, nightmarish recollection of the most unbearable family reunion you’ve ever had the misfortune to be a part of. It’s hard to follow at times (I’ve seen this film four or five times and I’m still unsure of which characters are related or not), but it’s this narrative ambiguity that makes the film’s central theme of social malaise and decay so potent.

Put simply, it’s probably one of my favourite films ever made. Any one who knows me in real life can testify to how unwilling I am to shut up about it.

Martel has only made three other features, The Holy Girl (2004), The Headless Woman (2008) and Zama (2017), since La Ciénaga, but the good news is that they’re all just as good. I highly recommend checking them all out.


We’ll wrap up this list with some home-grown talent who continues to excel with each film she puts out – Andrea Arnold.

Some of you might remember Arnold as one of the presenters of No. 73 (alongside other national treasure Neil Buchanan) all the way back in the 80s. After she retired from acting, Arnold began on honing her voice as filmmaker, making shorts from the late-90s onwards, culminating in Wasp (2003), which one Best Live Action Short Film at the Oscars in 2004.

Features soon followed, starting with magnificently tense and disturbing Red Road (2006). Shot in the Dogme 95 style pioneered by Danish nutter Lars Von Trier, the film was an art-house smash, scooping up the hallowed Jury Prize at Cannes (in fact, all three of her feature films have won the Jury Prize at Cannes).

Arnold imbues her film with barbed wit, hard truths and a sprinkling of light-heartedness, which sets it a part from its gloomy, self-serious peers.

But what remains her best work in my eyes is Fish Tank (2009). The film is a tender and often-brutal depiction of a 15-year-old girl’s coming of age in a economically-deprived council estate in East London. While that sounds like almost every other coming-of-age film that’s come out of England is the last 30 years, Arnold imbues her film with barbed wit, hard truths and a sprinkling of light-heartedness, which sets it a part from its gloomy, self-serious peers.

Arnold followed up Fish Tank with American Honey in 2016, which is definitely worth your time as well.

Right, that should about do it. As always, thanks for taking the time to read my assorted ramblings on all things film. Means a lot. In a bit!

Films and Things: Blue Romance

Valentines Day sucks.

Even if you’re lucky enough to have a significant other, it’s still a total hassle: unrealistic expectations… plenty of gift-based mither… takeaway delivery takes ages… and perhaps worst of all, being subjected to (or witnessing for that matter) public displays of affection.

With that in mind, I’ve complied together a list of what I’d term ‘bummer-romances’ – films that usually end on a sad, or at least a bittersweet, note – that’ll hopefully make this sickly-sweet ‘holiday’ a little more bearable.

Oh yeah, and there’s gonna be some spoilers for the films mentioned.

Without further ado…


Kicking off this list of romantic bummers is François Truffaut’s seminal New Wave classic Jules and Jim.

Based on Henri-Pierre Roché’s 1953 sort-of-autobiographical novel, Jules and Jim is set around the start of World War 1 and details the tragic ménage à trois between ladies man Jim, shy ‘n’ sensitive Jules, and uninhibited Catherine.

No stranger to love’s many disappointments and agonies himself, Truffaut dedicated a large chunk of his filmography to sour romances.

Be it recurring character Antoine Doinel’s hapless attempts to find love (and steady employment) in Stolen Kisses, Bed and Board, and Love on the Run, or the allure of adultery in The Soft Skin and The Woman Next Door, Truffaut was constantly trying to untangle his knotty romantic personal life through cinema.

No stranger to love’s many disappointments and agonies himself, Truffaut dedicated a large chunk of his filmography to sour romances.

But in terms of heartbreak, I personally think Jules and Jim is his most accomplished film on the ever-cheerful subject. At times exuberant and poignant, at others devastating, Jules and Jim is a poetic meditation on youth, freedom and the crushing inevitability of change, be it circumstantial change, or the change brought on by the mercurial nature of the human mind.

A great second date watch.


