As most of us are inside, perhaps with people we chose, or perhaps by circumstance, let us take a moment to think about one of the most interesting veins of films about being shut in. There’s so many films about what happens when two women are made to grow closer and closer while isolated together. At the front of most people’s minds right now due to its recent release is Portrait of a Lady on Fire, but it is unfortunately inaccessible to most due to theater closures. For a horror bend on the trope, there’s Martyrs, though many find repeated viewing to be a grim prospect, and Akerman’s Je, Tu, Il, Elle is on the farthest end in terms of arthouse. The films here are some what of a middle ground, more accessible or linked to widely known auteurs, while still keeping with the homoerotic subtext and philosphical musings of this subgenre. [Sarah]
This one has been a long time coming for me. My journey into Lynch’s filmography slowly continues, as every time I watch one of his films I endlessly think about it for months, not wanting to move on to the next one for some time. Mulholland Drive is an odd project, a failed television pilot that turned into a 2.5 hour neo-noir epic. A love letter to Old Hollywood, or possibly a complete spearheading of it, the film follows Naomi Watts’s Betty as she attempts to rise up in Hollywood while helping an amnesiac woman find out where she came from.
At least, that’s the basic idea. This being a Lynch film, there are all sorts of odd detours, fractured realities, dreams, and ghostly hags lurking behind restaurants. It fits somewhere in between neo-noir and horror, along with a surprisingly compelling love story between Betty and Rita (Laura Harring). It’s the film that feels closest in nature to Twin Peaks, likely due to its odd production process. The blend of odd charm and arresting horror sequences is one that any fan of his iconic television show will love, and the last thirty minutes are still making my brain hurt a day after watching the film. [Jen]
Rent on VOD for $3.99
Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant is an offbeat artist-muse relationship, in this case between a fashion designer and model. Petra (Margit Carstensen) falls in love with the younger model Karin (Hanna Shygulla), and invites her to move in. The other side of Petra’s life is Marlene (Katrin Schaake), her assistant who she treats poorly. Petra is notably codependent, and latches onto Karin hard as she falls into both love and obsession. She doesn’t know love without possession, and carries this out at the expense of honesty. When Karin reminds her that they promised not to lie to each other, Petra is hurt more than anything that the woman she possesses has spoken up and left her in the wrong.
Wigs act as a sort of mood ring for Petra, changing when something majorly impacts her emotionally. Karin plays along with Petra, and learns to bend her to her will. The designer’s tears are at her beck and call, and the two women can manipulate in sync. Almost the entire film takes place in one room, with the web of lies and pleading never leaving where it began. Unlike most of the films here, Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant is not about bringing the two women stuck together closer, but about a false closeness and perceived trust built upon mutual manipulation, lust, and a deep desire for control. [Sarah]
Streamable on Criterion Channel
The absolute godmother of the ‘Two Women in a House Simply Vibing’ genre, Ingmar Bergman’s Persona is, like many other films in the Swedish auteur’s catalogue, filled with so many striking images that even without watching the film you probably know some of its most powerful moments. It’s more of a feeling than a proper narrative, with so many symbols and themes going on that description becomes a futile exercise in cartography. Peter Cowie wrote about the film “everything one says about Persona may be contradicted; the opposite will also be true” and I have to agree.
I still don’t understand this movie, is what I’m trying to say. I’ve seen it twice, I’ve read up on it, and I still don’t have a concrete conclusion as to what Bergman is trying to say other than leads Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann are spectacular actors. But there’s something so powerful about the film, that as it plays on your screen, you feel drawn to it. Maybe it’s the film, maybe it’s the fact that you’re in quarantine, but just like the neglected boy, your hand ends up on the screen, covering it partly, depriving your eyes but enriching your body, just to get close to it. [Davey]
Rent on VOD for $3.99 and available on the Criterion Channel
Céline is a film about two women forced together by circumstance. When her father dies, 22-year old Céline (Isabelle Pasco) inherits his estate, and immediately gives it away to her stepmother. Her fiancé leaves her, and she attempts suicide. A nurse named Genevieve (María Luisa García) cares for her after this and further attempts, and the two women grow close over their shared pasts. It’s about learning to heal alongside another, and it’s the film equivalent of someone whispering “it will all be okay again someday”. “You’ll bathe in an ocean of love and well-being” is one of the tenderest lines of the film, and maybe it was meant as the experience of watching it too.
It’s also a tale of sainthood. Céline is soon believed to be a higher power by the townspeople, and her daily meditations she takes up fascinate them. Her touch is coveted as that of a saint, and the sight of her becomes currency. This of course means she must leave, and she goes into light instead of the darkness she had wanted from the start. The sound of the film is gentle, every bright noise of nature heightened as the two women fall in love with the world again. The meditations Céline and Genevieve do transport them, sometimes to a vision of a desert, and sometimes to a better headspace only. Opening with the story of Osiris taking a pharaoh to the heavens above, it’s the story of rebirth after deep depression. [Sarah]
Céline is a bit tricky to find. If one finds their digital self in France, it can be rented for $2.99 on most platforms. Previously available on MUBI in the US, physical copies available on Amazon
Clouds of Sils Maria paints an absolutely mesmerising passage of time from the perspective of a prima donna actress forced to accept her metaphorical expiration. A meta self-reflective tale of three women figuratively embodying one character, at different stages of their lives. This dynamic sparked through Juliette Binoche‘s reluctance to take on the role of the humiliated older character opposite her original role as the youthful ingénue, within the play that made her famous. In similar fashion to Gloria Swanson‘s iconic role in Sunset Blvd., Binoche fails to grasp that she is no longer the young hot prospect she once was: unable to admit to herself, listen to her young assistant – brilliantly played by Stewart, – nor read the writing on the wall. Assayas perfectly balances this meta-narrative that like Certified Copy, begins to blend and morph to such an extent you no longer know for certain what is reality and what is the play. But what is life other than one grand play, with countless characters: it’s a matter of perspective. There’s an intricate delicacy to his direction and always a subtle finger on the pulse of his character’s reckoning with their changing world. The influence that Bergman and Fassbinder specifically had on him is evident – the two legends which you’ll be able to read from other Cinema Etc. staff. A phenomenally nuanced central chemistry between elegantly arrogant Binoche and top shelf stoic Stewart, enhanced into a feminine triumvirate with the addition of a subdued Chloë Grace Moretz allows for a masterclass continuous mercurial shift in power dynamics. Clouds so beautifully forces its characters to come to terms with who they are, not who they were. A film that poetically slithers itself around the hills of mortal time and modernity like the Maloja Snake cloud formation around the surrounding Swiss Alps of Sils Maria. [Lee]
*Available on the Criterion Channel, and everywhere else for purchase/rent*
Quarantine Film Fest bibi andersson celine chantal akerman chloe grace-moretz clouds of sils maria david lynch gloria swanson hanna shygulla ingmar bergman isabelle pasco je tu il elle juliette binoche katrin schaake kristen stewart liv ullman margit carstensen maria luisa garcia martyrs mulholland drive naomi watts olivier assayas persona portrait of a lady on fire rainer werner fassbinder the bitter tears of petra von kant twin peaks