Bluestocking Recommends…Best Films Directed by Women

Sophie Dowle has compiled a (very loosely ranked) list of great films directed by great women. What are your favourites?

  1. Persepolis – Marjane Satrapi (and Vincent Paronnaud) [France/Iran/USA, 2007]

A classic, and a must-watch for teenagers searching for their identity. This stunning animation makes you laugh and cry as you follow Marjane’s journey to adulthood via Iran, Austria and France. Beautifully drawn and wonderfully written, this is one of our favourite films of all time!

  1. Wadjda – Haifaa al-Mansour [Saudi Arabia, 2012]

Just filming this movie was a feat – it’s not only the first film from a female Saudi Arabian director, but also the first feature length film shot in the country. In Wadjda Haifaa al-Mansour beautifully depicts the everyday life of a young girl in Saudi Arabia.  I was dying to be Wadjda’s friend by the end of the film.

  1. Lost in Translation – Sofia Coppola [USA, 2003]

A funny and heart-warming story following the blossoming friendship between Bob Harris, an aging American movie star, and Charlotte, a young college graduate, who meet in a hotel in Tokyo. Critically acclaimed, and the film that catapulted Sofia Coppola to fame, Lost in Translation is a light-hearted but engaging watch.

  1. Tomboy – Celine Sciamma [France, 2011]

Tomboy follows a 10-year-old transgender child (given the name Laure by his parents) who, after moving house, introduces himself to his new friends as Mikäel. Sciamma sensitively portrays the terrible struggle Mikäel faces in being accepted by his family as a boy and by the wider community.  Also watch Sciamma’s masterpiece Girlhood and her debut film Water Lilies.

  1. An Education – Lone Scherfig [UK, 2009]

A beautifully shot coming-of-age story which explores womanhood and ambition. Jenny, an intelligent and pretty schoolgirl, dreams of studying at Oxford. That is, until she meets the much older David. David introduces Jenny to a glittering new world of concerts and late-night dinners. Will she abandon her dreams for the heady lifestyle he offers? Lone Scherfig treats this delicate story with wonderful sensitivity.

  1. 35 Shots of Rum – Claire Denis [France, 2008]

A slow, thoughtful look at four people’s lives, how they intersect and how friendship, love and family all entwine. Claire Denis’ genius is most apparent in the minimalism of some of the key scenes in the film, giving us space to appreciate the internal turmoil caused by changing relationships.

  1. The Headless Woman – Lucrecia Martel [Argentina, 2008]

This mysterious and disturbing tale of ghosts and guilt is nothing short of a masterpiece. A car crash changes a wealthy woman’s life forever. We join Verónica in her confusion and panic as the film imitates her concussed semi-conscious state. We’re never quite sure what we should be looking at in each shot, catching only glimpses of the truth. For weeks afterwards you’ll find yourself wondering what actually happened in the film. If you enjoy the confusing style of Martel, also watch her The Holy Girl (2004).

  1. City of God – Kátia Lund (and Fernando Meirelles) [Brazil, 2002]

Okay I’m cheating a bit here because it’s co-directed with a man, but City of God is quite unlike any other organised crime film. Based loosely on real events in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro, many of its stars are residents of the favelas. An adrenaline-pumped film that never lets up; you’re never quite sure where the next shot will come from. The unending tension is perfectly summed up by the tagline: “If you run, the beast catches you; if you stay, the beast eats you.”

  1. A Simple Life – Ann Hui [Hong Kong, 2011]

A moving look at affection and love. A middle aged film producer lives with his family’s maid, and when she suffers a stroke he does everything he can to make her happy and comfortable.

  1. The Square – Jehane Noujaim [Egypt, 2013]

The Square is an excellent documentary, following activists as they protest in Tahrir Square during the Egyptian crisis of 2011-2013. A nuanced film, following many different opinions and reactions to the unfolding of the events in Cairo, we see the rise and fall of many Egyptians’ hopes for the future.

  1. Where do we go now? – Nadine Labaki [Lebanon, 2011]

A funny and empowering look at religious tensions and gender roles in Lebanon. Loosely based on the ancient Greek play Lysistrata, in this film Labaki expertly captures the beauty of Lebanon, the sadness of the country’s internal conflicts, and the power of women in bringing about peace. Also give her film Caramel a watch.

  1. An Angel at My Table – Jane Campion [Australia/New Zealand/UK, 1990]

A simultaneously heart-breaking and heart-warming biopic. An Angel at My Table follows Janet in 1920s New Zealand as she grows up in a poor family. She is different to the other children, and despite training to become a teacher she stays at a mental institution for eight years. However, she finds success when she starts to write novels. This film thoroughly deserved its multiple standing ovations at the Venice Film Festival. Campion’s The Piano is also well worth a watch.

  1. Boys Don’t Cry – Kimberly Peirce [USA, 1999]

While this film would have been even better had Brandon Teena been played by a trans man, Peirce’s Boys Don’t Cry is a profound look at the discrimination, hatred and violence faced by the trans community. Based on a true story, it will bring tears to your eyes.

  1. Salaam Bombay! – Mira Nair [India, 1988]

A heart-wrenching look at the lives of children living on the streets of Bombay and the ups and downs of their complex lives. The actors are largely actual street children, and Nair set up a fund to rehabilitate them following the film.

  1. Marianne and Juliane – Margarethe von Trotta [West Germany, 1981]

A shocking tales of two sisters. Both Marianne and Juliane are dedicated to women’s civil rights, but they fight for this course in very different ways; Juliane works as a feminist journalist rallying for a woman’s right to abortion while Marianne commits herself to a violent revolutionary terrorist group. When Marianne is arrested Juliane becomes obsessed with her. There’s no happy ending to this dramatic tale of sisterly love and commitment.

  1. Selma – Ava DuVernay [USA, 2014]

Selma is an inspiring look at the 1965 voting rights marches, led by some of the key Civil Rights Movement leaders. It received numerous nominations for awards, all of which were well deserved.

  1. Brave – Brenda Chapman (and Mark Andrews) [USA, 2012]

I’m not usually a fan of Disney, but Brave marked a turning point for the ever controversial animators. While very far from perfect, I love the focus on the mother-daughter relationship. It’s also funny and challenges gender stereotypes well. Great to watch with young members of the family!

  1. Wayne’s World – Penelope Spheeris [USA, 1992]

A cult classic, Wayne’s World, is a comedic look at fame, success and friendship. It’s funny, silly and full of catchphrases.

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