QUEEN OF DIAMONDS – Review by Leslie Combemale

It’s not easy living in a transactional world without losing hope. That seems to be one of the truths evident to viewers of Queen of Diamonds. Newly restored, the film is written, produced, directed, and shot by feminist auteur Nina Menkes. She has been in the spotlight most recently for her documentary Brainwashed: Sex, Camera, Power, examin[ng the gendered and often misogynistic visual grammar of cinema. Traveling to an earlier work by Menkes offers a fascinating look at how a female filmmaker can reframe or manipulate what has, over time, become the traditional visual language of film, in the service of more femme-centric storytelling.

Read more

MAGDALENA VIRAGA – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Experimental filmmaker Nina Menkes’s reputation for fearless, bold cinema is nowhere more readily evidenced than her groundbreaking 1986 feature Magdalena Viraga. Menkes situates the raw authenticity of her central characters prostitution in a powerful tension with theatrically delivered dialogue and, just as notably, her extraordinary eye for colour, texture and shape. Wrinkled fabrics, flickering candles and ornate wallpapers permeate the film, again amplifying the tactile nature of the movie, rendering it an experience that you can almost feel on your skin as much as process through the eye. Ultimately, it is this experience of sensory absorption that – when combined with the powerful emotional and ideological engine of the film – renders Magdalena Viraga such a wholly unique experience. A film to be felt as much as thought about, this is a film that leaves an unremovable stain.

Read more

DISSOLUTION – Review by Liz Braun

The hopelessness that pervades most of Nina Menkes’ Dissolution leaves a viewer in emotional freefall. The film is in black and white and is mesmerizing to look at, albeit disturbing to experience. Menkes has said the film is loosely based on Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, hence the conversations about sickness, dreams and a capacity to speak to ghosts, and what looks like a dream sequence about a horse beating. This is a 21st century horror film and possibly the perfect movie for right now, given that all four horsemen of the Apocalypse — pestilence, war, famine and death — are currently at full gallop amongst us.

Read more

PHANTOM LOVE – Review by Marilyn Ferdinand

Phantom Love weds director Nina Menkes’ intrapsychic world with the formal innovations pioneered by surrealist artists and filmmakers of the first part of the 20th century, particularly the films of Luis Buñuel. Like Buñuel. Menkes populates her film with a variety of animals—an ant, bees, an octopus, some tetras, two Great Danes, a cat—but not in the absurd ways employed by the Spanish-Mexican director. Rather, Menkes has said that the images came to her while working with a psychic healer, and her familiarity with Jungian psychotherapy helped her accept and integrate the irrational elements of her unconscious into a film that reaches beyond mere character development.

Read more

THE BLOODY CHILD – Review by Diane Carson

The central scenario in director Nina Menkes’ The Bloody Child is straightforward and simple. Soldiers arrest a U.S. Marine, a veteran of the Gulf War, found in the Mojave Desert digging a grave for the wife he’s murdered. However, this deceptively uneventful apprehension unfolds predominantly in reverse chronological order, with two other primary locations frequently interjected: a bar and a jungle scene. In addition, several other fragments from diverse arenas interrupt the narrative flow, with events possibly connected to or witnessed by the unnamed murderer in wartime experiences, all of this suggested thematically but never made explicit.

Read more

SPOTLIGHT February, 2022: Nina Menkes, Independent Filmmaker, Feminist Activist, Educator

Nina Menkes is a trailblazer of American independent cinema and a crucial voice in our current reckoning with the ways film—both as an industry and an art form—treats women. More importantly, few living filmmakers have created work so virtually unprecedented in its stark originality. Her oeuvre is ripe for rediscovery.

Read more

BRAINWASHED: SEX-CAMERA-POWER (Sundance FF 2022) – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

In her new documentary Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power, director Nina Menkes cues up a bathtub scene from 1972’s Superfly. Guess what happens? From a close-up of a man and a woman, the camera glides down the woman’s back to her buttocks, then shows her breasts while the man stays discreetly in the suds. Compiling nearly 200 clips since 1896 from popular, classic, and indie films, Brainwashed analyzes certain filmmaking techniques that continually view women as objects

Read more

BRAINWASHED: SEX-CAMERA-POWER (Sundance FF 2022) – Review by Leslie Combemale

In her documentary Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power, which is inspired by her lecture “Sex and Power: The Visual Language of Cinema”, Menkes uses over 170 clips from films from the 1940s to the present from all genres to demonstrate that shot design is gendered. She makes a strong case for the idea that the visual grammar of cinema creates an environment that encourages discrimination, pay inequality, and sexual harassment, both inside and outside the film industry. Cinephiles may find themselves defensive about their favorite flicks, but it’s hard to ignore the many points she backs up with examples. Brainwashed may well fundamentally change the way we watch films, and it should.

Read more

BRAINWASHED: SEX-CAMERA-POWER (Sundance FF 2022) – Review by Marilyn Ferdinand

Through the use of film clips, filmmaker Nina Menkes shows how a male-perspective-based film vocabulary has formed and hardened into accepted practice—one used even by women filmmakers. It is Menkes’ contention that these internalized norms of film construction influence how men and women behave in the real world. If women cannot be heard in a film, it’s only a short leap to silencing them in workplaces, public spaces, and relationships. If women are sexualized and give in to men’s sexual demands with pleasure in the movies without negative consequences, then sexually harassing and raping them in real life won’t seem so wrong.

Read more