Films by Women: Five Movies to Watch in March

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Films by Women: Five Movies to Watch in March

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 March’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, but more importantly, to support women in the director’s chair always.

In Theaters:

wrinkle-time-movie-poster.jpg A Wrinkle in Time
Release Date: March 9, 2018
Director: Ava DuVernay
The movie’s strength is in depicting the family’s home life, this family of physicists and geniuses, and every time it gets its head into the clouds and the cosmos, it loses its footing. The people you care about in this movie are Chris Pine’s scientist father and his daughter Meg (Storm Reid): There is power in their scenes together that the rest of the film does not have without them. DuVernay gave herself a challenge, trying to find the right tone in an earnest kid’s fantasy film like this; when in doubt, she leans on Spielbergian wonder, but it could be the wrong kind of Spielberg. Imagine Spielberg’s most cloying instincts on childhood but none of the action chops to carry you between them. This is not a fun movie to dislike. DuVernay is an important filmmaker, both on screen and off, and a model in many ways to be emulated. Most importantly, though, she’s assembled as inclusive and diverse a cast as you will find in any would-be blockbuster. —Will Leitch / Full Review


oh-lucy-movie-poster.jpg Oh Lucy!
Release Date: March 9, 2018
Director: Atsuko Hirayanagi
Office drone Setsuko (Shinobu Terajima), unconsciously looking for an escape hatch from her two-faced coworkers and the overall doldrums of her life, begins taking English lessons at the behest of her niece, Mika (Shiori Kutsuna)—which is a nice way of saying that Mika badgers Setsuko into enrolling on her behalf. (Mika paid for the classes herself but needs money more than she needs English.) Upon meeting her teacher, John (Josh Hartnett), whose unconventional style includes hugs and smiles, Setsuko falls so hard in love with him that she immediately jets out of Japan for California when he absconds with Mika. As fish out of water narratives go, Oh Lucy! stays doggedly grounded in its cultural specificities: Even when director Atsuko Hirayanagi moves locations, the loneliness with which she paints Japan lingers, in part because Japanese social isolation is of concern to her, in part because loneliness is a universal human experience. Still, Oh Lucy!’s melancholy is balanced out by warmth, a knack for acute human observations and thoroughly layered performances, particularly Terajima’s, which nimbly alternates from pitiable, to spirited, to jaded without losing the thread binding them all together. We can see Setsuko’s internal pivots as she slowly, cautiously reaches beyond the confines of her personal life, and as she reverts to those confines when life proves too fraught. It’s a great performance anchoring an equally great, if a tad drawn out, film. —Andy Crump

At Home:

faces-places-poster.jpg Faces Places
Release Date; March 6, 2018
Directors: Agnès Varda and JR
The year’s best road movie was this delightful French film from New Wave pioneer Agnès Varda and photographer JR. The odd-couple contrast between co-directors is physically striking—she’s a woman, he’s a man; he’s much taller and younger than she—but they’re aligned in their desire to document the lives of everyday French citizens, taking oversized photos of the people they meet and plastering them on the sides of buildings to commemorate their specialness. Faces Places is very much in the style of Varda’s most recent documentaries, such as The Gleaners and I and The Beaches of Agnès, which chart how art and life weave inextricably together, but at 89, she doesn’t have the same stamina she once did. That fact lends added poignancy to a movie that, in part, is about the fragility of everything: small towns, photographs, loved ones, long friendships fading into disrepair. With JR as her co-conspirator, the Varda we see in Faces Places stands as a model for how to carry oneself through the world: with humor, humility and grace. —Tim Grierson


breadwinner-poster.jpg The Breadwinner
Release Date: March 6, 2018
Director: Nora Twomey
Having worked on both The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, Nora Twomey has taken a different tack than her Cartoon Saloon cohort, Tomm Moore, departing the mythology-rich shores of Ireland for the mountains of Afghanistan, focusing on the region’s own folklore against the backdrop of Taliban rule. The film is based on Deborah Ellis’s 2000 novel of the same name, the story of a young girl named Parvana who disguises herself as a boy to provide for her family after her father is seized by the Taliban. Being a woman in public is bad for your health in Kabul. So is educating women. Parvana (Saara Chaudry) understands the dire circumstances her father’s arrest forces upon her family, and recognizes the danger of hiding in plain sight to feed them. Need outweighs risk. So she adopts a pseudonym on advice from her friend, Shauzia (Soma Bhatia), who is in the very same position as Parvana, and goes about the business of learning how to play-act as a dude in a world curated by dudes. Meanwhile, Parvana’s embrace of familial duty is narrated concurrently with a story she tells to her infant brother, about a young boy who vows to reclaim his village’s stolen crop seeds from the Elephant King and his demonic minions in the Hindu Kush mountain range. If there’s a link that ties The Breadwinner to Moore’s films, besides appreciation for fables, it’s artistry: Like The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, The Breadwinner is absolutely gorgeous, a cel-shaded stunner that blends animation’s most traditional form with interspersed cut out animation. The result mixes the fluid intangibility of the former with the tactile quality of the latter, layering the film’s visual scheme with color and texture. Twomey gives The Breadwinner ballast, binding it to the real-world history that serves as its basis, and elevates it to realms of imagination at the same time. It’s a collision of truth and fantasy. —Andy Crump / Full Review


lady-bird-movie-poster.jpg Lady Bird
Release Date: March 6, 2018
Director: Greta Gerwig 
Before Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson (Saoirse Ronan)—Lady Bird is her given name, as in "[she] gave it to [her]self"—auditions for the school musical, she watches a young man belting the final notes to "Being Alive" from Stephen Sondheim’s Company. A few moments before, while in a car with her mother, she lays her head on the window wistfully and says with a sigh, "I wish I could just live through something." Stuck in Sacramento, where she thinks there’s there’s nothing to be offered her yet she pays acute attention to everything her home does have to offer, Lady Bird—and the film, written and directed by Greta Gerwig, that shares her name—has ambivalence running through her veins. What a perfect match: Stephen Sondheim and Greta Gerwig. Few filmmakers are able to capture the same kind of ambiguity and mixed feelings that involve the refusal to make up one’s mind: look to 35-year-old Bobby impulsively wanting to marry a friend, but keeps him from committing to any of his girlfriends, in Company; the "hemming and hawing" of Cinderella on the, ahem, steps of the palace; or Mrs. Lovett’s cause for pause in telling Sweeney her real motives. Lady Bird isn’t as high-concept as many of Sondheim’s works, but there’s a piercing truthfulness to the film, and arguably Gerwig’s work in general, that makes its anxieties and tenderness reverberate in the viewer’s heart with equal frequency. —Kyle Turner / Full Review

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