192 Best Movies to Watch by Female director (Page 6)

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Antoneta Kastrati’s debut feature film Zana follows Lume, who appears guarded and subdued as she goes about her daily routine: milking the cows, harvesting crops and flowers, hanging laundry out to dry. Part of Lume’s routine also includes visits to the doctor, accompanied by her mother-in-law and husband, who pressure her to conceive.

When conventional medical advice does not yield a viable pregnancy, Lume is brought to a witch doctor, and later a televangelist. The former suggests Lume may be cursed, while the latter insists she is possessed by a supernatural creature called a jinn. Lume appears largely apathetic, at least outwardly. But slowly, she starts to unravel—and with her undoing comes the reveal of the war that traumatized her. 

Kastrati’s family drama has elements of horror, but the real terror here is psychological. It makes for an important exploration of a deeply patriarchal society that is only beginning to heal the collective traumas of a complicated war, and how its violence continues to ripple through time and into domestic life. 

 

“As fragile as she was strong, as vulnerable as she was dynamic, she was African royalty. How does royalty stomp around in the mud and still walk with grace?”. What Happened, Miss Simone? will surprise you no matter how much you thought you knew about the soul singer - not only in its exploration of Nina Simone’s personal life and complexities, but by being both a personal and political documentary. As you discover an original singer with talents that reach all the way to performance art, you will also learn about a Civil Rights activist’s journey and an unstable woman’s struggle. The documentary is not about answering the question of what happened, Miss Simone? – it’s an exploration of why that question is so important.

Adapted from the Lionel Shriver novel of the same name, We Need to Talk About Kevin is the story of a mother (Tilda Swinton) that never quite bonds with her child, but not by her choice. The son grows up to do a heinous act that begs the question: nature or nurture? This film is an uncompromising view on the development of an unloved child. Silent pain gets voice. Feelings are shown by actions not emotions in an authentic, comprehensible and aesthetic manner. Great work.

Even before Agnès Varda pivoted to documentary filmmaking, she was a pioneer of French cinema. Her film Sans toit ni loi (Vagabond) is one of her most harrowing dramas. 

Varda’s sensibilities as a burgeoning documentarian are apparent as the film opens on the corpse of a woman lying dead in a snow-covered ditch. Through flashbacks, we trace the titular vagabond’s steps to uncover how she ended up alone and dead. The camera follows its subject from a safe distance, as if tracking a wild animal. Alongside the woman, we hitchhike across the French countryside, encountering hostile men, treacherous winter weather, and occasional glimpses of hope, connection, and familiarity. Vagabond succeeds at portraying a complicated woman—Varda understood that women, above all else, are people, with dark interiors, difficult choices, and uncertain impulses. 

Good movies usually aren't lengthy movies, unless we're talking about cases like Toni Erdmann. It's a supremely smart German-Austrian comedy that depicts the story of a Father-Daughter tandem in light of life’s weirdest, most inconvenient moments. Deciding to visit his daughter on a whim after his dog dies, Winfried (Peter Simonischek)—a man known for his outrageous pranks and many a disguise—flies to Bucharest. Ines (Sandra Huller), the daughter, buzzing with work to the brim in a very challenging job, to say the least, isn’t impressed. This leads to even more uncomfortable encounters as the estranged father poses as the title character, life coach to the disapproving daughter’s boss. On top of being a shrewdly observed and relevant movie, the brilliant writing by Maren Ade crafts something thoroughly enjoyable and heartfelt here, highlighting the importance of family bond in an oddly sweet way, and criticizing modern-day work ethic and the toll its taking on us. The beginning is a bit slow, but if you're a bit patient you will be surprised how much this movie will reward you.

This intimate and personal film is about Sibil Fox Rich, an entrepreneur and mother of six. Fox is driven by an unparalleled, contagious determination to succeed — so present in the mix of video diaries and present-day footage of her in Time.

For the past 20 years, Rich has channeled that tenacity towards the release of her husband, who is serving a 60-year sentence.

Through the video diaries and family footage, Time feels almost too personal. It’s like stepping into a person’s most intimate moments for 81 minutes, with all their ups and downs.

It could be seen as a commentary on the deeply flawed American justice system, but at its core Time is an uplifting portrayal of resilience, true, long-lasting love (she and her husband were high-school sweethearts), and boundless hope.

“What is happiness?” is one of those philosophical questions that seem destined to go unanswered, one that, when asked, starts a debate that splinters into smaller debates, all of which lead to nowhere. This film is sort of an embodiment of that question, but instead of being vague and pointless, it revels in mystery and multitudes. What is happiness? We follow five different people who attempt to answer that in their own ways. 

It might seem gimmicky to try to link strangers’ lives with the concept of happiness,  but in the hands of a brilliant director and ensemble, it becomes a treat. With its deeply human characters, smartly structured plot, and eloquent dialogue, Thirteen Conversations About One Thing is a rare gem of a film, as perceptive as it is poignant. 

