Friday, 5 June 2009

Focus on Girls 24/7

ACMI in association with Sydney Film Festival (SFF) brings to Melbourne in July a collection of stylistically bold films by and about women from the sixties and early seventies.

Curated by SFF Festival Director Clare Stewart, 'the girls' are up front in Focus On Girls 24/7 with films by Agnes Varda, Chantel Akerman, Barbara Loden and Vera Chytilová. The contradictory desires and needs of the modern woman are exposed on screen in daring, unencumbered performances from the leading actresses.

Clare Stewart says that the season challenges stereotypes of women by looking at a diverse range of female characters in inventive ways: "from desperate housewives to suffering celebrities and rampaging teenage anarchists, these films raise questions about personal and social freedom in an era when 'liberation' was not a given."

"Each director conveys a unique creative vision behind the lens indicating why each film is an enduring classic from one of the most vital eras in the history of cinema."

Opening the season is the new 35mm print of Agnès Varda's much loved Cléo de 5 à 7 (1962) about deliciously frothy chanteuse Cléo who kills a couple of hours on the streets of Paris, banters with her maid, jams with fellow musicians and bickers with her older lover all the while waiting to receive test results for cancer. Romance blossoms at her most despairing moment and everything that seemed terminal suddenly begins to breathe again. Blending her keen documentary shooting style with pop aesthetics and editing techniques that would come to define the French New Wave, Varda turns her portrait of a ditzy ingénue inside-out, revealing a more complex character than the pretty, pampered surfaces imply.

From Czechoslovakia there is Vera Chytilová's Daisies (Sedmikrásky) (1966) which was banned for its 'depiction of food wastage' in the legendary banquet scene, and its audacious director Vera Chytilová was barred for six years on the grounds that she lacked 'a positive attitude to socialism'. Daisies is a savagely funny and wickedly inventive rampage against work, war, men and materialism: two girls - Marie 1 and Marie 2 - decide that the world has gone bad and so should they. The insatiable duo hit the streets of Prague looking for men to feed them and they turn every opportunity for mischief into an outrageous, slapstick assault on all things status quo.

Labelled by the New York Times as the "first masterpiece of the feminine in the history of the cinema" upon its release, Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975) will also screen as part of the Focus On season. Arthouse goddess Delphine Seyrig (Last Year in Marienbad, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie) is mesmerising as Jeanne Dielman, a middle-aged widow, mother, homemaker and prostitute whose routine existence unravels over the course of three days. Minimalist and hypnotic, this tour de force of feminist cinema, made when Akerman was just 25 years old (she has now directed more than 40 films) was re-released in New York earlier this year to rave reviews. The new 35mm print of Jeanne Dielman will only screen once on Saturday 4 July. 

Shot in cinéma vérité style using grainy 16mm and with a substantial nod to John Cassavetes' performance techniques, Barbara Loden's Wanda (1970) is a headstrong film centring on the hapless, drifting protagonist Wanda. In a move that seems like a vague form of protest, she abandons her banal family life in a small mining town and unwittingly latches onto a petty crook. Actress Barbara Loden's (Splendor in the Grass) only film as director won her the 1970 critics' prize in Venice and then mysteriously vanished from most accounts of film history until being recently reclaimed as a lost gem of American independent cinema.

Shot mostly on location in Stepney, Britain, Joan Littlewood's Sparrows Can't Sing (1962) has become an endearing social document to a changing London neighbourhood. Charlie returns from two years at sea to find his 'two-up-two-down' demolished and his wife Maggie shacked up in a new tower block with a reliable bus driver. The only film directed by Joan Littlewood, Britain's Grand Dame of modern theatre, is a breezy East-ender comedy brimming with ear-popping cockney dialect and a slew of local characters. 'Carry On' star Barbara Windsor is superb as the wife who has opted for a pragmatic liaison over the romantic charms of her wayward sailor husband.

German directors Volker Schlöndorff and Margarethe von Trotta's The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum (Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum) (1975) was based on a novel written by Nobel Prize-winning author Heinrich Böll which sparked an incident during the height of Baader-Meinhof activities. Katharina Blum is accused of being a terrorist collaborator after what appears to be a one-night-stand with a wanted man. Seemingly innocent, she stands her ground and this integrity proves her downfall as police and journalists conspire to break her, turning her into an unwilling celebrity. Increasingly relevant, this powerful adaptation by Schlöndorff and von Trotter, like many of their films, is integral to the New German Cinema movement.

Also from Europe comes Russian writer/director Larisa Shepitko's Wings (Krylya) (1966) - a brooding drama about a proud woman coping with ageing, loss and disappointment. Nadezhda, a decorated fighter pilot and loyal Stalinist, has retired to the quieter, significantly less rewarding career of high school principal and is struggling to stay connected to her grown-up daughter whose politics are decidedly 'new generation'. Making evocative use of freeze-frame and point-of-view in the powerful scenes where Nadezhda remembers past war glories or lets her dreams take flight. A protégé of Aleksandr Dovzhenko, Larisa Shepitko's filmmaking is incredibly assured and her influence on the future films of her husband Elem Klimov (Come and See) can be detected in this early classic.

Lastly from Sweden is Mai Zetterling's The Girls (Flickorna) (1968) starring Bibi Andersson, Harriet Andersson and Gunnel Lindblom (all frequent Ingmar Bergman collaborators) who play 'the girls' - three actresses preparing to perform in Lysistrata, Aristophanes' play about women and war. As rehearsals progress and the tour takes over, each woman muses on the resonance between the play and oppressive forces in her private life. Visually stylish and edited with an anarchic vigour that heightens the sense of competing demands on each woman's time, Swedish actress Mai Zetterling's fourth feature as director is sassy and smart in equal measure. "Ironic and comic, this film moves us by the beauty of its landscapes, its poetry and above all its subtle tenderness" Simone de Beauvoir

Get in touch with all things femme this July with Focus On Girls 24/7 at ACMI Friday 3 - Sun 12 July 2009.

For more information on the season go to
For Sydney Film Festival complete guide go to


Further information

Lior Opat
Communications Coordinator
Australian Centre for the Moving Image

[direct phone] 61 3 8663 2475 [fax] 61 3 8663 2498 [mobile] 0434 603 655
[postal address] PO Box 14, Flinders Lane VIC 8009, Australia

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