I’ve not been having the greatest success at keeping my ‘Women Filmmakers’ Wednesday’ strand going, so I’ve decided to change it up a bit to be more film-focused. I recently watched two films by French-Icelandic director Sólveig Anspach, and they each struck me as interesting works. Digging into her biography, she was born in 1960 of an Icelandic architect mother and a German-Romanian father who had fled Nazi Germany. She studied psychology in Paris, and then filmmaking at FÉMIS, and lived much of her life in France. She sadly died of cancer not so long ago (2015) at the age of only 54. She has a number of documentary works to her name, as well as these feature films below (two of six features she made in total, or seven if you include her TV film) — for some reason each of them having an English language title, even in France. Needless to say, I believe she deserves to be better known.
Stormy Weather (2003) [France/Belgium/Iceland]
A quiet, slow-moving little two-handed film about two women, one a psychiatrist called Cora (Élodie Bouchez) and the other her initially unnamed and mute patient (Didda Jónsdóttir), who build a relationship that then pulls the doctor to a remote Icelaandic location when her patient is identified and returned home with questions of her treatment unresolved. There’s a palpable sense of unfulfilled lives that threads through the film, quite aside from the mental health issues of the Icelandic protagonist Loa, but it never tries to resolve the drama in any big melodramatic scenes, preferring the uncertainty and malaise of real life.
Director Sólveig Anspach; Writers Anspach, Roger Bohbot, Pierre-Erwan Guillaume and Cécile Vargaftig; Cinematographer Benoît Dervaux; Starring Élodie Bouchez, Didda Jónsdóttir, Baltasar Kormákur; Length 91 minutes.
Seen at an Airbnb flat (Mubi streaming), Nice, Monday 10 June 2019.
Queen of Montreuil (2012) [France]
There’s a deeply whimsical quality to this film, which in the wrong hands could easily go terribly awry, but which is held in excellent balance by the director and her actors. Florence Loiret Caille plays Agathe, who’d be a rather ditzy caricature if it weren’t that she opens the film receiving the ashes of her dead husband; likewise Didda Jónsdóttir is Anna, who is stranded in France with her son (Úlfur, a young man with a slight hint of Ben Whishaw to him) without a place to stay, which leads to them moving in with Agathe, from which unlikely starting place comedy ensues. At some point a sea lion enters the picture, camped out in her bathroom (I watched this late at night so I’m not exactly certain how, but maybe writing it off to dream logic makes most sense), but throughout there’s a constant sense of playfulness around Agathe, who seems to be teetering at the edge of sanity yet is tethered to and comes to love these deeply odd people. It’s the best kind of whimsy.
Director Sólveig Anspach; Writers Anspach and Jean-Luc Gaget; Cinematographer Isabelle Razavet; Starring Florence Loiret Caille, Didda Jónsdóttir, Úlfur Ægisson; Length 87 minutes.
Seen at an Airbnb flat (Mubi streaming), Nice, Tuesday 11 June 2019.