This drama was the first feature written and directed by an out Black lesbian, Cheryl Dunye, and it is an absolute joy: a cheeky faux-documentary that ingeniously blends lesbian dating life with a historical dive into Black actors in 30s Hollywood.

Dunye plays Cheryl, a self-effacing version of herself, an aspiring director working at a video store who begins to research an actress known as the Watermelon Woman for a documentary. The more Cheryl dives into her research, the more she sees parallels between her subject and her own relationship. 

As incisive as it is funny, The Watermelon Woman shares some common ground with other major indie debuts of the era like Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It and funnily enough Kevin Smith’s Clerks, but Dunye’s style is wholly her own and a dazzling treat to experience.

 

Val is a housekeeper for a wealthy family in São Paulo. She is close with every family member, and acts as the title would suggest - as a second mother, but there are clear reminders of her status. One is the sheer amount of work she has to do, from cooking to cleaning and responding to random demands.

Val’s estranged daughter visits her, a bright kid who is on her way to university. This brings out more of the maid/employer dynamics: if Val is “family”, why would she and her daughter have to sleep in a small cramped room when the guest room is empty?

Questions like these threaten the family’s balance and the uneasy existence that millions around the world have as housekeepers.

It’s a great and well-thought-out drama, one that would make the perfect centerpiece for a movie night or a movie club pick.

Les Glaneurs et la Glaneuse (The Gleaners and I) is one of the late Agnès Varda’s great documentaries. The film follows “gleaners”—scavengers and collectors of discarded garbage or abandoned items—from the French countryside into the city. The first of Varda’s subjects recalls, “Gleaning, that’s the old way,” marking a clear distinction: old versus new, rural versus urban, wasted versus repurposed.

Fans of Varda will recognize the signature tenderness with which she approaches both her subjects and their objects. Those new to her work will be sure to find something familiar in this documentary: a film largely about loss, but which approaches its ideas of modernization and time with humor and lightness. Among the rubble, there is joy yet to be found—and in this documentary, there is a great comfort, too, to be gleaned.

Kristen Stewart stars as Melinda, a girl entering the gauntlet of freshman year in high school who is also carrying a heavy secret: after suffering an assault over the summer at a party, she has become determined to speak as little as possible. Melinda’s subjective experience is presented without mediation, melodrama nor moralism, but rather as life through her eyes: teachers are puff-chested bullies; parents are mumbling, ephemeral strangers; whispering girls are talking about her, all the time. It is a realistic portrait of the inner life and experience of a young woman whose sudden introversion, academic decline, and loss of social connections appear to go completely unnoticed, while she struggles to process and unburden herself of the weight of trauma. It’s an empathetic story well-served by Stewart’s understated performance and the film’s quiet pace.

Dick Johnson Is Dead is a heartfelt and unconventional portrait of how one can live life to the fullest even in their darkest days. Kristen Johnson’s follow-up to the highly acclaimed documentary Cameraperson, Johnson shows that her skills are no fluke as she crafts a witty film where she masterfully balances surreal tonal shifts to create a compelling experience. While it does have a repetitive nature, the final thirty minutes are heartbreakingly comedic, and make this one worth a watch!

A nostalgic look at '90s Belarus brings to bear a sharp generational divide. Evalina is a young DJ living in Minsk with her mother, but dreaming of Chicago, the birthplace of House music. Her attempts to gain a US visa land her in a small factory town, where the tensions between her modern lifestyle and old-time traditions boil over.

This promising debut from director Darya Zhuk features a mesmerizing palette of saturated colors and some striking shots calling to mind the work of Douglas Sirk, a star-making turn from lead actress Alina Nasibullina, and a dry wit that keeps the film lithe. At times, the somewhat heavy-handed script gets in the way, but Zhuk’s vivacious filmmaking is a pleasure.

Often considered Claire Denis’ best film, Beau Travail is an epic exploration of both masculinity and colonialism. Inspired by Melville’s Billy Budd, she transplants the story to Djibouti where the French Foreign Legion run seemingly aimless drills in an arid desert landscape while largely alienated from the local community. 

Denis inverts the male gaze and imbues charged eroticism to the bodies in motion as the men train and wrestle. Accompanied by the music of Britten’s Billy Budd opera, these movements transform into a breathtaking modern dance. Underneath her jaw-dropping direction is a cutting allegory on repression, desire, and violence, working on both the individual and geopolitical level. This incredible tale is capped off by one of the best end credit sequences of all time. 

Us and Them follows two former lovers who reminisce and reassess their decade-long relationship over one night. They both seem to be in better places, certainly financially if anything else, but their shared wistfulness for the past threatens to prove otherwise. 

The film was an immediate hit when it was first released in China, and it’s easy to see why. With just the right balance of realism, romance, and comedy, the movie makes for a simple but deeply moving and involving watch. You can’t help but root for the exes to get back together, even though you know as well as they do how minimal the chances of that happening are.