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Films by Women: Five Movies to Watch in July

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The “52FilmsByWomen” hashtag isn’t a new invention, but in the last few years, and especially 2017, it’s gained increasingly urgent relevance. Created and disseminated by Women in Film, a nonprofit outlet established to “achieve parity and transform culture,” the tag translates into a simple pledge: Watch one movie directed by a woman each week for an entire year. Most years, completing that pledge would be a show of respect. Today, it’s a means of pushing back against rampant gender bias in the film industry.

To help those interested in putting their viewing habits to good use, Paste is highlighting some of July’s best new movies in theaters, as well as on home video, directed by women.

In Theaters:

What Will People Say
Release Date: July 13, 2018
Director: Iram Haq
We were all teenagers once. We all remember sneaking out at night, going to parties right under our parents’ noses, then rushing back home to steal into our bedrooms, mom and dad being none the wiser to our absence. In Iram Haq’s What Will People Say, Pakistani teen Nisha (Maria Mozhdah) pulls off the same feat of midnight adolescent chicanery, with one difference: The stakes matter. For Nisha, being caught may as well be a death sentence under the roof of her traditional father (Adil Hussain). They may live in Norway, but his word remains law, and their culture still rules. The film kicks off as soon as he walks in on Nisha and her boyfriend, a scene that erupts into violence and leads to her unceremonious removal from Norway to Pakistan, where conservative customs and social mores break her. Haq isn’t fucking around. What Will People Say is, in a very limited way, The Big Sick’s younger, merciless sibling, less a culture clash movie, more a culture torture movie, in which freedom is given to the protagonist and cruelly revoked, and where the camera refuses to dress up reality to ease our liberal conscience, so concerned with representation that even unflattering but true representation becomes too much to bear. It’s a frank film, but an honest film all the same. —Andy Crump


Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms
Release Date: July 20, 2018
Director: Mari Okada
The Iorph people, known as the Clan of the Separated, enjoy life spans centuries beyond humans, living out their days in their remote homeland weaving Hibiol, a unique cloth as well as a written record of time’s passage. When the kingdom of Mezarte invades the Iorph village, wreaking havoc upon dragons, 15-year-old Maquia (Manaka Iwami) winds up separated from her kin and removed from her home, where she must begin again as an outsider in a land not her own. Her very identity puts her in danger, more so when circumstances lead her to adopt an abandoned human baby. Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms, a high fantasy epic helmed by the great anime screenwriter and director Mari Okada, thus becomes the story of one girl writing the Hibiol of her life. It’s a fraught life: The film spans years, decades even, and Maquia’s path takes her through wilderness, war, poverty, mourning and constant alienation from all around her—even her surrogate son, Ariel (Miyu Irino), doomed to age and die long before Maquia. Or maybe: She’s doomed to survive him. Neither case sounds pleasant, but Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms reminds us that the pain of loss is proof of life, of memories made and love shared between parents and children. Okada’s a titan in her field. She doesn’t need one more movie under her belt to prove it, but Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms’s ambition, both as narrative and as a demonstration of stunningly fluid, ever gorgeous animation, makes for an impressive entry in her body of work regardless. —Andy Crump


Leave No Trace
Release Date: June 29, 2018
Director: Debra Granik
It takes all of Leave No Trace before anyone tells Will (Ben Foster) he’s broken. The man knows, perhaps ineffably, that something’s fundamentally wrong inside of him, but it isn’t until the final moments of Debra Granik’s film that someone gives that wrongness finality, that someone finally allows Will to admit—and maybe accept—he can’t be fixed. Why: Granik affords us little background, save tattoos and a few helicopter-triggered flashbacks and a visit to the hospital to acquire PTSD meds all implying that Will is a military vet, though what conflict he suffered and for how long remains a mystery. As does the fate of Will’s deceased wife, mother to teenage girl Tom (Thomasin McKenzie). As does the length of time Will and his daughter have been living off the grid, hidden within the more than 5,000 acres of Portland’s Forest Park, a damp, verdant chunk of the city’s northwest side overlooking the Willamette River. As does the pain at the heart of Leave No Trace, though it hurts no less acutely for that. Toward the end of this quietly stunning film, Tom shows her father a beehive she’s only recently begun to tend, slowly pulling out a honeycomb tray and tipping a scrambling handful of the insects into her cupped palm without any fear of being stung. Will looks on, proud of his daughter’s connection to such a primal entity, knowing that he could never do the same. Will begins to understand, as Tom does, that she is not broken like him. Leave No Trace asserts, with exquisite humanity and a long bittersweet sigh, that the best the broken can do is disappear before they break anyone else. —Dom Sinacola / Full Review

