5 Feminist Films You Need to Watch
Daisies (1966) dir. Vera Chytilová
Censored at its release, Czech Avant-Garde film Daisies questions the moralities and conventions of communist Czechoslovakia, condemning the violence and injustice perpetrated against women. Depicting the anarchist adventure of two young girls who ridicule the bourgeoisie and defy the power of men, Chytilová explores feminism and the relentless machinery of male oppression through psychedelic visuals and state-of-the-art techniques of editing and montage. Making an analogy to the inherently misogynistic Christian ideology, the director uses the biblical image of Eve, as the characters savor the taste of the forbidden fruit, enlightening and freeing themselves from men. In doing so, they simultaneously cast themselves down to sin, as they drown anew in their patriarchy-induced suffering. Unlike most films of its time, Daisies depicts women as active figures, characters whose actions are carried out for and by themselves, culminating as a call to action to all those, “whose sole source of indignation is a trampled-on riffle.”
Cléo de Cinq à Aept (1962) dir. Agnès Varda
As the brilliant nouvelle vague director, Agnès Varda, herself once said about the movie, Cléo de cinq a sept presents a feminist approach on female identity. As Simone de Beauvoir explains in her classic, The Second Sex, “one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman”, and that is the concept used by Varda whilst building the character of Cléo. In this chronicle of a Parisian singer who awaits her test results, the director explores the crippling fear of death of this Hollywoodian Esque woman, whose inner world we get to examine as her doll-like figure fades away. Cléo becomes a woman when, halfway into the movie; “everything cracks: she rips off her negligee, her wig, she leaves.” She stops defining herself by those who see her and begins to look at others. She redefines herself on her own terms, rather than by others’ demands. She becomes a woman on her own terms.
Le Bonheur (1965) dir. Agnès Varda
Also drawing influences from de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, as well as Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, Varda’s Le Bonheur creates an ironic critique of the conservative notions of domestic harmony inherent to Western society. Depicting the story of the standard French family, Le Bonheur is surrounded by visual irony; from the title sequence to the ending, the film constructs the role of male and female within the domestic environment based on the ideal of a happy marriage — composed of a dutiful woman and a working man. The film takes a turn when the husband cheats on his wife, but gets back on track with its supposed anti-feminist agenda as the zealous wife does nothing about the case. In this way, Varda challenges the feminine ideals spread by French women’s magazines, that idealized the daily drudgery of the housewife, opening the dialogue about female emancipation in a time during which few could experience this.
Saute ma Ville (1968) dir. Chantal Akerman
Akerman’s first film, a short feature written, starred, and directed by herself, Saute Ma Ville, (translated as Blow Up My Town), has been described as a movie that literally blows up the feminine sphere of domestic life. A perpetual manifest against the enclosure of women to the kitchen-bedroom universe, a universe to which the film’s setting is limited, Akerman’s debut explores the feminine self through ordinary tasks such as cooking dinner, or greasing shoes frenetically. As scholar Nicole Ferrer states, “the film is tolling the boycott of the housewife and the destruction of the dutiful and ‘gendered’ feminine”, exploring not only the acts but also the consequences of those to the incarcerated being.
Persepolis (2007) dir. Marjane Satrapi
Telling the tale of a young Marjane Satrapi in the middle of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, Persepolis tackles not only themes of religion and fundamentalism, but also displays a different type of oppression that many women around the world endure. Varying in a number of ways from the oppression of women in the Western world, the film denounces the specific modes of violence perpetrated against Islamic women in the Middle East. The film is executed in a light yet serious way, which turns the film into a must-watch when it comes to the theme of intersectional feminism. Beginning at the point in Iranian history in which it becomes obligatory for women to wear veils, the story escalates to the absolute control of the state over womens’ freedom, as the girl ponders about how her dream, “to be an educated, liberated woman went up in smoke.”