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FIlm Review: Fem Films

August 18, 2010 5:53 p.m.

This summer has seen quite a few films centered on female characters. This has prompted KPBS film critic Beth Accomando to consider how women’s films have changed over the years.

Related Story: Review: 'Cairo Time' and the Women's Picture


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

KPBS-FM Film Review: Femme Films
By Beth Accomando
Air date: August 19, 2010

This summer has seen quite a few films centered on female characters. This has prompted KPBS film critic Beth Accomando to consider how women’s films have changed over the years.

FEMFILMS(ba).wav SOQ 3:50

(Tag:) “Cairo Time” opens tomorrow at Landmark’s Hillcrest Cinemas. “Eat Pray Love” is currently playing throughout San Diego. You can find more of Beth’s reviews online at K-P-B-S-dot-O-R-G-slash-cinema junkie.


Back in the 30s and 40s we had what was known as women’s pictures. These movies centered on women who usually sacrificed all for love or family. Stars like Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, and Bette Davis were often trapped in marriage or out on their own as single parents. These were tough women who did whatever they had to do to survive.

CLIP Mildred Pierce: “I had no experience in the business world but I had to get a job. I walked my legs off. Getting a job wasn’t as easy as I thought. Days seemed like weeks and always I heard the same thing…
Man: Sorry we need people with experience.

The term “women’s picture” might have been demeaning but directors like Douglas Sirk and Max Ophuls could turn these films into art and use the very conventions of the genre to undermine them. Thinking about these older femcentric films raise a question: When did the women’s picture devolve into the chick flick?

Chick flick is a relatively new term, originating in the late eighties, and initially used to describe the kind of busty exploitation films made by the likes of Russ Meyer or Roger Corman. But now the term has been hijacked by vapid female-driven vehicles like “Sex and the City 2” and “Eat Pray Love.”

CLIP Liz: “I need to change. Since I was 15 I have either been with a guy or been breaking up with a guy. I have not given myself two weeks of a breather to just be with myself.

These women feign feminist ideals but are really more of old school stereotypes chasing romantic clichés and in need of a man to complete them no matter how much they insist on their independence.

For a brief moment back in the 70s, we found something in between the melodrama of the women’s picture and the insipidness of today’s chick flick. Women were genuinely in transition. They were complex women living in the real world and struggling to move from old stereotypes to new yet unrealized potential. In “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” Ellen Burstyn plays a woman whose husband dies and she must redefine herself.

CLIP Kris: “Do you want to go home or do you want to sing?”
Alice: “I want to do both can’t I have everything?”
Kris: “You think they’re the same?”
Alice: “You mean they’re not?”

Then in “An Unmarried Woman,” Jill Clayburgh finds herself suddenly single after her husband has an affair and leaves her. She meets a sexy artist but rejects his offer of a life together to pursue her own goals.

CLIP Alan: “Independent.”
Jill: “Trying to be.”
Alan: “Woman. Vicious.”
Jill: “Honest.”

Seventies’ women like this had to deal with kids, financial hardship, returning to the work force – real world problems that made their struggles compelling. They were discovering new freedoms but without forgetting responsibilities to others. But with films like “Sex and the City 2” and “Eat Pray Love” we get shallow women. They never have to worry about money and their kids are convenient props. They also have Prince Charmings waiting in the wings to complete.

One new film that finds a space between the old women’s picture and the new chick flick is “Cairo Time.” It’s a delicate tale in which the two main characters are reluctant to admit any attraction and their romance is ever so subtlety played out.

CLIP Juliette: “Thank you for a wonderful afternoon… would you like to join me on the terrace?”

It’s a women’s film in terms of its focus on Patricia Clarkson’s character, on her emotions, and on her vague sense of dissatisfaction. Initially her entrapment is the hotel room in which she waits for her husband but that’s just a symbol of how she’s trapped in the role of a wife. The film recalls the work of Douglas Sirk in its compassion for a woman trying to break free of society’s expectations of who she should be. “Cairo Time,” however, is more about the things that don’t happen. It’s a bittersweet story about a connection that’s almost made.

So if you want a mature film about a woman, check out “Cairo Time” and don’t waste your time – or your money – on those silly chick flicks.

For KPBS, I’m Beth Accomando.