Foreign language films directed by women – a list of recommendations for #WITMonth

Those of you who follow me on Twitter may have seen the thread I’ve been running during August. It’s a list of foreign language films directed by women, with a new recommendation going up every day – a bit like a version of #WITMonth for home streaming or the cinema.

Just to make it easier to see the full list, I’ve collated it here, with the final entry to be added tomorrow.

It’s been a fun thing to do, particularly as I’ve tried to include as many different directors as possible without doubling up. So, if you enjoy world cinema, maybe you’ll discover some new suggestions here. (All the films listed are available to view on home-streaming platforms or DVD, certainly in the UK.)

As ever, do feel free to mention any of your own favourites in the comments. Who knows, if I’m still here next year, I may well run it again with a different selection of films!

Day 1: PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE (Celine Sciamma). Everything Sciamma has made is excellent, but this ravishing love story set in 18th-century Brittany is my personal favourite. An exquisitely-paced exploration of passion and desire.

Day 2: FILL THE VOID (Rama Burshtein). Set within the Orthodox Hasidic community of Tel Aviv, this sensitive, understated gem is well worth seeking out. In the wake of a tragedy, a young woman must try to reconcile family obligations with her own personal wishes.

Day 3: LOURDES (Jessica Hausner). Sylvie Testud is terrific in this subtle, unsettling film about faith, delusions and the desire to believe in miracles. A slow burner shot through with flashes of poignancy and dry humour.

Day 4: THE WONDERS (Alice Rohrwacher). This director has been getting rave reviews for her latest, HAPPY AS LAZZARO, but her earlier film about family, aspirations and beekeeping is probably my fave. The children in this are wonderfully naturalistic.

Day 5: PERSEPOLIS (Marjane Satrapi). Based on Satrapi’s comic book series of the same name, this striking animated film is powerful depiction of a young girl growing up in 1970s/’80s Iran. I am definitely due another watch of this.

Day 6: HEAL THE LIVING (Katell Quillévéré). This beautiful, moving film, which follows the journey of a human heart from donor to recipient, captures something of the lyricism of Maylis de Kerangal’s source novel. (No longer on All 4 but available elsewhere.)

Day 7: I AM NOT A WITCH (Rungano Nyoni). A young Zambian girl is accused of being a witch in this striking satirical fable — the imagery is stunning. A BAFTA winner for Outstanding Debut, there is a real sense of poignancy here.

Day 8: SUMMERTIME (Catherine Corsini). Set in 1970s France, this sensitive film about sexual freedom, family commitments and the quest for women’s rights is ideal viewing for the heady days of summer. The central relationship between two young women is beautifully judged.

Day 9: THINGS TO COME (Mia Hansen-Løve). Pretty much everything this director has made is brilliant, but this exploration of a woman’s life is a personal favourite. Isabelle Huppert is superb as a philosophy professor whose world begins to collapse around her.

Day 10: THE GOOD GIRLS (Alejandra Márquez Abella). A recent discovery for me. Set in 1980s Mexico as the economic collapse begins to bite, this smart satire about ladies who lunch is a barbed delight. The petty jealousies between the characters are brilliantly observed.

Day 11: WAJIB (Annemarie Jacir). A father and son drive around Nazareth delivering wedding invitations in this sensitive, bittersweet film of family tensions and the balance between tradition and modernity. Fans of Abbas Kiarostami will likely enjoy this.

Day 12: 35 SHOTS OF RUM (Claire Denis). Plenty of choice with this director, but I’m going with this gem from 2008. A rich, emotionally elegant portrayal of a father-daughter relationship. The central performances are very subtle.

Day 13: TONI ERDMANN (Maren Ade). What to say about this film other than it is completely unique and unpredictable. A portrayal of an awkward father-daughter relationship unlike any other. By turns, uproariously funny, wonderfully surreal and oddly poignant. A triumph.

