Films by Women: Six Movies to Watch from July (2020)

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Films by Women: Six Movies to Watch from July (2020)

The "52FilmsByWomen" hashtag isn’t a new invention, but in the last few years 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 the least one could do. 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 July’s best new movies directed by women to view at home:


Yes, God, Yes

yes-god-yes-movie-poster.jpg Release Date: July 28, 2020
Director: Karen Maine
Stars: Natalia Dyer, Timothy Simons, Francesca Reale, Wolfgang Novogratz
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Rating: NR
Runtime: 78 minutes

A Christian’s hypocrisy is accurately measured by their piety: The louder they caterwaul about other people’s sins, the more likely they are to have a closet packed with their own perversions. Karen Maine gets it. Her debut feature, Yes, God, Yes, adapted from her debut short of the same name, is glazed around a big, moist cake of sexual sanctimony. Fart-sniffing Christian holier-than-thou gossipmongers fall on the perceived weakling of their flock, young Alice (Natalia Dyer), accused of tossing salad even though she doesn’t even know what the blue hell that means.

Alice actually is innocent, unlike her peers. Her only wrongdoing isn’t wrong at all: She stumbles onto an AOL chat room, catches a glimpse of some hardcore porn sans context, and then decides to start discovering her own body just before she’s sent off on a retreat run by Father Murphy (Timothy Simons), a man with a necessarily wide smile, stretched so far that his face is primed to split but in danger of collapsing should he stop. Yes, God, Yes stitches Alice’s coming of age to a culture where talking about coming is verboten; Maine looks for humor in her experiential screenplay and finds it, but it’s a bleak kind of humor punctuated by hopelessness. If the authority figures in a society break the rules they set out for everyone else to follow, then navigating that society as a reasonable person is impossible. But Dyer’s spirited work as Alice gives the film a plucky heart. Maybe she can’t affect actual change here, but she can, at least, do right by herself. Dyer’s star has risen in the last half decade or so, and Yes, God, Yes further validates her gifts as an actress. Maine lets the camera linger on Dyer’s face when she’s confronted with obscenity, and Dyer lets her eyes and mouth and cheeks perform hilarious, expressive gymnastics. At the same time, she conveys fear—the fear of realizing that the adults of Alice’s life are all bullshit artists, the fear of having no one to confide in about her natural curiosities and urges—with wounded brilliance. She’s the perfect actress to realize Maine’s deft critique of religious sexual duplicity. —Andy Crump


Relic

relic-movie-poster.jpg Release Date: July 10, 2020
Director: Natalie Erika James
Stars: Robyn Nevin, Emily Mortimer, Bella Heathcote
Genre: Horror
Rating: NR
Runtime: 89 minutes

While Natalie Erika James’ Relic focuses on aging family matriarch Edna (Robyn Nevin), the film is interested in much more than a face-value study of the horrors of getting old. After Edna inexplicably disappears from her home, her daughter, Kay (Emily Mortimer), and granddaughter, Sam (Bella Heathcote), travel to her generation-spanning abode, hoping that grandma will find her way back. Edna eventually emerges from the verdant woods surrounding her home, but she is unable to provide details concerning where she was and what she was doing. Kay and Sam believe—to varying degrees—that Edna’s abrupt disappearance was due to gradual cognitive degeneration as a product of her age, but cryptic Post-it notes left around the house by “Nan” point to something sinister controlling her actions. Relic embarks on a dual journey of dredging up the often unspoken aging anxieties while also ensuring that death, and the moments leading up to it, can provide overwhelming comfort and levity. Edna’s body undergoes an undeniably gruesome transformation—the mysterious bruises that ravage her body mirroring the dark splotches of rot overtaking the home; however, this never compels Kay or Sam to revoke her humanity. While Edna certainly possesses those physical traits associated with the crone figure—long white hair, a bony frame, disheveled appearance—her aging physical body is never offered up as spectacle or shock, instead highlighting the terror of losing autonomy of one’s anatomy. Relic posits that old age is not something to be reviled or worshiped; the film is overwhelmingly empathetic toward Edna, even when her demonic transformation renders her unaware of the threat she poses to herself and others. James shows Edna is much more than her senescent body and faltering mind. She affords Edna humanity, even when her actions border on the inhuman, leaving no room for societal repugnance to strip that from her. —Natalia Keogan


Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado

mucho-mucho-amor-movie-poster.jpg Release Date: July 8, 2020 (Netflix)
Directors: Christina Costantini, Kareem Tabsch
Genre: Documentary
Rating: NR
Runtime: 96 minutes

Christina Costantini and Kareem Tabsch’s Netflix documentary, Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado, has a hard time categorizing the many complexities of its subject. Filmed during the year before Mercado’s death at age 87, the film revels in the ostentatious nature of the late astrologer, whose boldly androgynous appearance rendered him both approachable yet otherworldly, attracting factions of devout fans, particularly from hispanic and latino communities. While Mercado’s message was one that promoted peace, love and unity, the multitalented performer-turned-television personality was often publicly scrutinized for his gender-nonconforming sensibilities. His jewel-encrusted capes, luscious hair and perpetually pursed lips provoked homophobic comments and jokes while tandemly comforting young queer people who watched his show, Mercado being one of their first cultural touchstones for rejecting gender norms. Of course, the burning question on everyone’s mind during Mucho Mucho Amor is, frankly, if Mercado will finally embrace a distinct label for himself. As a TV personality in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s—decades where homophobia ran rampant in the entertainment industry, especially during the height of the AIDs epidemic—it was widely speculated that Mercado coming out would jeopardize his career. Yet even within a current cultural climate that is far more accepting of LGBTQ and gender fluidity, it seems that Mercado continued to resist the urge to apply labels to himself. Yet many can’t seem to understand Mercado’s enigmatic aura without attempting to make sense of his identity. He is referred to in the film by interviewees and fans alike as a “non-binary asexual,” which in their attempt to bring Mercado into a supportive community also negates the inherent fluidity of his nature. However, when one is deemed as a mystic, ethereal being from a young age (as a child, Mercado’s ability to heal a dying bird brought desperate people from his village to his side, praying that his touch could alleviate their troubles), it appears that understanding yourself as a flesh-and-blood human is perhaps a waste of time. For Mercado, the real journey is not understanding himself on this mortal plane, but rather to prepare for the many riches that come with experiencing the cosmic afterlife. —Natalia Keogan


The Old Guard

the-old-guard-movie-poster.jpg Release Date: July 10, 2020 (Netflix)
Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Stars: Charlize Theron, Kiki Layne, Matthias Schoenaerts, Chiwitel Ejiofor, Van Veronico Ngo, Henry Melling, Marwan Kenzari, Luca Marinelli
Genre: Action & Adventure, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Rating: NR
Runtime: 93 minutes

Gina Prince-Bythewood, given a budget more than worthy of the best DTV action flick anyone could hope could make it to permanent Netflix browsal, succeeds in towing, and then mildly subverting, the genre line: She proves she can capably steer a high-concept action blockbuster while cobbling together something that feels like the kind of movie “they” just don’t make anymore. All of it amounts to a one-step-forward-one-step-back appraisal: There is much to cull from the travails of Andromache the Scythian (Charlize Theron), an immortal warrior who, thousands of years later, still questions the purpose of her own endlessness, and sequels, given Netflix’s ostensibly unlimited resources, are all but guaranteed—but one wishes for more capably clear action auteurism, even when Prince-Bythewood’s action chops confidently step up. Still: There are countless joys to behold in The Old Guard, most of all the emergence of Kiki Layne—last seen as hyper-dramatic personae #1 in If Beale Street Could Talk—as exceptionally promising action star, executing a one-handed pistol cocking so confident and so unremarked-upon it automatically achieves cinematic canon. Otherwise, trigger-happy editing gets in the way of itself too often, admirable set-pieces sometimes chopped to shit, though plenty of violence—squelching and tendon-splitting—abounds, and the final villain is dispatched with such disregard for the human body that one can’t help but applaud Prince-Bythewood for getting it—for knowing that the key to good action filmmaking is treating people like piles of wet meat. —Dom Sinacola