At Home:

Blockers
Release Date: July 3, 2018 (blu-ray)
Director: Kay Cannon
John Cena, wrestler and employee of the Daddy’s Home franchise, is in the Jingle All the Way era of his career, and, as Buzzfeed columnists would say, We’re here for it. All of us. There’s hardly a more reasonable way to respond to Blockers, in which Cena plays fastidious, incomprehensibly beefy dad Mitchell, who is unable to deal with the revelation that his daughter, high-schooler Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan), plans to lose her virginity at her senior prom. Blockers is a second-generation teen romp openly owing its lineage to Superbad and American Pie while trying something new: not as consumed by its vulgarity, treating its teens who actually look like teens as the over-jaded post-Millennials they supposedly are, and having most of the film’s nudity provided by men, i.e., Gary Cole going full frontal, unashamed of his nice dick. In other words, no one wants to cheer for the toxic privilege of rich, white, horny, suburban high-school boys anymore, but we do want to cheer for best friendship and young people starting to figure their shit out and parents who learn how to give them the space and respect to do that. And if John Cena is the paternalistic He-Man—the Jim’s Dad of the Dwayne the Rock Johnson Generation, if you will—to guide the youth through their cinematic, sex-positive formative years, then let Blockers test his mettle. If the film’s direction is workmanlike and the writers’ plotting flimsy, then the better to focus on the cast. They’re a joy to watch together, everyone unironically playing unironic characters packed to the gills with backstories that go nowhere, revealing little painful, relatable details amidst all the electrocutions and butt-chugging and occasional car explosion and full close-up violent testicle squeezing. If this is what a popular sex comedy can be in 2018, something forward-thinking and empathetic and crowd-pleasing, then let the box office show it. And may John Cena be with you. —Dom Sinacola / Full Review


You Were Never Really Here
Release Date: July 17, 2018 (blu-ray)
Director: Lynne Ramsay
Lynne Ramsay has a reputation for being uncompromising. In industry patois, that means she has a reputation for being “difficult.” Frankly, the word that best describes her is “unrelenting.” Filmmakers as in charge of their aesthetic as Ramsay are rare. Rarer still are filmmakers who wield so much control without leaving a trace of ego on the screen. If you’ve seen any of the three films she made between 1999 and 2011 (Ratcatcher, Morvern Callar, We Need to Talk About Kevin), then you’ve seen her dogged loyalty to her vision in action, whether that vision is haunting, horrific or just plain bizarre. She’s as forceful as she is delicate. Her fourth film, You Were Never Really Here—haunting, horrific and bizarre all at once—is arguably her masterpiece, a film that treads the line delineating violence from tenderness in her body of work. Calling it a revenge movie doesn’t do it justice. It’s more like a sustained scream. You Were Never Really Here’s title is constructed of layers, the first outlining the composure of her protagonist, Joe (Joaquin Phoenix, acting behind a beard that’d make the Robertson clan jealous), a military veteran and former federal agent as blistering in his savagery as in his self-regard. Joe lives his life flitting between past and present, hallucination and reality. Even when he physically occupies a space, he’s confined in his head, reliving horrors encountered in combat, in the field and in his childhood on a non-stop, simultaneous loop. Each of her previous movies captures human collapse in slow motion. You Were Never Really Here is a breakdown shot in hyperdrive, lean, economic, utterly ruthless and made with fiery craftsmanship. Let this be the language we use to characterize her reputation as one of the best filmmakers working today. —Andy Crump / Full Review

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