Day 14: MUSTANG (Deniz Gamze Ergüven). With its focus on five Turkish sisters, this brilliant film is a vibrant yet painful insight into life as a young girl in an oppressive society where arranged marriages are the order of day. Absolutely worth seeking out.

Day 15: CAPERNAUM (Nadine Labaki). Setting aside the somewhat contrived framing device, this wonderfully naturalistic film about a street kid on the run makes for compelling viewing. The shots of Beirut are evocative and affecting.

Day 16: ON BODY AND SOUL (Ildikó Enyedi). There is a curious fairytale-like quality to this story of two co-workers, a hesitant romance playing out as they share the same dream. I loved this one – just don’t let the first 20 minutes put you off!

Day 17: THE APPLE (Samira Makhmalbaf). After being locked up by their parents for 11 years, two young Iranian girls are finally released, free to experience a new life in Tehran.  It’s a long time since I watched this, but I recall it being very moving.

Day 18: SUMMER 1993 (Carla Simón). Something of a critics’ favourite, this subtle, naturalistic film about loss and the complexities of family dynamics is well worth seeking out. As with Alice Rohrawcher’s THE WONDERS (no 4), the children are really terrific here.

Day 19: IN BETWEEN (Maysaloun Hamoud). Three Palestinian women sharing a flat in Tel Aviv, each fighting against the constraints of conformity, repression and familial expectations. This excellent film follows their quest for independence.

Day 20: THE HEADLESS WOMAN (Lucretia Martel). I love this mysterious, dreamlike film about a woman who is involved in a car accident. A compelling exploration of guilt, denial, concealment and inaction – Maria Onetto is brilliant in the lead role.

Day 21: JEUNE FEMME (Léonor Serraille). Laetitia Dosch is terrific in this painfully funny depiction of a young woman shuttling around the apartments and shopping malls of Paris in search of a job and some kind of identity. (Currently on Mubi, if you have access to that.)

Day 22: THE CHAMBERMAID (Lila Avilés). A brilliant debut feature that explores the life of a young chambermaid in a wealthy Mexico City hotel. This very affecting film is an understated gem, full of small humiliations and reinforcements of the social hierarchy at play.

Day 23: THE FAREWELL (Lulu Wang). A charming, humane, bittersweet film of clashing cultures and family values. Like many of the best stories, it blends humour with poignancy in fairly equal measure. Probably one of the best crowd-pleasers of 2019.

Day 24: A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT (Ana Lily Amirpour). A lonely young woman, dressed in a hijab, wanders around the streets of Bad City at night in this stylish film that tips its hat to Jim Jarmusch. Beautifully shot in cool black and white.

Day 25: DISORDER (Alice Winocour). Great work here from Matthias Schoenaerts, channelling the pain and paranoia of PTSD, in this underrated thriller from Winocour (co-writer of MUSTANG, no. 14). The visuals and soundscape are excellent, adding to the intensity of the film.

Day 26: THE PORTUGUESE WOMAN (Rita Azevedo Gomes). The glacial pace won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but this story of a 16th-century noblewoman is beautifully shot. One ravishing image after another, it’s the closest I’ll get to an art gallery during lockdown.

DAY 27: WADJA (Haifaa Al Mansour). Notable for being the first Saudi-Arabian film ever to be directed by a woman, this portrayal of a young girl rubbing up against the restrictions of a strictly conservative society has tremendous spirit and heart.

Day 28: ALMAYER’S FOLLY (Chantal Akerman). Akerman explores themes of colonialism and identity in this compelling adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s novel of the same name – all shot in this director’s characteristically observant style. (Currently on Mubi, if you have access to that.)

Day 29: CLÉO FROM 5 to 7 (Agnès Varda). Over the course of two hours, a beautiful young woman tries to occupy herself while waiting for the results of a biopsy. A film that perfectly captures the spirit of Parisian life in the 1960s; a true classic of the French New Wave.

