Film & Television

The ‘Real’ Women of Independent Films

But major studios continue to be devoted to the bottom line, and that is increasingly dictated by the need to produce big-budget action-adventure films. How big a part women will play in those movies, whether as actresses, producers, writers, or directors, remains to be seen. As we have pointed out here no matter how many great performances women turn in, only a certain number can be nominated for the Oscar. A few films have tried to solve this problem by pushing one lead for Best Actress and another for Best Supporting Actress, as the Weinstein Company has done with Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara for Carol. It’s quite arbitrary, since their screen time is equal, and one can argue that Mara actually plays the protagonist in the film—it is certainly told from her “point of view”—but the Oscar nominations are thought of like horse races, and it was decided that the odds would play out better this way.

Independent films—usually better artistically, if not at the box office—often ignore the rules of Hollywood formulae. A few of these films have been recognized with Oscar nominations such as Brooklyn, Carol, and Room. The broader list of wonderful, worthy performances by women in independent films this year is too long to give entirely but there are some trends worth mentioning.

As always, foreign films are produced, like small but priceless drawings—showing a slice of life, perfectly rendered, reminding us of the power of depth over breadth. Four particularly good films from 2015 are about women: Two Days, One Night (France), The Assassin (Japan), Phoenix (Germany), The Second Mother (Brazil). In each of these films, the essential power of womanhood is part of what both drives and resolves the conflicts the characters face.

Several independent films this year tackled the issue of femininity or female identity directly, including The Danish Girl, and Tangerine. Both nominally deal with transsexuals but from very different perspectives. The first film, starring Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander (an Oscar nominee), is loosely based on the experiences of one of the first transgender pioneers. Fast-forwarding considerably, Tangerine is a film shot entirely on an iPhone 5s that follows the life of a transgender sex worker on Christmas Eve. Juxtaposed they are quite a cultural double feature.

What independent films do that big-budget movies usually don’t is to explore a particular moment and try to find its meaning. While not 100 percent successful, all these films leave you wiser and with something to think about. I particularly recommend 45 Years, which earned Charlotte Rampling  an Oscar nomination.  This is an extremely nuanced performance and a very subtle film. The action concerns a few days in a week in which, leading up to an important anniversary party, a couple learns that the body of the husband’s lover just prior to his marriage to his wife (Rampling) has turned up. Her body was lost when she plunged into a ravine during a hiking trip she had been on with the husband (played veteran British actor Tom Coutenay) many years before. This news precipitates a crisis in the marriage as they both re-evaluate what the years since the lost lover’s death have actually meant. Read More »

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