Essential Viewing: Summer 2016

The summer, as we know, is not necessarily the time for exciting theatrical runs (though, one might ask, when is?). But over these past few months, I saw a few films that I’m not only recommending as “good,” but as ones that generate important questions about embodied experience, often centering on the tension between interiority and exteriority.

In the few films I list, this tension manifests as passion—what are you driven to express? What can’t you help but do or be? Important questions for any feminism. These films empathize with subjects who struggle to emerge from feelings of otherness, inferiority, or inability, and instead of tritely celebrating their perserverance, pay close attention to the complexity, difficulty, and wonder of their lives—and of both their theoretical and physical places in the world, and how, in these places and spaces, they each manage to form a self. These films endured the heat of the summer.

In no particular order—

1. The Fits (2016), dir: Anna Rose Holmer

Passes the Bechdel Test one hundred times over, sure, but also focuses on the embodied experiences of young black girls. In her first film, Royalty Hightower plays Toni, a quiet, introspective girl who leaves behind her boxing training to join an all-girls dance team. Once each girl on the team starts to experience seizures, mystery enshrouds the community center where they practice, and Toni wonders when she’ll have hers too. The film is at once strange and girlish, aggressive and elegant. It doesn’t intellectualize Toni’s life, but lives in it.


variety.com, courtesy of Venice Film Festival

2. Eva Hesse (2016), dir: Marcie Begleiter

On the art and life of Eva Hesse, a sculptor who emerged as an unusual talent in the 1960s, before dying prematurely at 34. The film isn’t aesthetically perfect, and has some mediocrely produced animation sequences, but is attentive, passionate, and intelligent, relying on the words of the artist herself—performed beautifully by Selma Blair in a voiceover—as the point of intimacy between artist and audience. You can feel the director Marcie Begleiter’s reverence for her subject without being blinded or overwhelmed by it. Hesse was incredibly self-critical, but also ambitious and confident. Her pain, ambivalence, and conviction course through the film, and even as she narrates, the work speaks forthrightly for itself.

Artist and sculptor Eva Hesse


3. Little Men (2016), dir: Ira Sachs

Two 13-year-old boys of variant middle-class backgrounds become best friends, but only as their parents begin a fight over valuable property. After the death of his grandfather, Jake and his parents move into the Brooklyn apartment he leaves behind. But running a clothing store below it is Leonor, a close friend of the late grandfather, and a tenant who has received a generous discount over the last decade. Antonio, Leonor’s son, is a boisterous, charismatic aspiring actor. Jake is a sensitive, soft-spoken burgeoning artist. The relationship between the two is tender but not precious, and their moments together both weave into and soar beyond the central conflict, which not only threatens to break their bond, but to shift the tone of their adolescences. This is a film deals in quiet nuances, but also in decisive eruptions. Gentrification is not treated as a hot topic, but as lived experience—not melodrama, but lasting, lingering effect.


Still from Little Men (2016)

Header image via.

Cassie da Costa is a writer who focuses on moving image and performance. She's based in Brooklyn and works as a member of The New Yorker's editorial staff while also producing the magazine's video podcast, The Front Row, featuring film critic Richard Brody.

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