Who doesn’t love alliteration? There’s something to be said for the way female friendships are portrayed in film (especially by male directors). While many platonic female relationships have been about empowerment (Thelma and Louise) or supporting each other through hard times (Steel Magnolias), a huge majority of films have portrayed female friendships in a more negative or disturbing light.
One such film is Corey Finley’s recent debut, Thoroughbreds. The story of a rich preppy girl, Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy), sent to tutor her sociopathic former-best friend Amanda (Olivia Cooke), the film is a disturbing, wickedly-funny character study of two young women who are, in their own ways, both unhinged. Insightful about class, money, and power, Thoroughbreds is one of the best films of 2018 so far, and Lily and Amanda make a delightful addition to the canon of cinematic female friends who suffer from identity crises, paranoia, reversing fortunes, or being plain old deranged. Without further ado, here are my picks for the five freakiest female friendships in film.
Nurse Alma (Bibi Andersson) and her patient, mute actress Elisabet (Liv Ullman).
As bare-footed Elisabet realises Alma has delibaretly left a shard of glass on the floor for her to walk over, the ‘projector’ breaks down and the screen implodes into a distorted mess.
What makes it so freaky:
Ingmar Berman’s psychological two-hander depicts a tense, ambiguous relationship in which the talkative Alma and the silent Elisabet slowly begin to merge personalities. One of the most influential arthouse films of all time, Persona remains a bewildering look at identity and power dynamics.
Warning: The following short film will seriously mess you up.
In honour of the recent release of Ari Aster’s effectively-horrible debut feature Hereditary, I thought I’d use this week’s Sunday Short to highlight his most controversial short film, The Strange Thing About the Johnsons. Like Hereditary, The Strange Thing About the Johnsons is a grim, deeply disturbing look at a family in turmoil. What is the source of discomfort for the Johnson family? To say would be to spoil the uncomfortable mystery within.
Upon its release, The Strange Thing About the Johnsons became something of a viral phenomenon, with people daring others to watch it in the manner of The Human Centipede, but dismissing it as empty shocks undersells Aster’s natural filmmaking talents. Inspired by filmmakers as diverse as Roman Polanski and Mike Leigh, Aster creates an atmosphere of nightmarish dread for his banal portrait of middle class life, heightening reality until you’re left with something only just recognisable as human behaviour.
While not an outright horror in the way Hereditary is, The Strange Thing About the Johnsons is in its own way just as unnerving. Some have accused Aster of racism (due to starring a black family, which seems fairly irrelevant) or mocking a serious issue (though Aster plays the central premise of the film totally straight-faced), but that just seems to be a natural side effect of making a film this provocative and genuinely difficult to watch. It’s an unforgettable experience, and one that will linger in your mind for hours afterwards. Watch The Strange Thing About the Johnsons here:
By Harry J. Ford
Having shocked and appalled viewers with controversial short films The Strange Thing About The Johnsons and Munchausen, director Ari Aster aims to traumatise the masses with his feature debut Hereditary. A dark, deeply disturbing story of grief, family trauma and possession, the film might be narratively inconsistent and a little familiar, but one thing is certain: Hereditary will fuck you up.
The problem with creating a ‘Best Of’ list at the end of each year is that some terrific films inevitably fall through the cracks. As much as I’d love to see every major film of 2018 by the end of December, I already know I’ll miss some underrated gems, box office hits and other terrific films when it comes to compiling the Ford On Film Awards. Just looking at the past few years of awards, I can see that I hadn’t seen Frances Ha or Pride when compiling my 2013 and 2014 lists, while 2016 saw the majestic documentary O.J.: Made in America fail to make the cut.
I say this because I finally caught up with Pixar’s latest release, Coco. When it first came out, I dismissed it as looking ‘second tier Pixar’ and decided I could wait until after its cinema run to see it.
How foolish of me.
The best documentary filmmakers can make fascinating film out of anything. Errol Morris made a film about pet cemeteries in Gates of Heaven. A group of backing singers became the focus of an Academy Award-winning documentary in 20 Feet from Stardom. Sacha Gervasi went on tour with a forgotten thrash band and came back with one of the most heartwarming films of the decade, Anvil! The Story of Anvil. As long as we care about the people and the stories, there’s no telling what a documentary can do.
British director Marc Isaacs might have taken this idea to the extreme with his 2001 short documentary Lift, which, as you might have guessed, takes place in a lift. Filming the residents of a London tower block over two months, the film is insightful, touching, and melancholic as it creates a portrait of a unique community. Though some of the residents are lovable, like the man who brings Isaacs food whenever he sees him, Lift shines a spotlight on ‘all the lonely people’, highlighting the stillness and silence most face in their day to day life. “Do people in this lift speak to each other?” Isaacs asks two residents. “Sometimes”, one of them replies, before the conversation trails off into nothing once again.
In a Vice interview some years after, Isaacs spoke of his two months in the lift, where he grew to understand the rhythms and daily lives of the residents. Sadly, not every resident had a happy ending after the film; Peter, the Scottish drinker, remains an alcoholic, while shy John committed suicide not long after Isaacs completed the film. His scenes in the short can be difficult to watch, and knowing he was a struggling schizophrenic is heartbreaking.
A moving portrait of loneliness and connection, Lift is one of the most extraordinary documentaries you’ll ever see. Taking the mundane as a starting point to explore the human condition, it’s often unbearably poignant. 25 minutes is the perfect length; any longer, and it might be too overwhelming.
Watch Lift here:
By Harry J. Ford
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Recently, I’ve been enjoying MUBI’s fantastic selection of classic Douglas Sirk melodramas. For those who don’t know, Sirk was a German-born director best known for his run of lush romantic dramas in the 1950s. From 1952 to to 1959, he directed over a dozen films, working with screen legends like Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray, Rock Hudson, and Jane Wyman. At the time, American critics found Sirk’s films unimportant (due to his focus on the romantic lives of women) and unrealistic (due to his heightened sense of reality). These critics were wrong.
Following Andrea Arnold, Andrew Haigh is the latest British director to take a road trip across the poor, rural regions of the United States. Where Arnold’s American Honey saw freedom and community in the desert landscapes, Haigh’s Lean On Pete sees nothing but dead ends. The thoroughly downbeat story of a teenage boy left to fend for himself and the old racehorse he tries to save, Lean On Pete is a harsh-yet-beautiful look at a side of society rarely depicted in cinema. It’s a powerful, shattering experience that delights and drains in equal measures.
The rape-revenge film is a tricky one to pull off. Focus too much on the horrific act itself, and you’re likely to create a lurid, repulsive mess (see: I Spit On Your Grave). Skip over the rape entirely, and you risk trivialising a subject that should be taken seriously. There are few truly successful entries in the genre, but Coralie Fargeat’s directorial debut Revenge just about works. Building up an atmosphere of sleazy unease before unleashing a torrent of gore, Revenge is a fun, empowering take on the genre, even if it’s a little rough around the edges.