Streaming Spotlight - French Female Filmmakers

We're turning our attention to Gallic trailblazers this week

by Amber Wilkinson

Faces Places
Faces Places
It's been a while since we turned our streaming spotlight on a country and so we're putting the focus on France this week and, specifically, its female filmmakers. The country has a proud history of women in film, stretching all the way back to the world's first female director, producer and studio head Alice Guy-Blaché, who shot her first film The Cabbage Fairy in 1896. We're celebrating her pioneering work as our short selection this week and if you want to learn more about her, then documentary Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché is a great place to start and available on Amazon Prime. If you're looking for more streaming inspiration, you can read our Stay-At-Home Seven here.

Faces, Places, Curzon Home Cinema, Amazon (from £3.49)

Although born in Belgium, director Agnès Varda went on to become not just a key player in the French New Wave but a vivid and emotional chronicler of her adopted country. Her playfulness and her curiosity about what made people tick was undimmed in her Eighties, when she made this delightful documentary collaboration with photographer and artist JR. As the pair of them travel France, creating artwork with local communities as they go, a celebration of Varda herself also emerges as we're encouraged to view the world as she sees it. If you happen to get a taste for that, then do check out more of her philosophy in her final feature Varda by Agnès, which premiered not long before her death, aged, 90, in 2019, and which is available on the BFI Player. You can read what she told us about the film here.

Girlhood, BFI player, Amazon, from £3.49

Celine Sciamma had already firmly established herself as one of France's foremost cinematic chroniclers of women and the way they choose to define themselves, with Water Lilies and Tomboy, when she made this Cesar-nominated drama in 2014. Here, she steps into the world of Meriem, a teenager from the working-class French-African community, who will reinvent herself more than once during the course of the film. While Sciamma's film shines a light on the way the patriarchy muscles its way into women's experiences, the film's focus is on the various types of 'sisterhood' that fuel Meriem's growing self-confidence as the group dynamic of a girl gang helps her find a route to their own individualism.

Mustang, MUBI, Amazon, from £3.49

French-Turkish director Deniz Gamze Ergüven made serious international waves with this debut film, which charts the coming-of-age of five young orphaned sisters and went on to be Oscar-nominated. Infused with the energy of its central characters, it shows what happens when that spirit meets the ultra-conservatism of the Turkish village where they live, head on, as they begin to be married off. Ergüven, writing with fellow French filmmaker Alice Winocour, blends the tense drama of the children's lives with a fairy tale quality that also makes the film accessible for older children. Read what Ergüven told us about collaboration, the dynamics of the sisters and identity.

2 Days In Paris, Amazon Prime

One of a growing list of French stars who have gone on to success as directors, which also includes Mati Diop (Atlantics) and Maïwenn (My King), Julie Delpy has a flare for family dynamics tightly scripted comedy. Here she puts the emphasis on screwball-hijinks in this Woody Allen-style tale of a Marion and Jack (Delpy and Adam Goldberg) trying to hold their relationship together after a less than successful trip to Venice during a visit to Marion's family. As well as the clashing between Marion and Jack, Delpy gets plenty of mileage out of the situational comedy as the pair also bicker with Marion's parents (Marie Pillet and Delpy's actual dad Albert). Delpy is currently working on LA-set comedy On The Verge, for Netflix, which should be well worth looking out for. Read what Delpy told us about the film.

Beau Travail, Amazon, from £2.49

Emotion has always shimmered like a mirage in the movies of Claire Denis, simultaneously vibrant, but almost impossible to fully put your finger on. Perhaps never more so than here in this loose retelling of Billy Budd set against the backdrop of the French Foreign Legion in Djibouti. The story, told in fragments by ex-officer Galoup (Denis Lavant) about how he came to be exiled, has an abstract, poetic quality, weaving together ideas of desire and sexual identity, retaining a beguiling ambiguity to the last.

A Minuscule Adventure, Amazon Prime 

No subtitles are required for all the family to enjoy Hélène Giraud's delightful animation, co-directed by Thomas Szabo, about a ladybird who finds him or herself a long way from family and discovers it's an awfully long distance to "fly away home" from Guadeloupe to France. With similar silent storytelling and sense of anarchic humour to the British Shaun the Sheep, there are plenty of laughs to be had, as one of the ladybird's parents heads to the rescue with an unlikely ally. Giraud and Szabo craft a world full of delightful detail, with plenty of scope for young viewers to use their own imaginations as part of the storytelling and aren't afraid to add just the right amount of scariness as our little adventurer attempts to find the way home.

Things To Come, Amazon, from £3.49 and currently streaming for free on Film4 on demand in the UK

Anne-Katrin Titze writes: "The shifts in human interactions as we age are a main thrust. How does the universal inform the specific? Mia Hansen-Løve uses a fine-toothed comb in the interplay of acting, plot, mood, so that she catches revealing nuances of dread and relief. Things considered eternal turn out not to be and sometimes it happens that you miss a house more than a person. The box is open. The cat of nine lives is curious - more killer than ready to be killed. Freedom and loneliness enter into a fight. In times of transition, shields can be difficult to find. L'Avenir, wisely titled Things To Come for the English market, stars Isabelle Huppert at her subtle best as philosophy teacher Nathalie, whose life is thrown into turmoil. Her mother [Edith Scob], an elegant pest, calls Nathalie with panic attacks at 5:00am, regularly alerts the local fire brigade, or buys expensive Barbara Bui jackets in the wrong size. She is lonely and losing it and her daughter knows it. On the professional front, students at the school she is teaching at are on strike in protest and the publishers want to redesign her philosophy textbook for the new edition, to "humanise" it with garish colour designs to be better in tune with "market expectations".

Finally, we're returning to Alice Guy-Blaché for our short of the week and The Consequences of Feminism, a wittly constructed consideration of gender role reversal from 1906.

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