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Some Great French Female Movie Directors to Discover

A week ago I told you about five great French female writers. Today, I want to talk about cinema and introduce you to some great movie directors!

Agnès Varda - Source: unifrance.org
Agnès Varda - Source: unifrance.org

Agnès Varda

Who?

Agnès Varda (born 1928) is one of the most important members of the French New Wave (although her wikipedia page is noticeably shorter than the ones of her male peers). Her most notable contribution to this movement is the classic movie Cléo from 5 to 7 which follows a young woman wandering through Paris as she is waiting for the results of a critical medical exam. Varda is a prolific director who brought us great fictional movies as well as groundbreaking documentaries. She was a major influence to her partner Jacques Demy, another outstanding French movie director whose childhood is the subject of Varda's Jacquot de Nantes. A jack of all trades, Varda is always busy with some artistic projects, be it directing, writing or creating art installations. This artistic insight is probably the reason why her movies are so fresh and imaginative.

What to watch?

La Pointe Courte (1955), Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962), Happiness (1965), Vagabond (1985), The Gleaners and I (2000), The Beaches of Agnès (2008)

Maïwenn - Source: ohmymag.com
Maïwenn - Source: ohmymag.com

Maïwenn

Who?

Maïwenn (born 1976) is a young movie director who has accomplished the feat of making unconventional and intimate movies that became widely popular. The daughter of an actress, Maïwenn was raised into cinema and started appearing in movies at a very young age. However, even if her sister Isild Le Besco became a renowned actress, Maïwenn seems to have reached her full potential only after moving behind the camera to make her own movies. Her first film, Pardonnez-moi, focuses on her relationship with her abusive parents (it is said she dropped her last name out of resentment for them). This deeply powerful work hinted at her immense potential. All of her following movies have gotten a lot of attention and gathered critical acclaim. Her work is original and diverse as she is not afraid to explore very different styles; for instance, after creating a musical (All About Actresses), she went on to direct a social drama (Polisse, wich won the Cannes Festival Jury Prize). One last great thing about her: she played Diva Plavalaguna (the alien opera singer) in The Fifth Element. Bet you didn't see that coming.

What to watch?

Pardonnez-moi (2006), All About Actresses (2009), Polisse (2011), Mon Roi (2015)

Alice Guy-Blaché  - Source: wikimedia.org
Alice Guy-Blaché - Source: wikimedia.org

Alice Guy-Blaché

Who?

Alice Guy-Blaché (1873-1968) had a pretty exciting life. Born in Paris, she spent the first few years of her life in Switzerland before joining her parents in Chile for a couple of years and then going back to France where she stayed until she got married and moved to...the USA. Guy-Blaché was an extraordinary cinema pioneer. As Léon Gaumont's secretary, she witnessed the birth of cinema and soon decided she wanted to play a real part in it. Her first movie The Cabbage Fairy came out in 1896. It was the first of a series of several hundreds of works. To help cinema achieve its full potential, Guy-Blaché experimented relentlessly, always trying to perfect her image, sound, special effects, color etc. She had a long career that fortunately did not end with her marriage as she remained very active in America, co-founding The Solax Company at a time when Hollywood was nothing more than a small agricultural community and later directing movies with Charlie Chaplin. Despite all of her successes, Guy-Blaché was aware of the disadvantage her gender put her in and apparently constantly worked on securing her cinematic status in order to make sure that her accomplishments wouldn't be sacrificed to misogyny.

What to watch?

A bunch of short movies you can find online for free, like for instance The Cabbage Fairy, Falling Leaves or The Consequences of Feminism, a hilarious bit in which rowdy, sexually aggressive women fight over effeminate men.

Catherine Breillat - Source: filmdoctor.co.uk
Catherine Breillat - Source: filmdoctor.co.uk

Catherine Breillat

Who?

Catherine Breillat (born 1948) is a very interesting figure of French cinema. As a girl, she wanted to become an actress. However, at 20, she published her first novel and in 1976 she directed her first feature movie: A Real Young Girl, a bizarre exploration of a girl's blooming sexuality which was allowed to be released only a couple of decades later. This initial scandal illustrates perfectly the essence of her career. Indeed, Breillat has produced many incendiary works which focus heavily on sexuality, often underlying its violent aspects. She does not shy away from showing intense or even disturbing sex scenes in her films and worked with porn actor Rocco Siffredi on a couple of occasions. In 2004, she suffered a cerebral hemorrhage but after a rehabilitation she had recovered well enough to come back to cinema. Her latest works have been less radical and received critical as well as public acclaim. Unfortunately, during her convalescence, she fell victim to a crook who conned her out of nearly a million euros. She recounts this experience in her movie Abuse of Weakness featuring prominent actress Isabelle Huppert and rapper Kool Shen.

What to watch?

A Real Young Girl (1976), Romance (1999), Fat Girl (2001), 36 Fillette (1988), Anatomy of Hell (2004), The Last Mistress (2007), Bluebeard (2009), Abuse of Weakness (2013)

Pascale Ferran - Source: next.liberation.fr
Pascale Ferran - Source: next.liberation.fr

Pascale Ferran

Who?

Pascale Ferran (born 1960) does not have as flamboyant a personality as Maïwenn or Catherine Breillat but she is definitely on of the most talented movie directors of the current French cinema scene. She has not produced many movies, but her works have received a considerable amount of critical acclaim, starting with a Caméra d'Or (the prize for best first movie) at the Cannes Festival for her debut feature film Coming to terms with the dead. Her 2006 film adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's novel Lady Chatterley's Lover seamed to reap all the French cinema awards when it came out and became one of my favorite movies of all time. During the Césars Ceremony (the French Oscars) Ferran gave a speech on the difficulties that French auteur cinema is currently facing. It became emblematic of a movement calling for a reform of the legal statute of artists and of the financing system of cinema.

What to watch?

Coming to terms with the dead (1994), Lady Chatterley (2006), Bird People (2014)

Enjoy your movies!

Source: giphy.com

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