Test Pattern (2021) Writer & Director Shatara Michelle Ford
When a woman is the victim of rape, she is advised to act quickly in its aftermath, hurrying to a hospital to undergo a forensic examination. Instead of sleeping or showering, a woman who has been sexually assaulted should, ideally, go the emergency room and consult with a nurse, who will collect DNA samples from her body. Afterwards, she will meet with a police offer for questioning. It’s a psychologically harrowing experience in and of itself, and it’s easy to understand why many women choose not to report their rapes. Test Pattern tells the story one woman, Renesha, who does, and what it costs her and her boyfriend Evan, who accompanies her on her quest to obtain proper medical care. By focusing on the logistics of reporting a rape, rather than the assault itself, writer-director Shatara Michelle Ford’s powerful debut feature shows a healthcare system that ignores the reality of sexual violence, and in doing so, allows it to continue unchecked.
I’m calling it: Herself is the first movie of the Biden Era. It’s empathetic, kind, and emotionally direct. It’s the kind of movie where characters say things like, “you impress me so much.” It would not have been out of place for anyone to remark, “Here’s the thing about life: there are some days when we need a hand and there are other days when we’re called upon to lend one.” Set in Ireland, Herself centers on a single mother, Sandra, who needs help starting over after leaving an abusive marriage. Her employer, friends, and acquaintances quickly come to her aid, volunteering to help her build a house for her and her two young children. It sounds corny, but isn’t in the least, because director Phyllida Lloyd makes room for the complexity of abusive relationships, as well as the lingering psychological and physical trauma. This isn’t a story where everything is okay in the end, but it is one where people are decent and kind to one another, and do their best to fix what is broken and heal one another.
This was a good year for female directors. The cynical part of me wants to say that’s because the studios were more likely to release movies made by women in a year of cutting losses. But it may also be the result of efforts to boost equity in the wake of the Weinstein revelations, which occurred in late 2017. If a lot of female-directed/produced movies picked up for distribution after premiering at 2018 and 2019 film festivals, the majority of those titles would start coming out in 2020.
When I was writing this list, I wasn’t sure what should count as a 2020 movie, since the Academy Awards have been pushed back to April. Ultimately, I decided only to include movies that were available via VOD in 2020, so this list doesn’t include some big titles like Regina King’s One Night in Miami and Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland, although I plan to catch up with them when they are released later this month and in February. This list is a reflection of my year, and what I was able to watch on streaming platforms, “virtual” cinemas,” and via screening links. It’s probably a little quirkier than my previous best of lists in 2018 and 2019, but this was an odd year, and I’d guess that the next couple of years are going to continue to be unpredictable as Hollywood figures out what movie-going looks like in a post-COVID world.
Watching movies has been a welcome distraction over the past few weeks. I’m breathing a sigh of relief that Biden won but very distressed by the way Covid-19 is spiking all over the country. Looks like we’re all going to be inside for several more months. Here are some new movies to keep you company . . .
Directed by Kelly Reichardt
Written by Kelly Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond
The plain title of Kelly Reichardt’s eighth feature film belies a richly–detailed period piece set in 1820s Oregon Territory. But before immersing you in the past, Reichart opens in the present, with a shot of alarge industrial ship making its way down the Willamette River. Along a piece of undeveloped shoreline, a woman and her dog are walking when the dog’s playful digging uncovers a human skull. Curious, thewoman continues digging to reveal two full skeletons lying next to each another. As is typical of a Reichardt movie, this action unfolds wordlessly but with attention to the sounds of the natural world: the chirping of nearby birds, the dog’s panting and scuffling paws, and the river flowing by. This quiet, observational approach makes the discovery of two skeletons feel interesting, rather than ominous. However, I must admit that what I found most arresting about this scene was a lightweight pink scarf that the woman was wearing tied around her neck in a loose bow. It was the only warm color in a scene dominated by grays, blues, and greens, and as the woman’s scarf fluttered in breeze, I felt that it, as well as the skeletons, had a secret meaning. . .
Wow, this month has gone by quickly. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks catching up on movies in order to vote for the OAFFC awards and also to compile my own list of year-end favorites. I’m holding off on sharing that because I haven’t yet seen Little Women, and from all the advance raves, I have a feeling it might make my list. We’ll see. In the meantime, here are some brief reviews of three movies I saw recently . . .
Atlantics (2019) ★★★1/2 Director: Mati Diop
Writer: Mati Diop and Olivier Demangel Streaming on Netflix
I heard someone describe Atlantics as a zombie movie, but it’s more like a ghost story. Really, it’s a love story, with a classic structure that follows two clandestine lovers who are briefly together only to be torn apart. They spend the rest of the movie trying to find their way back to each other. The story is set in an unnamed port city in Senegal, where a giant, futuristic glass-and-steel tower is under construction. The film opens upon a group of angry construction workers, who have stormed their foreman’s office to complain about three months’ of wages still owed to them. They set off to Spain in search of paying work, only to drown in the Atlantic Ocean. One of the lost sailors is Souleiman, the secret boyfriend of a young woman, Ada, who is engaged to marry a wealthy businessman, Omar. When Souleiman reappears on Ada’s wedding night, a series of strange, supernatural events are set into motion.
I’ve been neglectful of this blog because I finished a very rough draft of a novel and that took all my time for a few weeks. (Also, I’ve been freaking out about the climate crisis but that’s a post for another day — btw yesterday we set a heat record in NYC when it was 93 DEGREES IN OCTOBER.) Amidst the artistic and existential meltdowns, I did manage to watch three new woman-directed movies:
Hustlers (2019) ★★★
Writer and Director: Lorene Scafaria
To celebrate finishing a draft, Mike and I went out to see Hustlers at the Alamo Draft House. Although I’ve been aware of this movie since earlier this year, it wasn’t at the top of my list. After seeing The Big Short and Wolf of Wall Street, I felt like I was done with movies about Wall Street guys, even if this time it was from the perspective of the exotic dancers they socialized with. But then it got such great reviews and everyone was going nuts about J. Lo, saying that she was as good as she was in Out of Sight. So I went, I ordered a margarita, and . . .
It’s the first week of October and I’m still catching up on all the movies I meant to review last month. I lost track of time with school starting at the beginning of the month, and then for the past couple of weeks I’ve been consumed by the Kavanagh hearings and aftermath. More to say about that, but I’ve been struck over the past few days by how easily people can see Kavanagh’s point of view, and sympathize with him, and how much that has to do with the fact that we are all accustomed to reading the male point of view, through decades of male-authored movies, television shows, novels, comic books, etc. Conversely, people are able to listen to Blasey Ford, and feel bad for her, and maybe even believe that she was assaulted, but they disregard the details that place her story in a shared reality, i.e. her naming of Kavanagh and his friend Mark Judge. It’s as if she doesn’t exist in the world as completely as Kavanagh does.