Next up we’ve got another Gallic masterpiece that ends on a dour note, (the French apparently aren’t fans of happy endings) – Jacques Demy’s marvellous musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg concerns itself with Guy and Geneviève, two star-crossed lovers who’re torn apart when Guy is drafted to fight in the Algerian war, just after Geneviève becomes pregnant. With her snooty mother breathing down her neck, Geneviève is forced to consider marrying the rich-but-aloof Roland to support her and Guy’s child.

Even though The Umbrellas of Cherbourg’s dialogue is sung as recitative (a bit like an opera), it has more in common with the bleakly realistic films of the Italian Neorealism movement of the 40’s than your run-of-the-mill Hollywood sing-a-long.

And if you’ve ever seen a Neorealist film, you’ll know they rarely (if ever) end with the characters getting what they want. Which is of course the case with The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.
Honestly, the last five minutes of this doozy are some of the most crushing in any film deemed ‘romantic’ and makes me weep like a timid scullery maid every time I watch it.

A good one to watch if you want to remind your spouse/partner/pet that true happiness is fleeting and rare.


Heading over to Hong Kong now with one of the greatest films of the new millennium – Wong Kar-wai’s achingly beautiful In the Mood for Love.

In 1960’s Hong Kong, two neighbours, Mrs. Chan and Mr. Chow, begin to suspect that their spouses are having an affair with each other. After some weird role-play stuff, in which Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan both play each others’ spouse, the two begin to fall for each other, but agree to keep their bond platonic so as not to stoop to the level of their cheating spouses.

And yep, you guessed it – both Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan stay true to that promise and never consummate their love. They go on to live the rest of their lives filled with regret, haunted by the spectre of what could have been. The end.

And while that is certainly a downer ending, I can’t think of a film more romantic than In the Mood for Love.

Everything about this film seems scientifically-engineered to tug at your emotions and evoke feelings of nostalgia, longing and passion. After all, it’s got elegant cinematography from master camera dude Christopher Doyle, the period setting is nothing short of sumptuous, Kar-wai’s direction is tender and pinpoint, and it stars two of the most beautiful people to ever grace planet Earth, Tony Leung and Maggie Chung.

And while that is certainly a downer ending, I can’t think of a film more romantic than In the Mood for Love.

Anyway, it’s well good and you should definitely seek it out if you haven’t seen it already (for some reason).


You’re probably sick of me rattling on about foreign films, so here’s one you don’t have to watch with subtitles – Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Written by Charlie Kaufman, the poet laureate of wacky existential comedies, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind follows Joel and Clementine, two contrasting personalities who meet each other on a train after an impromptu trip to Montauk, Long Island. Immediately drawn to each other, they’re unaware that they were previously in a relationship, the memories of which having been clinically erased by the sci-fi-esque company Lacuna, Inc.

Out of all the films on this list, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind has the least miserable ending – for those that haven’t seen it, the film ends with Joel and Clementine both realising that they’ve been together before, and despite knowing how their last attempt at love ended, decide to give it another go anyway. Not too sad, right?

Well, if we hop on over to IMDb’s Trivia page, there’s a pretty interesting factoid that colours the ending with a much-needed Valentines Day soul-stomp. Apparently, an earlier draft of the script ends with an elderly Clementine going back to the Lacuna offices and asking for another memory erasure, revealing Clementine has had fifteen other erasures over the last fifty years, all of them involving Joel… which is pretty damn bleak if you ask me.

And while this was cast aside in favour of the upbeat conclusion we see in the finished film, it still strikes me as inevitable that Joel and Clementine’s relationship is doomed to an endless cycle of erasures and getting back together.

Or maybe that’s just me being a miserable sod?


Rounding things off we’ve got Cold War, Polish director Paweł Pawlikowski’s exquisite melding of the personal and the political.

Set during the Cold War from the late 1940s until the1960s, Cold War charts the tumultuous and rocky love affair between Wiktor, a musician, and Zula, a singer, who pretty much go on to ruin each others’ lives.

