Odds are, the number of films you’ve seen directed by women is vastly outnumbered by those directed by men. It’s just part of the sad reality of the film industry. Major studios are more likely to hand the reigns of a movie to a man, meaning that most films directed by women are lower budget. With a lower budget comes less distribution and, ultimately, fewer viewers. So, in this ongoing series we’ll highlight women filmmakers whose work we invite you to explore. For our first installment, we’ll take a look at German director Maren Ade.
Ade’s Toni Erdmann, despite being shut out from any major awards, was the talk of this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Juries at Cannes are notoriously unpredictable, so it shouldn’t come as a huge shock that one of the best reviewed films to ever play the festival went home empty handed. And yet, Toni Erdmann may be the true winner, in that it almost certainly generated the most buzz. It’s a nearly three-hour long German comedy about a father who plays pranks on his daughter to try and get her to take life a little less seriously. And if the reactions out of Cannes are to be believed, it’s simultaneously hilarious and heartwarming. If that doesn’t sound intriguing, then I really don’t know what does. Luckily for us, Sony Pictures Classics scooped up the United States rights to the movie, and it should hopefully see release around the end of the year.
Still, six months or so is a long time to wait for a movie that was so rapturously received. What are we possibly supposed to do in the meantime? Well, it just so happens that director Maren Ade’s previous two movies are easily available for streaming! Both 2003’s The Forest for the Trees and 2009’s Everyone Else are available on Fandor. Most importantly, both are really, really good.
If you’re able to handle a healthy dose of awkwardness, The Forest For the Trees is well worth your time. The movie runs a scant 81 minutes, but it took me more like two hours to finish; I honestly had to pause and cringe every few scenes. The movie tells the story of Melanie, a 20-something woman who’s just moved to a new neighborhood in Germany to take up a teaching job. Her failure at making new friends (due in large part to her neediness and lack of self-awareness), along with a lack of respect from her students, is incredibly difficult to watch, but always compelling. Almost unbelievably, this is a student film, which served as Ade’s film school thesis. I’d have to bet that as far as amateur films made by 27-year-olds go, this is pretty much as good as it gets.
Maybe relationship dramas are more your thing? Everyone Else is an excellent portrait of a couple at a crossroads. On vacation in Sardinia, Chris and Gitti, upon spending time with another couple, have to confront whether they’re truly right for each other. Fans of stuff like Richard Linklater’s Before series will eat this one up. Ade really captures the complexities of being in a relationship, beyond just the surface level interactions. It’s a portrayal that’ll hit close to home for a lot of viewers, and that’s thanks in large part to Ade’s confident direction.
If Toni Erdmann is even better than these two movies, as many critics are saying, then we’ve got a lot to look forward to. Get in on the ground floor now!