Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)
Written & Directed by Céline Sciamma
For the majority of the film’s runtime, we do not see a single male character on screen. In the third act, when a man is found eating breakfast in the kitchen, it is a jolt to the system, signaling that whatever has come before is over. The expectations and duties of these women must be resumed, and the life they were able to experience for a brief time is over. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a subdued and even unsentimental look at a relationship between two women in a time where they had no future where they could stay together.
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Things to Come (2016)
Written & Directed by Mia Hansen-Løve
What we expect is not what we will get. This is a lesson for both the protagonist Nathalie and the audience. Life unfolds with surprises that are not necessarily earth-shaking but create ripples out through your day to day choices. After twenty-five years of marriage, Nathalie learns her husband is having an affair, and it’s decided with little bombast that they are divorcing. In the year that follows she has to deal with a mother that has severe depression and anxiety, her daughter gives birth to the first grandchild of the family, she struggles with her career as a philosophy professor, and reconnects with a former student.
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Written by David Birke and Philippe Djan
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Elle is a deceptively simple film, jolting its audience by opening on the ending of a brutal assault and rape inside the home of Michele, an upper middle class older single woman. The rapist, his face covered in a ski mask, flees and Michele with almost mechanical automaticity takes a bath, puts makeup over her black eye, and goes about her day and the next with no reaction. It’s only the following evening at dinner with friends and her ex-husband that she casually reveals, trying to laugh it off, that she was raped. The viewer is meant to be unsettled by how cold Michele is through all of this with her friends and family acting as our stand-ins, utterly shocked at what happened.
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Written & Directed by Céline Sciamma
Marieme is a sixteen-year-old black teenager living on the outskirts of Paris. She learns that her school’s guidance counselor is pushing for her to follow a vocational track as her academics don’t appear to be high enough for an academic one. Marieme knows the expectations of her mother, who works as a custodian, are that she eventually go to university. In this moment of frustration, the young woman finds friendship with a trio of girls. These young women are known for getting into brawls with other women in their neighborhood, and through them, Marieme feels like she has power in an otherwise powerless position in the world. Over the course of this year, she will move from being a child into a young adult and have to face the obstacles and struggles that come along with that territory.
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April and the Extraordinary World (2013)
Written by Franck Ekinci & Benjamin Legrand
Directed by Christian Desmares & Franck Ekinci
April Franklin is a woman living in a world where history took a markedly different turn than our own. During the reign of Napoleon III, a scientist is charged with creating animal-soldier hybrids. He creates two hyperintelligent beings that escape and soon after the world’s greatest scientists and engineers begin disappearing. This impediment to progress leads to a mid-20th century where energy is still based primarily in coal and steam power. April’s parents and grandfather vanished years ago during a government crackdown, and she has been fending for herself alongside her genetically altered cat friend Darwin. The two uncover a plot to destroy humanity and the secret solution for the ultimate formula, a serum that would make all life impervious to harm.
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Written and Directed by Michael Haneke
Anne and Georges are retired music teachers enjoying the fruits of their labor, visiting former pupils who have excelled in their craft. They have a tense relationship with their daughter Eva and her English husband, but it’s not bad. Life is a beautiful natural thing. Then one morning Anne goes silent during breakfast, unresponsive to Georges’ pleas. She comes to after a moment, but the couple seeks out the opinion of their doctor. It turns out that Anne suffered a stroke, and her body will slowly degenerate as a result. We watch as Anne goes from being a vibrant, joyful octogenarian to becoming a person who is losing both their physical abilities but additionally the faculty of their mind. Georges is ever dutiful taking care of his wife and making a promise never to send her off to a home, but to keep her in their home.
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High Life (2018)
Written by Claire Denis & Jean-Pol Fargeau
Directed by Claire Denis
Monte lives aboard a spaceship, raising a baby girl by himself. How he got here is told in a series of flashbacks that reveal Monte was one of a crew of convicts, taking a deal to participate in a mission to gather data from around a black hole for alternative energy. The secondary purpose is to produce a child via artificial insemination to study the effects of conception and development in space. As the crew gets further from Earth and the realization of their fate sets in they begin to lose their minds and lash out at each other. As we can see from the framing device, Monte will be one of only two who makes it, but what lies ahead for him and this child.
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Stranger by the Lake (2013)
Written & Directed by Alain Guiraudie
Franck frequents a nude beach that doubles as a favorite spot for gay men to cruise and hook up. He befriends Henri, an older man recently broken up with his girlfriend. The two chat for a while every time Franck arrives, and he learns Henri appreciates the quiet of this side of the lake. Later, Franck sets his eyes on Michel, an incredibly handsome man who already appears to be attached. On his way home, after a late afternoon tryst with another beachgoer, Franck stumbles upon a strange scene. From his vantage point, he witnesses what appears to be a murder and Franck believes he knows the murderer. The police begin asking questions as Franck and Michel’s relationship blossoms and the beach starts to lose the splendor it once possessed for our protagonist.
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Le Havre (2011)
Written & Directed by Aki Kaurismäki
Marcel Marx is a shoe shiner in the French port city of Le Havre who lives a simple life with his wife, Arletty. Once long ago in his youth, Marcel had ambitions to be a writer and bohemian but time and a need for money put an end to that. Arletty becomes suddenly ill with a dire prognosis that Marcel is kept unaware of. Around this time, a crate of immigrants from Gabon is discovered on the docks and one of them, Idrissa, a young boy escapes the police. Marcel and Idrissa cross paths and the old man decides to house the refugee without question while trying to locate the boy’s family so they can reunite. Inspector Monet is out in the neighborhoods searching for the boy and knows Marcel by reputation as being a scoundrel and liar.
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Monsieur Lazhar (2011)
Written by Evelyne de la Chenelière and Philippe Falardeau
Directed by Philippe Falardeau
At school in Montreal, two students discover that their teacher has hung herself in the classroom. The school works quickly to push the class past this event by repainting & rearranging the room while having a psychologist make periodic visits. A new teacher is found in a rush, Mr. Lazhar, an Algerian man who goes on about his experience teaching at a university in his former home country. Lazhar brings an approach unfamiliar to the students, emphasizing the techniques of grammar and spelling over more expressive forms of learning. He reads Balzac to the children and requires them to take dictation. One student, Alice, expresses her still simmering anger and confusion over the suicide of their teacher in an essay. This outburst causes Lazhar to re-evaluate his methods and the needs of his class.
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