I’ve often been asked why I make movies about women and I’ve
given my standard reply: I don’t make movies about women, I make
movies about things that interest me, using female characters. Jason
Isaacs, who plays Damian in Nine Lives, went further than I
had dared to go. “You write about women,” he said to me
the day we met, “because it enables you to write about emotional
subjects emotionally.” He’s right. I’m a wimp, like
most men, and I don’t want to be naked on stage if I don’t
have to be. Hidden behind these women I can explore the stuff that scares
me: relationships we can’t escape; the dependence on loved ones;
the caretaking of loved ones; the expectations of loved ones; the loss
of loved ones. Can we share our innermost self with a loved one? And
if we can’t—what is left for us?
I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman. But I am fascinated
by the intensity with which (in my imagination) women want what they
want. In my imagination women want the things they want— justice,
love, shoes—with a fierce and often secret passion and a longing
and a melancholy and a loneliness that makes men’s desires seem
unrefined and short by comparison. I love thinking about women in those
terms. Maybe they are like that—but they’re not saying.
To be a writer and a director of female characters satisfies so many
voyeuristic, maternal, sexual, patriarchal instincts in me. Plus it’s
the only area where I feel I can compete with other male directors—so
there’s even a macho pleasure to it. My friend the writer Eliseo
Alberto said to me when his daughter was born: it’s astonishing
to see yourself reproduced in the opposite sex.
These are some of my favorite women:
Marie, a woman whose husband has gone missing. Marie
tries to go on
living as if he was just out buying cigarettes. Played by Charlotte
Rampling in François Ozon’s Under the Sand.
Mary Poppins, the British super nanny overflowing
with secret longing and repressed sexuality. Played by Julie Andrews
in Robert Stevenson’s Mary Poppins.
Erika, played by Isabelle Huppert in Michael Haneke’s
The Piano Teacher. Huppert is perfectly stunning in this look at
a woman’s sexuality. There’s no nudity in the movie!
Jane, Michelle & Elizabeth, mother and daughters
played by Brenda Blethyn, Catherine Keener and Emily Mortimer in Nicole
Holofcener’s Lovely & Amazing. A very funny and totally
heart-wrenching journey into the personal insecurities of a family of
Gretta, played by Anjelica Huston in John Huston’s
The Dead. After an entire movie sitting on the back burner,
Gretta opens her mouth in the last scene and turns upside down the world
of her marriage.
Sally, played by Jane Fonda in Hal Ashby’s Coming
Home. The education plot is my least favorite kind of plot but
the movie is terrific and doesn’t preach, and Jane Fonda is electrifying
as the politically naïve wife of an
officer, who falls for a paraplegic war veteran and pacifist. Can be
seen as a companion piece to The Official Story, directed by
Luis Puenzo and featuring a perfect performance by Norma Aleandro as
an Argentinian woman unaware that her adopted child is the daughter
of a woman kidnapped and executed by government forces—to which
her husband belongs.
Millie & Pinky, played by Shelley Duvall and Sissy
Spacek in Robert Altman’s 3 Women. The two loneliest
souls in the world.
Vienna & Emma, mortal enemies played by Joan Crawford
and Mercedes McCambridge in Nicholas Ray’s Johnny Guitar.
Most nuclear wars will be nothing compared to the confrontation between
Marie, played by Caroline Ducey in Catherine Breillat’s
Romance. This one you’ll just have to rent.
Tracy, played by Reese Witherspoon in Alexander Payne’s
Election. Anal, desperate and ambitious. You go, girl!
Agnes, Karin & Maria, sisters played by Harriet
Andersson, Ingrid Thulin and Liv Ulmann in Ingmar Bergman’s Cries
and Whispers. The passions of two women tending to their dying
sister. Brutal and beautiful.
Emmi, played by Brigitte Mira in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. A middle class German woman is shunned
by her family after she becomes romantically involved with a working
class Turkish immigrant half her age.
Elin & Agnes, played by Alexandra Dahlström
and Rebecka Liljeberg in Lukas Moodyson’s Show Me Love.
A masterpiece of teenage longing and anxiety, but without gloom. Simply
takes you back. Truthful to the bone.
Dora, played by Fernanda Montenegro in Walter Salles’s
Central Station. Dora makes a living writing letters for those
who can’t read and write, then throws the letters away behind
their backs. She thinks of herself as being beyond all illusions—until
life comes knocking on her door.
Carmela, played by Edie Falco in David Chase’s
The Sopranos. Hours and hours and hours of fascinating stuff
from the very bourgeois Soprano wife and mother. God bless her.