The Other Lamb

other-lamb-movie-poster.jpg Release Date: July 28, 2020 (Blu-ray)
Director: Malgorzata Szumowska
Starring: Michiel Huisman, Raffey Cassidy, Denise Gough
Genre: Drama
Rating: NR
Runtime: 94 minutes

The so-called “Shepherd” sends Selah (Raffey Cassidy) to the hills to deliver a newborn lamb. Instead, she returns with blood-stained hands and the wrath of an almost anthropomorphic ram, who—for the rest of The Other Lamb—follows her around, breathing heavily, angry horns in her face and stony eyes challenging hers. The horror of The Other Lamb accrues slowly. Director Malgorzata Szumowska is a master of world building; the film is told through cult member Selah’s perspective, with the cult leader, the “Shepherd” (Michiel Huisman), existing as a more-or-less silent and cruel specter. Initially, the followers believe that only the male leader has the right to tell stories, but The Other Lamb skewers the male gaze. In the film, to see is to know—and to surveil. The leader organizes his all-women cult into two horrifying categories: Those who wear red frocks are forced to be his “wives” and the ones wearing blue are his “daughters,” many of whom, if not all, are his biological daughters (Szumowska obscures some of these details). He knows everyone’s menstrual cycles, and he seems to always be lurking, trying to pluck the next daughter from childhood and make her his wife as soon as she begins her period. His favorite daughter, the pious Selah, however, begins to perceive his insidiousness and grows fearsome of the impending arrival of her period. As in Ari Aster’s cult thriller Midsommar, viewers can find allusions to fascism and religious extremism in The Other Lamb, but the film is less interested in exploring the leader’s obvious cruelty at length than it is concerned with Selah’s inevitably gory pilgrimage. It’s a resonant tale of a young woman who learns to reject the deeply patriarchal system in which she was raised, to carve out a narrative outside of the one she has been forced to believe. —Isabella Bridie DeLeo


Summerland

summerland-movie-poster.jpg Release Date: July 31, 2020
Director: Jessica Swale
Starring: Gemma Arterton, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Penelope Wilton, Tom Courtenay, Lucas Bond, Dixie Egerickx
Genre: Drama
Rating: NR
Runtime: 100 minutes

Taking a boy shepherded out of London during the Blitz into one’s home is a daunting ask posed to Alice Lamb (Gemma Arterton) in Jessica Swale’s feature debut, Summerland. Swale wraps a framing device around elder Alice (Penelope Wilton), introduced during a writing session so taxing on her concentration that she doesn’t hesitate thundering rude dismissals at neighborhood youths knocking on her door. Fun as it is to watch Wilton be a dick to children, Swale transitions immediately to Alice tapping away at the same old typewriter decades prior, similarly disinclined toward kids and yet helplessly, hopelessly entrusted with caring for Frank (Lucas Bond). His mom works for the ministry. His dad flies war planes. Being as the lad has nowhere else to go as the Nazis turn London to ash, Alice is given temporary custody, which suits neither her nor her fellow townsfolk. Alice, a loner by choice, has a reputation as something of a witch. Summerland’s title shimmers with an implied warmth, so of course Frank thaws out Alice’s frozen heart over the course of the picture. Flashbacks to happier times in Alice’s life reveal that she had a forbidden romance with a woman, Vera (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a love doomed by divergence in their opinions on motherhood. Vera wanted children. Alice didn’t. So it goes. Alice, isolated in Summerland’s present by choice, resents children right down to the very fact of their existence, and rejects parenthood as a calling that she, and for that matter anybody else, must answer. Yes, Frank endears himself to Alice in short order—he’s a sweetheart born with the gifts of a good head on his shoulders and a kind soul—but Summerland treats their inevitable bond as the result of a sacrifice Alice shouldn’t have to make, and moral responsibility aside, that’s what looking after Frank is: a sacrifice. —Andy Crump

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