Films About Women 21

1 Osama

Those of you who read my blog on a regular basis will know that I love Shakespeare. One of the common motifs in Shakespeare comedies is for a girl to disguise herself as a boy. Viola in Twelfth Night and Rosalind in As You Like It are two of the most famous examples. In Shakespeare, when we see girls dress like boys, we know that we are in the world of comedies, marriages, and happy endings.

Osama tells the story of a girl living in Afghanistan under the Taliban. It tells the story of a fatherless girl who must disguise herself as a boy to earn a living. Her mother and grandmother cut her hair and she takes a job with one of her father’s fellow soldiers. For her, dressing as a boy is an act of desperation, a desperate effort to avert starvation. The film follows Osama as she tries to earn a living, attend school, and avoid discovery.

I said that I would include films that I did not like, if they were culturally or artistically important. This is one such film. I cannot say that I enjoyed Osama very much. The performances were very wooden and the film feels a little clumsy.

Even so, this film was the first film made in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban. The actors in the film are not professional actors, but actual locals from Afghanistan. True, the performances are amateurish, but in their own way, they are genuine. The young girl who plays Osama experienced the hardship of life under the Taliban told the director how much she related to the character. One of the truly amazing benefits of watching foreign films is the insights they offer into other cultures. This film is a special case; the film shows the people of Afghanistan expressing what it is like to live under the Taliban.

2 Charade

This is the very first film I ever saw of Audrey Hepburn. The film tells the story of a woman trapped in an unhappy marriage to a man she does not love. When her husband turns up murdered, she realizes that she may be in possession of a fortune her husband stole during the war with fellow soldiers. At her husband’s funeral, her husbands former friends show up, eager to regain the stolen fortune.

This is a film that truly has everything. It has mystery, adventure, humor, and romance. I am also in awe of how the money was hidden. I did not see that coming! Audrey Hepburn teams up with Carey Grant in this film, and they have wonderful chemistry together. They both have a great sense of fun and humor, and the movie capitalizes on this skill.

Charade

I could write a lot more about this film, but I don’t want to spoil the film for anyone. I will add that this film also has a wonderful score by Henry Mancini.

3 Twenty Feet from Stardom

What does it take to be a famous singer? This documentary answers this question in a rather roundabout way. The film looks at the lives of backup singers over the decades. Many of them are truly amazing singers and yet most of them never became successful in their own right.

The film talks about the different aspects of the backup singer phenomenon, including racism and sexism. However, the film is more concerned with the more intangible qualities that make a star. First of all, making it as a star takes a certain degree of fearlessness. In order to make it as a singer, a person needs to risk everything, and know that failure is a real possibility. Furthermore, being successful takes a degree of luck, an element of being in the right place, at the right time, with the right sound.

But perhaps most interestingly, making it as a professional singer takes a degree of selfishness. For me, that is the most intriguing aspect of this film. A backup singer, or a singer in a choir, sacrifices for the good of the group. The aim is not to develop your own style or sound but rather to blend in with the collective. It’s a bit like the Borg in Star Trek. “We are the choir. You will be assimilated. We will add your vocal distinctiveness to our own. Your sound will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.”

And yet, as someone who has sung in a choir, the results are so worth it. There are few thrills in life as much as the thrill of singing in a choir when the harmonies blend perfectly. The sound suddenly has structure, the sensation is tactile.

Unfortunately, this is terrible preparation for a lead singer.

I was fascinated to see how the women made, or make peace, with their lives, and the struggles they faced as music changed. They are, by and large, happy with their lives. One younger backup singer enjoys the money the gigs provide, which she can then use to promote her own career. She knows she may never make it as a soloist, but she feels far more ability to maintain her own sound.

Twelve Feet from Stardom

Oh, I believe this film was also at the Cleveland International Film Festival!

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