Women’s stories, like all stories, come in various shapes and sizes. In 2017, the campaign theme for International Women’s Day is ‘Be Bold For Change.’ Movies can be bold markers of change, whether written and directed by women, or films made by men that give primacy to the diversity of women’s experiences in fresh and exciting ways. Here are six films made about bold women, some made by bold women, others featuring bold approaches to storytelling, all available to watch now on SBS On Demand.
Distant Voices, Still Lives
Director: Terence Davies
Starring: Pete Postlethwaite, Freda Dowie, Angela Walsh
Distant Voices, Still Lives is a film of emotional highs and lows, of violent outbursts, and joyful pub sing-alongs. The first feature from acclaimed writer-director Terence Davies, it is a deeply personal exploration, in non-linear form, of his memories growing up Catholic in postwar, working-class Liverpool. He infuses it with his love for his family and for the movies that he took refuge in from a young age. At the film’s heart is the mother (played with quiet dignity by Freda Dowie); a figure of great strength, she holds the family together as it threatens to implode under the weight of the father’s (Pete Postlethwaite) alcohol fuelled abuse. Davies has said that he was practically raised by his sisters, and his admiration and adoration for the power of women to persevere, animates every frame of this beautiful film.
Director: Nicole Holofcener
Starring: Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt, Rebecca Hall, Amanda Peet
Nicole Holofcener makes films about women without smooth edges, in other words, real women, unlike those we are accustomed to seeing walking and talking in American films. Please Give, like Holofcener’s earlier films, Lovely and Amazing (2001) and Friends with Money (2006), sees her focus her lens on the middle classes and the fraught concept of women’s ‘success.’ Long-time collaborator, Catherine Keener once again takes the lead as Kate, who sells estate furniture with her husband Alex (Oliver Platt). Kate’s guilt at making money from the dead sets her on a course towards self-redemption that doesn’t quite pay off. Along the way, Keener gives her emotional texture. Kate feels relatable and knowable as a whole person. Like all of Holofcener’s women she has agency and purpose – even when she might seem misguided we have enough access to her to understand why.
Director: So Yong Kim
Starring: Jena Malone, Riley Keough
Best friends, Sarah (Riley Keough) and Mindy (Jena Malone) have two emotional reunions in Korean-American filmmaker, So Yong Kim’s Lovesong. Sarah has a daughter, and a husband who is never home. It’s clear when we meet her she’s unhappy and conflicted with the current status of her life. Mindy’s arrival seems to wake her up, and soon what was just a friendship becomes something more. Movies centred around the vicissitudes of female friendship often feature a lot of talking, but Lovesong is distinct for its embrace of silence and visually intimate moments that soar with unspoken desire. The yearning continues once the screen fades to black, but the film’s warmth will stay with you.
Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus
Director: Steven Shainberg
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Robert Downey Jr., Ty Burrell
Diane Arbus is widely considered one of the greatest photographers to emerge in the 20th century, when the art form came into its own. Arbus took photos of people on the margins of society – of those considered ‘ugly’ subject matter for art – in an uncompromisingly honest and bold way. So it’s fitting that a biographical drama of her life should follow a similarly unconventional path. Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus, as the title tells us, isn’t interested in facts. Working from a screenplay by Erin Cressida Wilson, director Steven Shainberg creates an almost hallucinatory world that attempts to grapple with the imagination that created photos that were equal parts beautiful and disturbing. As Arbus, Nicole Kidman carefully shapes a compelling portrait of a fragile woman who challenged, and ultimately changed, how we see.
Eat Sleep Die
Director: Gabriela Pichler
Starring: Nermina Lukac, Milan Dragišić
Raša Abdulahović (Nermina Lukac) is one of recent cinema’s great tomboys. She’s a Muslim immigrant to Sweden, coming from Montenegro with her family when she was just a baby. Now 21, she still sometimes feels like a stranger. Now, it’s just her and her ill father (Milan Dragišić), who Raša cares for while trying to carve out a life of her own. When Rašaloses her job at a factory and sets about looking for a new one, Eat Sleep Die takes in the current economic situation in Europe with gritty realism. Gabriela Pichler’s first film has an urgent tempo, imparted by handheld camerawork, and by the forward motion of its searching protagonist. Raša wants to live before she dies making her everyday struggles a drama of a very human kind.
Dreams of a Life
Director: Carol Morley
Starring: Zawe Ashton
Carol Morley’s investigation into what happened to Joyce Vincent is an extraordinary portrait of a woman just like us. Vincent died on the sofa in her North London flat in 2003, but her body wasn’t discovered for three years. Morley’s documentary dramatises the pieces of Vincent’s life (with Zawe Ashton taking on the part of Vincent), drawn together from interviews with her friends and colleagues and lovers. A moving portrait of the loneliness of life in the big city, Morley’s film has a sadness that lingers. What kind of a culture lets a woman simply disappear without a trace or without noticing when she was gone? Without needing to say it out loud, Dreams of a Life asks how these extraordinary events could even have happened in the first place, and implicates us all in the response.
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