Our partner organization, Films from the Margin, operates to put on display a showcasing of films “from the margin,” often works that are difficult to find, lesser known, and considered hidden gems. From world famous filmmakers’ smaller, maybe earlier work to a surprising foreign marvel, Films from the Margin aspires to educate and inform viewers of cinematic treasures otherwise hidden by an immeasurable sea of content, while providing hours of gutsy, unique, unforgettable entertainment. This column will feature recommendations of films otherwise considered to be “from the margin,” as well as where one can locate them. For more information on Films from the Margin and how to get involved, drop us a line at email@example.com.
Petite Maman (2021, Céline Sciamma, France)
Many people wonder what their parents were like when they were younger, and while cinema has capitalized on that fantasy (with films like Back to the Future being prime examples), none are more innocent and charming than Petite Maman. From French auteur Céline Sciamma, the filmmaker behind Portrait of a Lady on Fire and Tomboy, the film follows an adolescent girl named Nelly who, on a family excursion to clear out the house of her recently deceased grandmother, finds and befriends Marion, a girl of the same age roaming the neighboring woods. As they become increasingly acquainted, it appears that the young girl is Nelly’s mother from a past life, experiencing a similar process of change. While there is the usual visual and narrative style associated with Sciamma, Petite Maman is foremost a childlike fantasy and is equally charming and humorous as it is emotionally probing. The film isn’t set at a particular time of the year, although there is an alluring autumnal feel emanating from the warm-colored leaves lining the woodland locations. Nelly and Marion (sisters Josephine and Gabrielle Sanz respectively) are a joyous pair to watch and have a playful relationship that makes even their more awkward moments palpable and delightful. Although not a typical wintertime film, Petite Maman remains a sweet and affecting tale of how familial bonds transcend time and space, which suits it well for these holiday times. –Julian Hart
While not widely available yet, Petite Maman will be added to MUBI in February 2022.
Les Rendez-vous d’Anna (1978, Chantal Akerman, France)
Winter tends to drag its feet. For me, this inescapable feeling can be no better captured than by Les Rendez-vous d’Anna (The Meetings of Anna), the third feature film from Belgian director Chantal Akerman. The film tells the story of filmmaker Anna, who is traveling across Western Europe to promote her latest work, having various kinds of close (and not-so-close) encounters along the way. However, her occupation is not necessarily the concern of the film, nor is it her main reason for traveling: Anna seems to use her job to escape being present in the moment, using travel as a means to exist in some kind of boundless liminal space, where she never has to officially arrive anywhere. Able to be in a state of endless transit, floating between the arms of strangers and those not so strange, Anna searches for some kind of understanding — of herself, of her place in the world, of her desires. The film isn’t set during a particular season, but its sparse, structuralist framings and cool-toned colors evoke the listless isolation of wintertime. And like the far-off arrival of spring, Anna’s restless wandering feels like that of an endless journey home, one where the anticipation of arrival persists past the point of destination. –Natalie Michaud
Les Rendez-vous d’Anna is now streaming on The Criterion Channel. It is also available for rental on DVD at the Boston Public Library.
Misery (1990, Rob Reiner, United States)
I remember my parents talking about this film for years. They waited until I read the novel before watching as a family. My younger siblings were not in the mood for anything scary, yet my parents convinced them the film was a mere thriller. Needless to say, they were horrified. But I was thrilled and entranced, filled with adrenaline. The snowy setting is far more sinister than a snowfall is in your regular wintertime flick. This time, it’s the foil in author Paul Sheldon’s regular trip back from the hotel he writes at. He’s decided to break away from his popular Misery Chastain novel series, opting instead to write a cool-guy car novel. When his car veers off the road and crashes in the snow, superfan Annie Wilkes, who just happens to live nearby, finds her opportunity to rescue her hero. An extreme lover of the Misery Chastain novels and a nurse, Annie is seemingly Paul’s savior, even claiming herself to be his “number one fan.” But when she finds out that Paul has decided to end his Misery Chastain series, his injury becomes a source of power for Annie, and she’ll do whatever it takes to get the story she wants out of Paul. –Karenna Umscheid
The Dead Zone (1983, David Cronenberg, Canada)
Walken’s Johnny Smith has received a gift, but it’s not a pleasant one. The Dead Zone is a film that I feel most people know exists, but haven’t really seen. This bittersweet, icy cold thriller might be up your alley if you want a bit of a darker film that still matches the mood of the holiday season. There is, of course, its snowy setting, which almost always gets me, but this story also deals with particular themes consistent with the holidays. It may seem that Johnny’s lost everything, but he comes to cope with his abnormal family, something I’m sure many of us have been doing over these past few weeks. He also learns to use his curse for good, to give and not expect to receive — to instead help your fellow human being. –Charlie Compton
The Dead Zone is available to stream on Pluto TV, and for purchase in the usual places such as Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, Youtube, Vudu, etc. There’s also a gorgeous Scream Factory Blu-Ray Edition that was recently released last year, for fans new or old.
Bonus Holiday Recommendation: Peace on Earth (1939, Hugh Harman, United States)
On a final note, you can watch this classic, little-seen animated short, which was nominated for both an Academy Award and the Nobel Peace Prize, on Vimeo. Just see if you can make it through these 9 legendary minutes without tearing up. –Charlie Compton