Day 30: OPEN HEARTS (Susanne Bier). Mads Mikkelsen stars in this compelling film about two couples whose lives become intertwined following a car accident. An early film by the director whose later English-language work includes TV’s THE NIGHT MANAGER. 

Day 31: ATLANTICS (Mati Diop). There is an element of supernatural mystery about this story of two young Senegalese lovers forced to make life-changing choices. One of the most poetic, visually stunning films released last year. I loved it.

18 thoughts on “Foreign language films directed by women – a list of recommendations for #WITMonth

  1. heavenali

    Very grateful for this list. I tend to watch more boxsets than films, often foreign language series, but many of these films will be right up my street.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Oh, cool. For you, Ali, I would particularly recommend Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Fill the Void, Persepolis, Heal the Living, Summertime, Mustang, In Between, The Chambermaid, The Farewell and Wadjda. Not sure if any of them are on Netflix at the mo, but you might want to keep an eye on All 4 every now and again. :)

      Reply
  2. gertloveday

    Oh glorious The only film i have seen on your list is Wajib and that was wonderful. I will be printing out your list (if you don’t mind…not for commercial purposes) and trying to hunt down all these films.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Absolutely! That’s what it’s there for — as a list that people can refer to for ideas on what to watch next…

      I’m so glad to hear that you enjoyed Wajib! It was one of my random picks at the London Film Festival a few years ago, and I really lucked out. The director was there for a brief Q&A, which was great to hear, and the screening was well attended for a ‘small’, independent film. Fill the Void, Wadjda and In Between are all in a fairly similar mode to Wajib, so you’d likely enjoy those too. Let me know how you get on with any of them as it would be fascinating to hear!

      Reply
  3. Max Cairnduff

    I’ve only seen a handful of these. What a list! I’ll save it for future reference. I was hoping to recommend Atlantics to you, but there it already was…

    Happy as Lazzaro deserves the praise it’s received by the way if you’ve not seen that yet.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Excellent! I’m glad you think it will be useful. Funnily enough, it kind of grew out of a Twitter conversation we had with Sarah (@afictionhabit) a year or so ago. I think it started with a question about which 5 foreign language films we would recommend everyone to see, with a subset focusing on women directors. At the time, we struggled to come up with more than 5 or 10, especially from countries outside of France; but thankfully there seems to be a greater proliferation of them now. Anyway, my Mubi subscription has helped a lot!

      I’m delighted to hear you are a fan of Atlantics, such a haunting, poetic film that tackles a topical issue in a very striking way. Happy as Lazzaro is definitely one I need to rewatch. I saw it at the London Film Festival a couple of years ago, and I think it got crowded out by other (less subtle?) films at the time. (It’s one of the downsides of seeing 16 or 17 film over the course of 10 days.) Anyway, I definitely want to see it again in more leisurely circumstances…

      Reply
  4. Jane

    Brilliant! Thank you for this – I’ve got The Headless Women coming up on my film challenge but apart from Cleo and Persepolis these are new to me so will give them a watch.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Oh, cool. I’ll be interested to see what you make of The Headless Woman. I loved it, but I know of others who have found it too oblique or mysterious for their tastes!

      Reply
  5. buriedinprint

    Fantastic! Especially for those with access to multiple streaming services (or trial sub’s to them)!

    The one I’ve watched on your list is Wadjda, which I absolutely LOVED. Such a quiet and understated film. And the girls were so credible, all of them. I especially liked the way that she handles the end of the film. (And I started to watch The Farewell, but discovered that it was not subtitled, so I gave up on that one after a few minutes, it’s probably available with subtitles now.)

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Yes, there’s a lot of love for Wadjda out there, The director must have filmed quite a bit of it under cover because of the restrictions in Saudia Arabia, but it’s a testament to her skill and determination that she persevered. And yes, you definitely need subtitles for The Farewell. At first, I wasn’t sure if it would qualify for this list, but given that around 80% of the dialogue is actually in Chinese it seems fine to put it in.

      Reply

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