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The 5 best Contemporary Women Filmmakers in Europe

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When we talk about films, we immediately turn towards Hollywood. Inevitable; unless you attended a BA in Film and Arts. But where do you go when you are looking for the best women filmmakers? Europe enters the competition here and we’ve decided to line up the 5 best contemporary women filmmakers from the old continent. Do we miss anyone?


Susanne Bier

Susanne Bier’s world is completely ordinary. She gives deep insight into the everyday’s life of average people; lives that contain tragedy and sin – just like our own ones. Her characters are not originally good or bad, they are simply human: if they are hurting someone, they do so by accident, without expressively wanting it. She’s showing seemingly trivial events with such a special sensibility what speaks of an exceptionally talented director. Her trademark tells about this too: the camera lingers on the characters’ face unusually long, and with that she’s stressing dramatic emphasis throughout her stories.

There is a good reason why she’s one of the few European directors who are also recognized in Hollywood. The Danish Bier has Jewish roots, and she was switching after her architecture studies to motion picture. She was directing her movie “Open Hearts” while participating in the famous movement Dogme95. The secret of her success was that she and the scriptwriter genius, Anders Thomas Jensen, worked very closely together. Their biggest success was born from their collaboration, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Movie in 2010. This was the famous “In a Better World.”


Lone Scherfig

The other significant female figure in the Danish movie world is unquestionably Lone Scherfig. After she had graduated from the  Danish Film School, she directed her first big success – just like Bier – under the wings of the Dogme95 movement. Her movie “Italian for Beginners”  brought immediate success for her: amongst other awards, she received the Silver Berlin Bear. Scherfig is really at ease with romantic comedies, but not in the “usual” Hollywood-way. Her works are optimistic and feature a positive look at life in general. She’s showing her characters with sensibility, visualizing her trivial stories in a clean, simple way, and uses her satirical sense of humor for spice.

Her movie, “An education”, puts an extraordinary, nuanced female character to the spotlight. We witness the story of a teenage girl who’s dreaming about career and freedom. Her story is shown in the 60’s, in London. Regrettably, the movie didn’t get that much appreciation at the Oscars. However, it did get a lot of international awards.


Sally Potter

If we want to talk about the connection between gender and movies, her work can not be left out. She wants to question the very pillars of the existing society: she’s forcing the viewers to question the engraved rules of our world rather than simply letting them identify with her characters. To strengthen this, she’s also using experimental forms of dramatic composition and visuals.

She’s underlining the female self-expression in her movies. Her work “Orlando”  is an iconic piece of the female cinema. Orlando, the man in the lead role becomes a woman as the story progresses.  But he is not defining his femininity; as opposed to that, he’s actually a man, rather forth-flowing from that fact.

“Same person. No difference at all… just a different sex” says Orlando himself looking right into the camera after he’s been transformed like Venus by Botticelli. The whole movie is set out to prove this statement; just like the lyrics in the song at the end of the movie: there are no differences between men and women, those are only there because of the forces of the existing society.


Andrea Arnold

The female Britt director had already earned attention from the international movie scene with one of her early short films. Her short, “Wasp”, was inspired by her own childhood experiences: the main role is given to a single mother, who got pregnant at a very early age, and, therefore, had a lot of difficulties accepting the tasks of adulthood.

Even in this early short, her directing features are already apparent; something that will become a trait in her later works too. She chooses mysterious, complex female characters, and she’s showing their characteristics slowly, step by step. All of them are to be their own destiny’s masters too, although they reach it through different roads.

With the help of the design tools of the film, she’s helping the process of identifying with the characters. Their point of view, their worldview will be the foundation for the story for the viewers. There are very few dramatic turns, the changes in the souls of the persons are caused by small, seemingly trivial events. Her two motion pictures the Red Road and the Fish Tank were awarded the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.


Ágnes Kocsis

The Hungarian female director well-deserves a spot among the top five European women filmmakers. From her works until today we can observe an unusually strong directing character, something that’s lighting up every detail of her movies. Her heroines are living at the edge of society, slaving soul-crushingly monotone jobs, who are trying to compensate the monotony of their everyday’s life and their lack of ability to communicate with makeshift activities.

The visualized world suggests the era of socialism, but instead of creating a sensory period piece, the emphasis stays on the drama of the individuals. Her movies are typically low-key on acting: Kocsis works with amateur actors on purpose. Minimalism and moderation dominate her visuals too: slow camera movements, without spectacles, are her greatest traits, that along with geometrical patterns based colorless pictures create a distinct atmosphere. So far her greatest success was with her movie called Pál Adrienn she won the Un certain regard section’s FIPRESCI Prize from the Cannes Film Festival in 2010.



Photo credit: Hammonton Photography /Flickr CC



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