girls in film: five female directors that explore the senses

Nikola Vasakova, founder of the Girls in Film network devoted to women working in the industry, gives us her favorite female-directed films that tingle the senses.

Nikola Vasakova is the founder of Girls in Film, a network providing an essential platform for women in the film industry to support each other through educational workshops and screenings, as well as collaborating on creating new video content. The first sold out film-based event propelled her to put the wheels into motion into curating screenings at the ICA, organizing more events and setting up the female curated video content site she now runs. Despite her lack of formal education in film, Nikola is proof that firm belief in self-development through experience, short courses and the odd YouTube tutorial really can be enough to aid doing what you really love.

“I set up Girls in Film to provide a platform and support for females in the film industry as they are only too often overlooked. There are a few changes I hope to see; an increase in women in directorial positions, ethnic characters played by actors of that ethnicity, trans roles to trans actors  – simple logic with a powerful effect,” she says. “Without addressing the huge gap in gender equality, it means we only see a small part of the picture: Only 11.5% of films released have been directed by women.  Here I take a look at some of my favorite female directors experimenting with the use of senses in film.”


Sofia Coppola – Marie Antoinette, 2006

The iconic French luxury bakery Ladurée provided all the desserts for this film, some of which were hilariously similar to the hairdos sported by the French ladies of court. The banquet scene with carefully arranged asparagus, colourful cakes, jellies, candied orange peels, mini bites of cream topped with berries and pistachios were all served on gilded and hand painted china to portray the gluttony and excess of the French court that was soon to see its violent end. Nevertheless, it leaves you hungrier for sweets than after watching a Great British Bake Off marathon.


Patricia Cardoso - Real Women Have Curves, 2002

Real Women Have Curves is a coming of age story about a North-American girl whose body shape defies the unspoken standards imposed by the media and society today. Although occasionally edging into soap opera territory, it’s a sweet sentiment to positive body image. The most memorable scene happens on a sweltering day in a sweatshop where Ana, played by Ugly Betty star America Ferrera, reluctantly works with her ma and other Mexican women. The steam and heat of the day make her take off her clothes initiating a chain reaction from the rest of the ladies comparing cellulite, stretch marks and concluding “Look ladies, how beautiful we are.” Que bonita.


Amy Heckling - Clueless, 1995

I could write essays on Clueless and there’s even a documentary based on it that I highly recommend watching. It became a cultural touchstone for multiple generations, most of us borrowing from its quotes and style tips, with catwalks and pop culture still referencing its timeless staples today. The atmosphere of a privileged Californian school is greatly conveyed in the cattiness of girls that are vocalize hilarious put downs to one another. We all remember ‘Ugh as if!’ but I love this less remembered one about ‘designer imposter perfume’ making the character of Amber look instantly less privileged than the rest of them.


Jane Arden - The Other Side of the Underneath, 1970

One of the most uncompromising radical studies of female mental illness in British cinema, The Other Side of the Underneath delves into a mind of schizophrenic young woman to find not madness but sexual guilt caused by the suppressive norms of modern society. In film theory, we associate dissonant, screeching sounds with animals in distress. With its use of ear shattering screams and chaotic violins, this film manages that and some more - sonically taking us on the ride down the mental spiral.


Lynne Ramsay - We Need To Talk About Kevin, 2011

There’s very little blood in We Need To Talk About Kevin but the prevalent use of color red creates an anticipation of the violent, bloody act. From the very first scene of Tilda Swinton submerged in swathes of red tomato juice at the Spanish festival that indicates the birth of her son Kevin through to splashes of red in interior and Kevin’s clothes that nods to his violence in teenage years. Lynne Ramsay also makes a clever use of sound - juxtaposing songs with situation of opposing character and using Washington Phillips song in number of situations that build up from loving to genuinely threatening moments.

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