AWFJ Women On Film – The Week In Women, May 15, 2009 – MaryAnn Johanson

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Jane Campion is back, but so are male-dominated summer blockbusters and limited male perceptions of female sexuality.

THE RETURN OF JANE CAMPION. Oh, indieWire, I love you. Your team may consist almost entirely of men, but at least you acknowledge the other half of the human race, and the fact that a few of that other half does occassionally make films. Oh, and you notice, too, when one of those prominent filmmakers from the other half of the human race disappears for long stretches of time.

“Jane Campion, Where Have You Been?” was asked by indieWire’s Eugene Hernandez in a report from Cannes:

Campion has only made a few feature films since winning the Palme d’Or for “The Piano” here in Cannes, sixteen years ago. Today, she returned with “Bright Star,” a lush look at a young Fanny Brawne and her exhilirating, tortured romance with acclaimed poet John Keats in the early 1800s.

So, where has she been?

“The real reason is that I have a daughter [and] I was beginning to wonder if she knew she had a mother,” Jane Campion said this morning in Cannes, “I was determined to have some time with her while she was young.” Pointing to a young woman standing beside the dais, she said, “Alice is my reason, she’s my best film yet.” Campion gave birth to her daughter the year that she won the Festival’s top prize.

Motherhood is, of course, a most noble and honorable reason to have not been making movies. Yet somehow lots of male filmmakers always manage to be both parents and artists at the same time. Until we make it easier for women to do both, that will be a limiting factor for some women.

There are others, though:

“I would love to see more women directors, because they are half the population,” Campion said today, “And they gave birth to the whole world.” She continued, “I think women don’t grow up with the harsh world of criticism that men grow up with. We are more sensitively treated.”

“You have to develop a tough skin (to be a director) and it’s my suspicion that women aren’t used to that,” Campion offered. Concluding the thought and smiling, she said, “They must put on their coats of armour and get on with it, because we need them.”

Surely, there must be a few more women with thick skin out there. Anyone…? Anyone…?

THE GIRLS OF SUMMER? Virtually absent, as Kim Voynar pointedly highlights at Movie City News:

There are plenty of action-packed films with muscle-bound male heroes running around shooting bad guys and blowing things up, but where are the tough girls, the brainy, independent girls this summer? They must all be hanging out in science labs and old bookstores, because they’re few and far between in the films most folks are likely to catch during the summer blockbuster season. Even Angelina Jolie, one of the few female stars who can actually transcend genres from action flicks to Oscar bait, is absent from anything exciting this year, although fortunately there are a few glimmers of strong female characters here and there.

Consider Voynar’s rant advanced warning of all the bitching I intend to do all summer.

DOUBLE STANDARD ALERT. Can you spot what pissed me off here?

Sounds to me like Pfeiffer belongs in the running for Cougar of the Year, and that’s just fine by me — it’s always a pleasure to watch the gal let her hair down and take on a more sensual role. In my opinion, we need more women over 50 seducing younger men in our movies — why not?

That’s Erik Davis at Cinematical, writing about the upcoming Stephen Frears flick, Cheri. It certainly sounds as if Davis is wholly approving of Michelle Pfeiffer playing sexy, even at 50 years of age, but even he can’t resist from invoking a tedious caricature for such a woman: the “cougar.”

I don’t mean to pick on Davis in particular — I bet he didn’t mean to be offensive. I mean to pick on our culture, which doesn’t need special terms for men behaving like men at any age: they are, simply, “men.” But is a 50-year-old woman behaving like a woman — that is, pursuing a handsome young man, in this case, the Cheri character played by Rupert Friend, 23 years her junior, so she can have sex with him — so alien that we cannot simply call her “woman”? We have to invent a term to distinguish her from, apparently, all the 50-year-old women who are no longer interested in having sex with handsome men?

Imagine all the great stories we’re not seeing at the movies because of how limited a view mainstream pop culture has of an entire gender.

OPENING THIS WEEK. It’s set at the Vatican, for the most part, so is it any surprise at all that Angels & Demons is heavy on the testosterone? What is surprising is Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer’s turn as physicist Vittoria Vetra, who tags along with Tom Hanks’s Harvard Professor of Conspiracy Theories as they try to prevent the Vatican from getting blown up by antimatter planted by angry Illuminati. Vetra is present partly so that Hanks’ Robert Langdon has someone to explain Illuminati lore to (for the audience’s benefit), but, refreshingly, he serves the same purpose for her, so we can get the scoop on antimatter physics. Plus, she never has to get naked for spurious reasons.

Management doesn’t leave quite as bad a taste in the mouth as it should, considering that it’s all about Steve Zahn stalking Jennifer Aniston. But Aniston’s character has very little to do beyond serving as an object of desire… and writer-director Stephen Belber never bothers to wonder about the mental health of a woman who would be won over by a stalking. This is one romantic dramedy that will be appreciate much more by lonely, horny guys than sane girls.

Any appearance by Rachel Weisz onscreen is a reason to celebrate, and her kooky heiress of The Brothers Bloom is a real treat: she’s as clever as she is adventurous, and never fails to take the tough road that’s fun over the easy road that isn’t.

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MaryAnn Johanson

MaryAnn Johanson is a freelance writer on film, TV, DVD, and pop culture from New York City and now based in London. She is the webmaster and sole critic at FlickFilosopher.com, which debuted in 1997 and is now one of the most popular, most respected, and longest-running movie-related sites on the Internet. Her film reviews also appear in a variety of alternative-weekly newspapers across the U.S. Johanson is one of only a few film critics who is a member of The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences (the Webby organization), an invitation-only, 500-member body of leading Web experts, business figures, luminaries, visionaries and creative celebrities. She is also a member of the Online Film Critics Society. She has appeared as a cultural commentator on BBC Radio, LBC-London, and on local radio programs across North America, and she served as a judge at the first Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Film Festival at the 2003 I-Con, the largest SF convention on the East Coast. She is the author of The Totally Geeky Guide to The Princess Bride, and is an award-winning screenwriter. Read Johanson's recent articles below. For her AWFJ.org archive, type "MaryAnn Johanson" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).