April continues to shine a light on the best in world cinema with a particular focus on European cinema. This month, my five highlights are all directed by women, five out of nine presented in our April programme, not counting films carried on from our March programme and titles from our awards call-back.
Laura Samani’s Small Body is a quietly beautiful film. Set in the early 1900s in Italy, we follow Agata, a young woman who just delivered a stillborn daughter. Deeply religious, Agata wants her child to be baptised before being buried, but her wish goes against the beliefs of the time. Unable to accept that her child may remain in limbo forever, Agata leaves her community and embarks on a long journey to save her daughter’s soul, meeting a lonely young boy named Lynx along the way. Though dealing with grief, Small Body is a rewarding spiritual journey exploring faith, motherhood and acceptance.
In my next choice, something isn’t quite right with Char’s mother, Angela. First, she disappeared without explanation, and now she’s back, she isn’t quite herself. In fact, Char is convinced this isn’t her mother at all. With Halloween approaching, Char realises she may be the only one able to save her mother from whatever evil has entered their lives. Rooted in Irish folklore, Kate Dolan’s chilling first feature, You Are Not My Mother, premiered at the Toronto International Film festival to great acclaim and finally reaches our screens this spring.
Set at the turn of the 20th century, Daughters of the Dust follows three generations of Gullah women (descendants of West African slaves) as they struggle with the decision to migrate to the mainland. With its unforgettable Southern Gothic aesthetic, and its ground-breaking depiction of black women, Julie Dash’s poetic first feature was terribly underseen, especially in Europe, until Beyoncé gave it a second life by heavily referencing it in Lemonade. The exposure allowed the film to be restored and re-released, allowing audiences to finally discover this unmissable classic, and the first film by an African-American woman to be theatrically released in the US.
It's no fun and games in Laura Wandel’s astonishing debut feature, Playground. Seven-year-old Nora is anxious about going to her new school which her older brother Abel already attends. She tries to stick with him but he pushes her away, and soon, Nora realises Abel is the one who needs help as he is the victim of constant bullying by some of his classmates. Nora tries to seek help, but only makes things worse, and in the microcosm of the school playground, children are left to fend for themselves against their own cruelty. Playground is a visceral look at the frightening reality of the school playground with absolutely incredible performances from the cast of children.
Adapted from Annie Ernaux’s autobiographical novel, and winner of the Golden Lion at Venice Film Festival, Audrey Diwan’s Happening is an unflinching exploration of the sometimes deadly struggle many women still face today when trying to live their own life and make their own choices. A student in 1960s France and wishing to complete her studies, Anne decides to seek an abortion at a time when abortions are illegal. Alone against a society that would love nothing more than shame and condemn her, but certain she alone will determine the road ahead of her, Anne perseveres in finding a solution, no matter how great the risks.
I hope you are as inspired as I am! See you there,