As I've been spending a bit more time at home recently, I've been watching some DVDs lent to me by my cineaste friend, B., whose collection features a fair few under-appreciated female directors. So far, I've worked my way through the moody French Innocence, the No Wave-influenced Smithereens and the British microfeature Gypo. All deal to to greater or lesser with people not quite relating or getting along, making a feature of awkwardness and discomfiture, in contrast with typical Hollywood fare which insists on the happy ending.
Innocence, directed by Lucile Hadzihalilovic, is a curious beast, a horror film that never quite warms up to be scary, a mood piece set in an uncertain time and location, at a secluded girls school, where the pupils are so contained, so regimented, that they seem to be self-regulating, with a few elderly staff members popping in to prepare their meals. There are also two teachers (one a young Marion Cotillard) who may or may not be a couple, who offer ballet instruction laced with lessons such as the importance of conforming and following rules. My mind kept flashing to historical regimes such as the Nazis, especially when the girls were put their paces in front of a mysterious head mistress who wanted to see their gums and other physical features. Were they being prepared for some type of eugenics programme? The ending seemed to be a total cop-out, and I found the film didn't quite reach the heights it could have.
By contrast Susan Seidelman's early film, Smithereens, is bursting with energy, action and seedy New York locations as it charts the misadventures of its anti-heroine Wren. Early on in the film she tells anyone who will listen that she is starting a band. But, she then spends most of the film pinballing between two unsuitable men, the mid-Western dude who lives in a van and the would-be rock star. Why, oh why does she never start the band? Why does Seidelman let her run riot for most of the film and then seem to punish her at the end? It almost seemed like she lost her nerve in creating such an unconventional lead.
Finally, there's the British low budget feature, Gypo, directed by Jan Dunn, which is actually quite timely, dealing as it does with refugees who find themselves unwelcome in an English seaside town. Interestingly, it's told from three viewpoints, including a husband and wife, and a refugee. The story really comes to life in the third version, told by the refugee, and moves into a higher gear. I quite enjoyed it, though the early scenes of the squabbling family felt like they went on too long. Some dramas are a bit too close to home, but cinema can be at its most powerful when it makes us feel uncomfortable.