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 May’s best new movies in theaters, as well as on home video, directed by women.
Release Date: May 25, 2018
Director: Kate Novack
Oh, to spend a day with legendary, luminously sincere fashion editor André Leon Talley. For most of us poor unfortunates, that day will never come. For Kate Novack, that day came in 2016, lasted the entire year, and provided the structure of her new film, The Gospel According to André, a portrait of Talley and his irresistible grandeur. Partway through, an acquaintance describes him as “a towering pine tree of a guy,” which doesn’t quite do justice to his folkloric image. The Gospel According to André is very much about Talley’s experiences, being his life, times and philosophies, and less about his experience, being his accomplishments as a journalist and fashion icon. Novack never shies away from opportunities to bask in his warm presence and the obvious joy he takes in his profession. He’s a man full of stories. At 68 years old, he’s practically made of them. And Novack could have focused the film on fashion alone. But late in the film she throws a gut punch in there, a hushed sequence from November 9th, as Talley watches the morning news in silence, then goes for a shave and a haircut. His eyes are liquid with words unspoken. He is cleaned up in keeping with his code, its own form of stoic defiance. We cut to him live-blogging the inauguration with Maureen Dowd, back to work but in somber context. Beauty and style retain meaning, and yet the film’s lingering message cares for neither. Talley rose above Jim Crow as a young man. Novack’s documentary leaves us with the sobering thought that decades later, still he must rise. —Andy Crump / Full Review
Release Date: May 25, 2018
Director: Carla Simón
It’s against this backdrop of knee-jerk ignorance that Carla Simón has set her feature debut, the autobiographical drama Summer 1993, a movie about childhood marinated in confusion born from death. Her surrogate is Frida (Laia Artigas), six years old and, as the film opens, in the process of being whisked from her home in Barcelona to live in the countryside with her uncle, Esteve (David Verdaguer), and her aunt, Marga (Bruna Cusí, Spain’s Sally Hawkins doppelgänger), after her mother passes away from AIDS. It’s a chaotic scene shot from Artigas’s perspective, the camera latched to her alone, other characters appearing only when they happen to wander into the frame. Simón’s focal point is Frida, and remains such throughout the movie. The adult experience is tangential to her own. Simón’s cinematographer, Santiago Racaj, treats his lens as a member of the cast, too, impartial to the action without ever feeling removed from it. That dynamic has a way of subtly enhancing the film’s realism: Because Racaj and Simón are so involved, and so invisible, in their work, we inevitably feel more present in the story. Frida’s uncertainties become our own. Summer 1993 does what movies do so well (and yet so rarely do), which is to let viewers see the world through the eyes of another. Sometimes, Simón pulls this off literally, by angling Racaj’s camera upward, capturing the world from Frida’s vantage point. Most times she pulls it off figuratively by hanging the film on Artigas’ wonderful performance. But throughout she completely absorbs the viewer in this portrait drawn from her memories, painting a picture of Spain caught up in AIDS era disinformation that’s also an evocation of childhood doubts. —Andy Crump / Full Review
Release Date: May 11, 2018
Director: Chloé Zhao
A dream dissipating. The Rider begins with flashes of a horse, in close-up, so intimately observed we immediately abandon all assumptions of symbolism or pretention of deeper meaning. Chloé Zhao’s second film invites social commentary and political dissection—it’s about the obsolescence of a certain way of life; about the death of toxic masculinity as exigency of a frontiersman’s spirit of adventure; about the failure of rural America to embrace an obvious socioeconomic future—but there’s nothing clearer, or more devastating, in The Rider than the bond between cowboy and horse. Said cowboy, and aforementioned dreamer, is Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau), a young, lithe South Dakotan rodeo rider still recovering from a head injury during one of his eight-second stints, a blurry accident we re-watch with Brady via YouTube video on his phone. With a cast of non-professionals basically playing themselves, Zhao rarely pushes her actors to too riskily delve into melodrama, or anything, for that matter, that might make them uncomfortable. Instead, in Jandreau and his family, Zhao discovers a beautiful, intuitive sense of calm, which she reflects in long, mournful shots of Dakotan vistas, so unhurried and unhindered by the boundaries of the screen that each interstitial segment—often of Brady contemplating the world before him as he stands, his hip cocked, before a magnificent sunset—feels overwhelming. What cinematographer Joshua James Richards can do with a camera bears the weight of countless filmmakers in thrall to the pregnant possibility of this marvelous continent. Every frame of this film speaks of innumerable lives—passions and failures and tragedies and triumphs—unfolding unfathomably. —Dom Sinacola / Full Review
Release Date: May 11, 2018
Director: Coralie Fargeat
In Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge, patience is a virtue of both storytelling and of vengeance. The film may have places to be, people to meet and blood to spill, but Fargeat takes her time all the same. She can afford the build up, in no small part because the build up is as pleasing as the payoff. “Pleasing” may seem at best an ignorant qualifier for a rape-revenge movie, but denying the pleasure of Revenge’s deliberate, exquisite filmmaking would mean denying Fargeat’s strength of vision, of that rare rape-revenge movie directed by a woman rather than a man. The innate ugliness of Revenge is crystallized by the shift in perspective. Not to knock I Spit on Your Grave, I Saw the Devil or The Virgin Spring, but seeing this particular niche through the eyes of Fargeat and her star, Matilda Lutz, gives the material a unique resonance without abandoning the genre’s underpinnings. Fargeat has more or less built Revenge to function as a feature-length chase sequence. This, along with the desert sands and sweltered aesthetic, will likely call to mind Mad Max: Fury Road for many. For others, the firmly French love of excessive gore places the story in the territory of movies like Inside, Haute Tension and Irreversible. Revenge could take place anywhere: Arizona, California—possibly Morocco, where the bulk of shooting took place. The elasticity of the film’s geography feels fitting. What happens to Lutz’s character can happen to any woman anywhere. —Andy Crump / Full Review
Release Date: May 18, 2018
Director: Claire Denis
Making love is better when you’re in love. For Isabelle (Juliette Binoche), a painter living in Paris, the former comes easily and the latter vexes her. She has no trouble meeting men, falling for them, sleeping with them. They practically stumble into her orbit, then into her embrace, and she into theirs. When your sex life is rich but your love life poor, life itself tends gradually to lose overarching meaning, and the search for meaning is the engine driving Claire Denis’ new film, Let the Sunshine In, an ostensible romantic comedy that’s light on both but rich with soulful ennui. Not to say that Denis and Binoche don’t make us laugh, mind you, but what they’re really after is considerably more complicated than the simple pleasures the genre has to offer. Let the Sunshine In is a sexy film, a free, loose, yet rigorously made film, and yes, it’s occasionally a funny film, but primarily it’s a painful film, that pain deriving from primal amorous cravings that unfailingly slip through Isabelle’s fingers like so much sand. The film strikes us as straightforward when boiled down to its synopsis, but Denis layers conflicting human longing upon its rom-com framework. The blend of artistry and genre is breezy and dense at the same time, a film worth enjoying for its surface charms and studied for its deeply personal reflections on intimacy. You may delight in its lively, buoyant filmmaking, but you’ll be awed by the breadth of its insight. —Andy Crump / Full Review
Release Date: May 8, 2018 (Blu-ray)
Director: Daniela Thomas
Set in the mountains of Diamantina in the early 1800s, in a hamlet nestled in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, Daniela Thomas’s Vazante hones in on history with an unfolding triptych that portrays the collective evils of colonization, slavery and patriarchal dominance. It’s a fundamentally ugly piece of art, which means craft is key to lending it palatability. Credit to Thomas, then, who renders man’s worst transgressions against man with stunning beauty. She shot Vazante in black and white, providing a monochrome account of the European rape of both Brazil’s natural splendor and the people for whom that splendor is a birthright. Antonio (Adriano Carvalho) is the reluctant overseer of a sizeable farm settled in Diamantina, a quiet, remote area characterized by hushed mountainside vistas, tranquil streams and rock-walled enclaves that represent their own ecosystems within the greater ecosystem of the surrounding bluffs. He has come home from journeys far and wide to find that his wife has died in childbirth, and their child with her, which sets him back to wandering through the mountains, as well as his own spiritual desolation. His farm is failing. His family is crippled. The land has promised him nothing and kept its promise. Then along comes Beatriz (Luana Nastas), his late wife’s niece, and he makes her his child bride. The land, under the guidance of a planter, begins to bear fruit, but the price of his isolation may yet prove too high, and besides that, no movie about slavery can ever really have a happy ending. Still, Vazante is a gorgeous, assured work, deliberately unhurried to such extent that a simple synopsis captures the whole circumference of the movie. Merely reading about it means knowing where it goes—but knowing isn’t the same as experiencing, and for all of its grimmer qualities, Vazante remains a movie worth the experience. —Andy Crump
Release Date: May 18, 2018 (Netflix)
Directors: Yolanda Ramke, Ben Howling
We’ve had enough takes on worldwide zombie apocalypses to last undead enthusiasts long through, well, a worldwide zombie apocalypse, and of those takes, few are inspired, a few more are watchable though workmanlike and most are dreck, whether in TV or movie form. Cargo, a collaborative directing effort between Yolanda Ramke and Ben Howling, falls somewhere in between “inspired” and “workmanlike,” which is to say it’s well worth seeking out on Netflix if you’ve a powerful need to watch twitching, walking corpses menace a family trying to survive while isolated in Australia’s Outback. Martin Freeman plays Andy, stubborn husband to his wife, Kay (Susie Porter), and loving dad to their daughter, Rosie; he’s piloting a houseboat to safer shores, or that’s the hope. Then Kay takes a zombie bite, forcing a change of plans and setting them down the path to ruin and tragedy.
For a certain kind of horror purist, Cargo denies the expectations of the genre. It’s not an especially scary movie. It is, however, a moody, atmospheric movie, replacing scares with a nearly overwhelming sense of sadness. If that’s not enough for you, then at least be sated by the excellent FX work. Here, zombies present as victims of debilitating illness: A waxen, carious fluid seeps from their eyes and mouths, which is suitably nauseating in the stead of workaday splatter. All the same, Cargo is never half as stomach-churning as it is simply devastating. —Andy Crump