The 58th SF Intl Film Festival: Day 3 – Barbara Loden’s “Wanda”

wanda11It’s back to the Castro Theatre for day 3 with a 35mm transfer of Barbara Loden‘s shot on 16mm film from 1970, “Wanda”. On hand to give a special introduction of the film, and to oversell it as well, was the Telluride Film Festival’s 2015 guest director and highly acclaimed author Rachel Kushner. Rachel likes this movie so much she even paid homage to it in her latest book, which she read aloud to us, spoilers and all. Thanks, Rachel. She then proceeded to tell us that we were about to watch “the greatest American film”. Geesh, talk about hyperbole. Needless to say, this film did not live up to the hype. Not even close.

three-stars15The story is about a woman (played by Loden) who, for reasons never fully explained, leaves her children and husband for a life of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of whomever she comes across first who is willing to let her tag along with them. And this is how she meets Mr. Grumpy, AKA Mr. Dennis (played by the only other professional actor, Michael Higgins). He’s the Clyde to this mentally challenged Bonnie, or if you’d prefer the Badlands reference, the womanizing version of Kit to a half-witted empty headed Holly.

Never in a rush to get anywhere too fast, the film is very slow paced. This I liked. It’s absence of score combined with its addition of non-actors filling up all the supporting roles, as well as the depiction of a bleak blue collared landscape, pushed all my tonal esthetics buttons. Perhaps John Cassavetes had seen this film prior to making A Woman Under the Influence, and thought I’ll remake this movie and instead of the lead leaving her husband I’ll have her stay. Also, I’ll give her a personality, you know, something for the audience to grab onto. Tonally and narratively speaking, Cassavetes’ film is really not that much different from Loden’s. There is one key difference however, that being Cassavetes’ film gave his lead female a personality, whereas Loden’s Wanda has none, thus making it hard for me to care one way or another about what happens to her.

My overall impression with Wanda is that as a symbolic allegory for the mistreatment and ignoring of women in American society I get it, I just wish the characters were a little more fleshed out, you know, more humanlike. That’s not too much to ask for when dealing with a very human relatable subject such as the treatment of women is it?

After Wanda I needed some relief from all the human drama, and by golly did I get it with Noel Marshall‘s Roar. That’s right, I saw a movie during the Int’l Film Festival that wasn’t part of their program, but being that it’s probably only going to have a one week run, and having just watched a very bleak look at humanity I needed some relief. I’m not going to go get into it here, because this post is reserved for talk of festival stuff, but I will say this; watching wild lions, tigers, cheetahs, and panthers maul human actors for an hour-and-a-half is just what I needed.


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Categories: Reviews, San Francisco International Film Festival

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