Regular readers of this blog (Edlerberry Winthorp of Bellow Falls, Vermont) may recall that last year I offered my second post suggesting double features for your viewing pleasure. I finally noticed that every one of those films centered around a male character or characters. I therefore determined to provide this third iteration in the series, now with movies featuring strong female leads. Enjoy.
Ninotchka (1939) Lubitsch and Silver Linings Playbook (2012) Russell — Love Against the Odds. Greta Garbo and Jennifer Lawrence fall in love with characters played by Melvyn Douglass and Bradley Cooper, respectively. But as the great bard said, “the course of true love never did run smooth.” Garbo must overcome the small matter of being a cog in the wheel of the immense Soviet bureaucracy in the 1930s while her beloved is a count living in France. As for Lawrence her intended is struggling with emotional issues — then again, so is she. For either one to be on the same page as anyone else is a struggle. For this pair to sort out their romance seems an impossibility. Spoiler alert: in both films, love prevails and in both cases it’s damn entertaining stuff. Ninotchka is the very embodiment of a classic comedy, directed by Lubitsch with a script by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett. Silver Linings deals honestly with mental illness, if with a light touch. The cast includes a bloke named Robert DeNiro.
Vivre Sa vie (1962) Godard and Nights of Cabiria (1957) Fellini — Struggles In the World’s Oldest Profession. Anna Karina and Julietta Musina are both ladies of the night who long for better days. Neither one enjoy a happy fate, but their stories make for engaging viewing and they are two of my favorite female leads of any genre. They are in their own ways wise women who are victims of deeply ingrained sexism. Their fates may seem inevitable but even with repeat viewings, we root them on. Vivre sa vie (my life to live) is my favorite Godard film and Karina is one reason why. She is stoic, she is thoughtful, she is powerless, she is powerful, she is beautiful, she is vulnerable. She contradictorily accepts her fate while challenging it. The twelve episodes that make up the film are wonderfully individual yet connected. It's remarkable that the film clocks in at under ninety minutes yet is so rich. Nights is one of several masterpieces by Fellini. Cabiria is a fun-loving woman who wants out of "the life" and to attain that end she saves her money. There is a spirit to this character that is totally engaging to audiences and she is impossible not to root for. Our heart breaks for but we also celebrate her indomitable spirit.
Juno (2007) J. Reitman and Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always (2020) Hittman — Teen Pregnancy. Two movies about teenagers — both still in high school — who become pregnant. Juno has the baby then puts it up for adoption. In Never Rarely, the protagonist, who does not enjoy the loving brood that Juno does, travels to New York with a cousin for an abortion. In both cases our protagonist has the power of choice and we root her on. Juno was a main stream success starring the then Ellen Page along with Michael Cera. It is a charming story with broad appeal that deftly mixes comedy and drama. It received several Oscar nods, including one for best picture. Never, Rarely is in no way a comedy and was not widely seen, though critically acclaimed. This is a far heavier tale about the grim reality of a teenager seeking an abortion in the big city. I thought it was one of the best films of 2020.
Blonde Venus (1932) von Sternberg and Morocco (1930) von Sternberg -- Marlene Stands By Her Men. What can be better than a Marlene Dietrich double feature, with both films directed by her frequent collaborator, Joseph von Sternberg? Both films feature some of Dietrich’s signature musical numbers. In Morocco, Dietrich gives up everything for the man she loves (Gary Cooper) while in Blonde Venus, her self-sacrificing character has an affair that leads to a custody battle that leads to life on the road and eventually to reconciliation with her hubby (Herbert Marshall). Dietrich plays a night club singer in both and in both she, at least temporarily, gives up her career to be with the man she loves. In Blonde Venus she performs several numbers, most notably "Hot Voodoo" in a gorilla suit. Her signature performance in Morocco is of "What Am I Bid for this Apple?" done in a man's tuxedo.
|The Lady Eve|
The Letter (1940) Wyler and Tess (1979) Polanski — Murderess, She Wrote. The Letter starts with a murder of a lover and Tess ends with one. Both women leave behind men who love them. Bette Davis in The Letter escapes legal jeopardy, but revenge is extracted and she pays the ultimate price. This is my favorite Bette Davis film, she may have been as good in others, but never better. She's not only a murderer and a cheat but a liar -- and a pretty good one at that. Natasha Kinski in Tess does not escape the long arm of the law after killing the lover she never wanted. Tess is a victim of rigid social mores in a terribly sexist society where women have no legal rights and must adhere strictly to a rigid moral code that does not apply to men. Kinski is radiant as the gorgeous, vulnerable, resilient ill-fated title character. The film is an absolute masterpiece directed by Roman Polanski.
Ida (2013) Pawlikowski and Viridiana (1961) Bunuel — To Nun or not to Nun. Two stories about young women who choose to marry god, both of whom are tempted by the secular world. One succumbs, but the other remains true to her calling. Ida is a Polish film from director Paweł Pawlikowski and Viridiana a Mexican production from the great Luis Bunuel. Ida won the Academy Award for best foreign language film, the first Polish film to do so. The title character is about to take her vows when told she must meet her aunt, a former Communist state prosecutor and only surviving relative, who tells her that her parents were Jewish. The two women embark on a road trip into the Polish countryside to learn the fate of their relatives. On the journey Ida experiences and enjoys aspects of the secular life. Viridiana is similarly set to take her vows when called away. In her case by an uncle. The uncle turns out to be a sexual predator who covets Viridiana and from his attempts to "take her" our story takes different twists and turns leaving Viridiana to choose between two lives.