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Powerful films by female directors to watch this International Women’s Day

Bryan Wu
Bryan Wu • 5 min read
Powerful films by female directors to watch this International Women’s Day
Movies by women for women
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Little Women

Greta Gerwig's 2019 adaptation of Little Women is a beautifully crafted film that remains true to the spirit of Louisa May Alcott’s original novel while offering a fresh perspective on the beloved story. At the heart of the film is Gerwig's feminist lens, which brings new depth and nuance to the characters of the March sisters.

In particular, the film's portrayal of Jo, played brilliantly by Saoirse Ronan, is a triumph of feminist storytelling. Jo's rejection of traditional gender roles and her determination to forge her path in life is an inspiring message that resonates just as strongly today as it did in the 19th-century setting of the film.

Gerwig's feminist vision extends beyond Jo's character to encompass the struggles and triumphs of all the women in the film. From Meg's (Emma Watson) desire for a traditional family life to Amy's (Florence Pugh) ambition to become a successful artist, the film explores women's varied and complex experiences in a society that often undervalues their contributions. The sisters’ paths — writer, artist, mother, wife — are different, but they’re ultimately united by their blind ambition and unparalleled love for one another.

Overall, Little Women is a poignant and empowering piece of filmmaking that explores the challenges faced by women throughout history and the struggle women endured to push back against societal norms and expectations to achieve true freedom and fulfilment.

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Promising Young Woman

Emerald Fennell's Oscar-winning Promising Young Woman is a bold and uncompromising film that aims at the toxic culture of rape culture and the many ways it continues to harm and exploit women. At its heart, the film is a fierce indictment of a society that has failed to secure the safety of half its population.

The film's protagonist, played by Carey Mulligan, is a complex and deeply traumatised character determined to seek justice for the many women victimised by sexual assault. Through her actions, she exposes the pervasive nature of rape culture and how it has infiltrated every aspect of our society.

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What makes Promising Young Woman truly remarkable is its unflinching portrayal of the complicity of men in this culture of violence. The film exposes the many ways men perpetuate and enable rape culture, from the predatory behaviour of the film's male characters to the casual indifference of those who look the other way.

Promising Young Woman is a stunning achievement that challenges us to confront the realities of rape culture and how it harms us all. It is a testament to the power of storytelling and a reminder of the urgent need to create a world where women can feel safe, valued and heard.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

French filmmaker Céline Sciamma's Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a masterpiece of feminist filmmaking that explores the complexities of desire, power and agency in women's lives. The film observes the bonds that connect us and the barriers that separate us, told through the prism of a forbidden love affair.

The film's central characters, Heloise and Marianne (Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel), are two women who defy the societal norms of their time to pursue a love that is both passionate and profound. Through their relationship, Sciamma explores how women are often denied agency and autonomy in a world that seeks to control and subjugate them.

What sets Portrait of a Lady on Fire apart from other films is its profound sensitivity to its characters' inner lives. Sciamma's delicate direction allows audiences to capture the subtle nuances of human emotion and creates a sense of intimacy that draws us into the hearts of her characters.

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Deeply moving and exquisitely crafted, the film celebrates the power and resilience of women in the face of oppression. It showcases the transformative power of love and a reminder of the enduring legacy of feminist art and activism.

The Farewell

Lulu Wang's The Farewell is a deeply personal film that explores the complexities of identity, family and cultural tradition through the eyes of its Chinese American female protagonist Billi, played by Awkwafina.

At the heart of the film is the narrative around Billi's grandmother (Zhao Shu-zhen), who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer but is unaware of her condition. The family decides to keep this information from her, in keeping with the Chinese cultural tradition of protecting elders from the burden of their mortality. But as the family gathers to say their final goodbyes, tensions rise, and secrets are revealed, exposing the fault lines that run through their relationships.

Through Billi's character, Wang casts a spotlight on the women who feel caught between two cultures and grapple with their double consciousness. Billi struggles to reconcile her desires for independence and self-expression with the expectations her family and cultural heritage place upon her.

The Farewell is a powerful and deeply affecting film that celebrates the resilience and strength of women in the face of cultural and familial expectations. The film is a striking commentary on the challenges faced by women who straddle multiple cultural worlds and how these worlds can unite and divide us.

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