This film is a perfect example of the phrase “can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em”. When they’re together, Wiktor and Zula’s connection is mutually destructive (both seem intent on betraying the other, upsetting them, or generally just making them feel insignificant), but when they’re apart, neither can function. They’re lost without the chaos the other brings. Their relationship operates like an addiction: it’ll probably kill you, but it’s impossible to give up.

Considering the volatile nature of these characters, it’s worrying to learn then that the film is dedicated to, and inspired by, Paweł Pawlikowski’s parents. He went on to describe them as “the most interesting dramatic characters I’ve ever come across … both strong, wonderful people, but as a couple a never-ending disaster”.

Just imagine what their Christmases were like.

Right There you have it. Hope this has significantly damped your romantic spirit. Apologies to anyone who might receive Being and Nothingness as a Valentines present this year because of this list.

Films and Things: Best Films of 2019

Alright, I know this is late. I was meant to do it over the Christmas period, but… I couldn’t be bothered. Pigs-in-blankets-induced inertia I guess…

Anyway, without further rationalisation, here is 2019’s cinematic cream of the crop.


But first, some honourable mentions that didn’t quite land in the top five.

Despite continually making a tit out of itself on the world stage, some proper belters have come from Blighty this year, such as Mark Jenkins’ Bait, a real hand-crafted breath of fresh air, and Peter Strickland’s unhinged retail horror In Fabric.

Speaking of unhinged horror, I was fully blown-away by Ari Aster’s daytime nightmare Midsommar, a Swedish-set gore-fest that caused three people to storm out of my cinema screening in disgust.

Greta Gerwig did an incredible job with her adaption of Little Women, and a personal favourite director of mine, Alex Ross Perry, recalibrated the fairly-drab formula of the musician biopic into something fierce and frightening with Her Smell.


Kicking off this list is Alejandro Landes’ Monos, a harrowing exploration of war and madness, set in the Colombian mountains.

The dream-like plot follows a group of heavily-armed and perpetually-hormonal teenage guerillas assigned to watch over a American hostage and a milk cow called Shakira.

While that bare-bones plot description doesn’t do much to sell it, believe me when I say Monos is a war film in league with Apocalypse Now and Elem Klimov’s war/horror film hybrid Come and See.

In fact, it was the latter that was the biggest influence on Monos, according to director Ajelandro Landes – the film’s final shot is an obvious homage to Come and See, and is just as unnerving and piercing.

Monos is a war film in league with Apocalypse Now and Elem Klimov’s war/horror film hybrid Come and See.

Anyway, I knew next-to-nothing about the film before I went to see it, and I was completely blown away by it. With top-notch compositions, feverish editing and a stand-out score by Mica Levi, Monos really whet my proverbial whistle.

Probably not the cheeriest film to come out in 2019 though…


Next up we’ve got The Lighthouse, a hallucinatory horror (with fart jokes!) from Robert Eggers.

The Lighthouse stars Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson (both giving career-best performances) as two lighthouse keepers who begin to lose their marbles when a storm strands them on the remote island where they’re stationed.

Alright, technically this isn’t 2019 film. It hasn’t come out yet in the UK (I think it’s released sometime in January), but I managed to catch a preview during Film4’s FilmFear season in October, and it’s too good not to natter about.

Shot on black-and-white 35mm film with a 1.19:1 aspect ratio that evokes the grainy, uncanny elements of 19th-century photography, The Lighthouse is a master-class in attention to detail. Everything in the film, from the mugs, to the chairs, all the way over to the chamber pots, is period accurate, which helps to conjure this eerie, disturbing vibe that makes The Lighthouse feel like it was made a hundred years ago and left in a box for us modern folk to find.

Even Dafoe and Pattinson’s performances support this vibe. Both disappear so completely into their roles that about fifteen minutes into the film I forgot that these two guys are famous actors. Just look at Dafoe’s beard or Pattinson’s moustache for further proof.

