letterboxd is asking its community for their lists of most remarkable feature debuts. so what is your top 10 most remarkable debuts from women directors?
SUPER FUN QUESTION.
Also I feel like I could give like 10 answers from last year alone but I’ll try to contain myself. (J/K I CAN’T CONTAIN MYSELF, GET READY FOR THE NOVEL!)
Clip dir. Maja Milos (2012) Imagine a more brutal version of Thirteen set in the social media era in Serbia and you have Clip, a brutal movie about a 14 year old girl who engages in a highly sexualized and often violent relationship with one of her classmates. It’s a shocking watch especially because Milos doesn’t try to protect her lead character (played by an actual 14 year old) at all and doesn’t shield her (or the audience) from the sado-masochistic behaviour she engages in in order to get attention and feel love.
My Brilliant Career dir. Gillian Armstrong (1979) So this is like the stereotypical period piece about a plucky young woman discovering herself only it’s SO MUCH BETTER THAN THAT. A really beautiful and quietly subversive period piece that is so visually stunning and self-assured that it doesn’t feel like a first film at all. A must see.
Titus dir. Julie Taymor (1999) When people say that a movie is like a theatre piece they usually mean it as an insult but Titus applies the “anything goes” spirit of theatre in the most fun and flamboyant way. This is a really bombastic, unforgettable visual adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s lesser known plays. Taymor mixes genres, time periods and references in a way that is intensely fresh and unique.
Fill the Void dir. Rama Burshstein (2012) This is a romantic drama about a young Israeli woman who is part of an Orthodox Jewish community who, after her sister dies, is prompted to consider marrying her sister’s widower so that he can remain in the family. Despite the icky sounding premise Burshtein (herself an Orthodox Jew) is intensely sympathetic to her characters and shows a total command of her camera and the tone of the movie which is just beautiful, passionate and romantic.
The Connection dir. Shirley Clarke (1961) This is a bit of a cheat because Shirley Clarke had directed documentaries before but whatever. The Connection takes place in real time and is about a very square documentarian who is filming a movie about a bunch of jazz musicians waiting around for their drug connection so they can get high. It definitely feels very tame for the current day but considering the film takes place in a single room Clarke packs the movie full of electric energy that makes it incredibly pleasurable to watch.
The Fits dir. Anna Rose Holmer (2015) This is just an incredible majestic film. Very spare, very artistic, very beautiful. Holmer is a genius and the movie is a gift. She does more on a budget of 150, 000 euros or whatever it was, than most directors do with millions.
Songs My Brothers Taught Me dir. Chloé Zhao (2015) There is a whole cottage industry of low budget filmmakers who think they can be the next Malick, but I think Zhao is the only one who really gets it right. This film is set in on the Pine Ridge reservation and Zhao shoots everything at the golden hour making it look incredibly lush while never shying away from the roughness and occasional boredom of small town life.
The Governess dir. Sandra Goldbacher (1998) I have literally no idea why this film isn’t bigger than it is and it’s really due for a critical revival. It’s a neo-victorian original tale about a young Sephardic Jewish woman who hides her identity and goes to work as a governess on the Isle of Skye. Unfortunately the only copies I’ve been able to view are of very poor quality but you can still see how beautiful it must have originally been. Also the story is incredibly rich and textured and deals with power dynamics between men and women, Jews and gentiles, science vs. art etc.
The Babadook dir. Jennifer Kent (2014) This is a horror movie for people who aren’t really into horror and as such it’s PERFECT. What it really is more than anything is a dark modern day fairy tale about a recently widowed woman who is having a tough time adjusting to life as a single mother to her child who is genuinely the most annoying child to ever grace the screen (really, kudos to casting, you completely understand why this woman would struggle to raise this kid).
A Girl Walks Home Aloneat Night dir. Ana Lily Amirpour (2014) So good. A surprisingly wistful and romantic vampire film in which “the girl” (the vampire) skateboards in a chador, dances alone in her room, befriends a cat, and drinks the blood of a LOT of people. It’s great.
Honourable mentions: La Pointe Courte, Children of a Lesser God, The Edge of Seventeen, Sugar Cane Alley, Smithereens, Eve’s Bayou, I Like It Like That, Hester Street, A New Leaf, Chocolat.