The “52FilmsByWomen” hashtag isn’t a new invention, but in the last few years, and especially 2017, it’s gained increasingly urgent relevance. Created and disseminated by Women in Film, a nonprofit outlet established to “achieve parity and transform culture,” the tag translates into a simple pledge: Watch one movie directed by a woman each week for an entire year. Most years, completing that pledge would be a show of respect. Today, it’s a means of pushing back against rampant gender bias in the film industry.
To help those interested in putting their viewing habits to good use, Paste is highlighting some of February’s best new movies in theaters, as well as on home video, directed by women. Think of it as a good way to add to your own #52FilmsByWomen tally for the year.
Release Date: February 18, 2018
Director: Sally Potter
At about 70 minutes in length, The Party has a lot to accomplish and seemingly little time in which to accomplish it, but director Sally Potter is nothing if not economical. Her work here is small in scale and in setting, but grand in intention, a film that barrels forward faster than a bullet. That’s nearly a literal motif, too: She begins the movie with Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas), our hostess, opening her apartment door to greet us by aiming a gun at the camera. For a moment it seems she’s threatening us, or perhaps she’s threatening Potter’s cinematographer, Aleksei Rodionov, equally a character in the picture as the rest of The Party’s ensemble. Together, he and Potter show up other attempts at filmed plays by marrying the script-driven and character-forward quality of the latter with the voyeuristic lens of the former. In truth Janet is pissed at a mysterious eighth guest whose identity we don’t learn until the very end. Up until then, she has plenty to deal with thanks to those present. Janet, a politician, has been declared England’s minister for health. She throws a get-together to celebrate her success, but everyone else’s droll self-pitying bullshit gets in the way. There’s her husband, Bill (Timothy Spall), despondent to the point of total detachment; April (Patricia Clarkson), Janet’s best friend, a harsh-tongued unapologetic realist; and Gottfried (Bruno Ganz), April’s hippie-dippy guru boyfriend. Before long they’re joined by Jinny (Emily Mortimer) and Martha (Cherry Jones), Jinny the cheery type and Martha considerably stonier. Last of all, there’s Tom (Cillian Murphy), husband of one of Janet’s friends, who on arrival locks himself in the bathroom, vomits, does a line of blow and checks the pistol he keeps on his person for no reason we can immediately discern. As close as Potter takes us to melodramatic detonations, though, The Party never feels less than uncomfortably real. —Andy Crump / Full Review
The Dumb Girl of Portici (1916), Shoes (1916)
Release Date: February 06, 2018 (Blu-ray)
Director: Lois Weber
In 2018, there’s no good reason to divorce one Lois Weber Blu-ray release from another: Shoes and The Dumb Girl of Portici belong together. They’re antiques of immeasurable value; The Dumb Girl of Portici is arguably one of the first big-screen blockbusters, and less arguably one of the first blockbusters directed by a woman, while Shoes, clocking in at half the running time and a fraction of the scale, could be considered a forerunner to neorealism, an aesthetic more closely associated with Italian filmmakers in the 1940s and 1950s. That most have likely heard of neither film is a frustrating reminder of the longstanding exclusion of women from the film canon, so consider Milestone Films’ restorations on both a welcome consolation prize for Weber and the oft-unspoken influence she’s had on the movies after 100 years and counting.
Don’t Call Me Son
Release Date: February 16, 2018 (Blu-ray)
Director: Anna Muylaert
Anna Muylaert’s Don’t Call Me Son, is a story of both gender and sexual confusion, but Muylaert’s protagonist isn’t the one who’s confused. Pierre (Naomi Nero) likes boys as much as he likes girls, and he’s as comfortable wearing high heels and a zebra print dress as he is wearing skinny jeans, a polo shirt and a blazer. The trouble is that his biological parents aren’t comfortable with any of that, and also that they’ve just met Pierre after searching for him since he was snatched away from them by Aracy (Daniela Nefussi) in his infancy. Maybe Mom and Dad are just stuffy and uptight. Maybe they’re too attached to their heteronormative values. Maybe they’re just terrible, horrible, no good, very bad people. Or maybe meeting your androgynous, model-handsome, crossdressing son for the first time in near-on 20 years just comes as a shock when you’ve spent the duration painting a picture of who he is and what he’s like in your head. Muylaert doesn’t judge, at least not much, though it’s hard not to peg Pierre’s father Matheus (Matheus Nachtergaele) as the villain of the piece: He goes from zero to enraged in a second when first introduced to Pierre’s proclivity for women’s clothing. But the film neither lectures from atop a soapbox nor caterwauls from the pulpit. Instead, Muylaert constructs the film with poetic harshness, suffusing the ugly details of Pierre’s ordeal with unembellished beauty, while her actors each melt into their roles. It’s her refusal to preach to her audience that makes the film resonate, and it’s her insistence on treating each character equally which makes Don’t Call Me Son so essentially human. / Full Review
Release Date: February 16, 2018 (Netflix)
Director: Stephanie Laing
Netflix has gifted us with two Gugu Mbatha-Raw movies in the same month. One of them is a creative disaster and a sign of bad things to come for the streaming giant’s philosophy on original releases. One of them is Irreplaceable You. Upfront, Irreplaceable You is aggressively mushy and cutesy as hell, but Mbatha-Raw is an effortless charmer, and director Stephanie Laing is clearly a wizard because she found a way to scrub Michiel Huisman of his typical stubbly hipster douchiness. He’s still a brooding hottie, but an awkward nerd brooding hottie, and he’s good at playing the part. He and Mbatha-Raw match up well as Sam and Abbie, childhood sweethearts newly engaged and also staring down her terminal cancer diagnosis. In medical terms, she’s a goner.
So she does what any type-A person would do in her position and interviews candidates for her replacement after she dies. She loves Sam so much she can’t stand the idea of him being alone. If you’re diabetic this synopsis probably has you reaching for an insulin dose, but for all of its obvious manipulations, watching Irreplaceable You is the equivalent of downing a heart-shaped box of chocolates. You might go into sugar shock and you’ll need to brush your teeth when it’s over, but you won’t regret the indulgence all the same.