Put simply, if you’re into craggy-faced men going insane, Lovecraft, home-made hooch, fisherman’s knits, flatulence and beating seagulls to death, don’t miss The Lighthouse when it gets released later this month.


In at number three we’ve got Happy as Lazzaro, a modern-day fairy tale from Italian director Alice Rohrwacher.

Happy as Lazzaro follows the titular Lazzaro, a good-hearted peasant who’s kind nature is constantly exploited, as he’s duped into helping his employer’s bratty son, Tancredi, to orchestrate his own kidnapping.

Thanks to a hapless, endearing protagonist, locations that feel as if they’ve been flung out of time, searing social commentary and mysterious, enigmatic narrative, Happy as Lazzaro unfolds like a sort-of Brothers Grimm fable, as told by Vittorio De Sica (the don dada of Italian Neorealism for those lacking in their film history knowledge).

Thanks to a hapless, endearing protagonist, locations that feel as if they’ve been flung out of time, searing social commentary and mysterious, enigmatic narrative, Happy as Lazzaro unfolds like a sort-of Brothers Grimm fable, as told by Vittorio De Sica

It’s also one of those films that’s better off being experienced, rather than being explained, so I’ll shut up now. That being said, it’s a real belter, and I highly recommend anyone remotely interested in cinema to seek it out… or else.


Just missing out on the top spot, it’s Martin Scorsese’s late-career masterpiece The Irishman.

Based on the 2004 narrative non-fiction book I Heard You Paint Houses, The Irishman chronicles the Scorsesian rise-and-fall of Frank Sheeran as he becomes involved with the Bufalino crime family and the Teamster head-honcho Jimmy Hoffa.

Due to DeNiro, Pesci and Scorsese reuniting, most people were inevitably going to draw comparisons between The Irishman and Scorsese’s earlier films, like Goodfellas and Casino… but most people are idiots.

For me, The Irishman is truly a standout moment in Scorsese’s filmography. It operates on a sort-of meta-narrative, as if Marty is looking back and clinically examining his own career, his mistakes, his regrets. I think the de-aging technology was pretty great too, and adds to the weird, hazy, mythical vibe the film has about it – as if we’re able to see how faces appear when they’re half-remembered by a sad, doddering old man.

It’s on Netflix, so there’s no excuse not to watch it (providing you have three-and-a-half hours on your hands).


Well, here it is. The best film (in my humble opinion) of 2019… yep, you guessed it – it’s Lee Chang-dong’s Burning!

What do you mean you’ve never heard of it?

Adapted from the short story Barn Burning by lauded Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, Burning is a psychological puzzle-box of a film. Jong-su, a wannabe writer and all round down-on-his-luck loser, bumps into an old neighbour (who he crucially doesn’t seem to remember), Hae-mi, who he quickly becomes infatuated with. But, much to Jong-su’s dismay, she seems to be taken with a dude called Ben, a mysterious, “Great Gatsby” type who confesses to a strange hobby – every month or so, he burns down a disused greenhouse.

This provocation may or may not be metaphorical, as soon after Ben’s confession, Hae-mi goes missing, causing Jong-su to slip deeper into an all-encompassing state of jealous confusion and envious anger. Did Ben kill her? Or is it all in Jong-su’s head?

The film gives us no easy answers, which is one of the reason why I loved it so much. When most of the films released in cinemas these days consistently pander to and patronise the audience, it’s nice to see something once in a while that doesn’t treat you like a moron.

Obviously, there’s more to love than just that in Burning – all three of the main players are exceptional (Steven Yeun deserves a special shout-out), the subtle, striking cinematography serves the prickly and ambiguous subject matter perfectly, and Lee Chang-dong’s expert direction is nothing short of miraculous.

So, there you have. Some films I proper buzzed off this year. Sorry if you’re gutted that I didn’t include Joker in this list – that film made me pine for the days when Batman had nipples.