Female directors: 20 films to watch online

More than a century after the birth of Hollywood, female directors are still waiting for what belongs to them. The last report Celluloid Ceiling of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film shows that only 13 percent of the 250 blockbuster films in 2019 had women at the helm.

Festival committees have long underestimated their achievements, production companies have been reluctant to finance their projects, and as the male authors’ celebrity grew, their female counterparts have been largely forgotten. The good news? Many of their pioneering works – once relegated to the margins of film history – are now available online. For those who are using quarantine to recover the classics, we have made a list of the best films of female directors ever.

1. The beast of the highway by Ida Lupino (1953)

Ida Lupino on the set of The Beast of the Highway, 1953

© Photography Everett Collection Inc / Alamy Stock Photo

This high-voltage thriller about a hitchhiker who travels Mexico has made this Anglo-American director a pioneer as the first woman to direct a film noir. A spiral of terror that grows as two men (Edmond O’Brien and Frank Lovejoy) try, in vain, to escape their persecutor.

2. Cleo from 5 to 7 by Agnès Varda (1962)

Cleo from 5 to 7 by Agnes Varda, 1962

© Photography Alamy

One of the works that defined the French Nouvelle Vague, this feminist classic seems to take place in real time, the one in which a singer (Corinne Marchand) eagerly awaits the results of a medical examination. As he thinks about his mortality, he wanders the Parisian parks and cafes in search of distractions.

3. Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Brussels by Chantal Akerman (1975)

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Brussels, by Chantal Akerman, 1975

© Photography Alamy

In this progenitor of the arthouse cinema signed by the Belgian director, Delphine Seyrig plays a bourgeois widow who documents her daily routine meticulously – from cooking to cleaning, to prostitution to make ends meet. But as the meeting with a client goes wrong, his structured world quickly goes up in smoke.

4. Pasqualino settebellezze by Lina Wertmüller (1975)

Pasqualino settebellezze by Lina Wertmüller, 1975

© Photography Everett Collection Inc / Alamy

In this very black comedy, a criminal delinquent (Giancarlo Nannini) deserted the Italian army during the Second World War and ends up in a concentration camp. Desperately trying to survive the horrors of detention, she seduces a commander. The film is a holocaust, like you’ve never seen it before.

5. Daughters of the Dust by Julie Dash (1991)

Daughters of the Dust by Julie Dash, 1991

© Photography Shutterstock

An historic relic, this indie pearl was the first film shot by an African American woman to receive wide theatrical distribution. It tells the story of three generations of women – in the island community of Gullah who descend from slaves and live off the coast of Georgia – as they prepare to migrate to the north.

6. Piano lessons by Jane Campion (1993)

Piano lessons, by Jane Champion, 1993

© Photography Shutterstock

In this poetic costume film, Holly Hunter and Anna Paquin play a mother and daughter who have just arrived in New Zealand. Sold in marriage to a settler, the first seeks relief by playing the piano and embarks on a relationship with a lumberjack (Harvey Keitel) conquered by his talent.

7. Beau Travail by Claire Denis (1999)

Beau Travail, directed by Claire Denis, 1999

© Photography Shutterstock

There are many operatic traits in the French author’s masterpiece: the soundtrack, the intense performances and the timeless themes of jealousy and regret. The film is set in an outpost of the French Foreign Legion in Djibouti, where the arrival of a new recruit (Grégoire Colin) begins a tragic chain of events.

8. Lost in Translation by Sofia Coppola (2003)

Lost in Translation, by Sofia Coppola, 2003

© Photography Shutterstock

With its eclectic soundtrack and hypnotic visual language, this melancholy comedy is a love letter in Tokyo. Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray play two American visitors, both intent on fighting insomnia and overwhelmed by the relentless pace of the city – this until they meet and fall in love.

9. The Hurt Locker by Kathryn Bigelow (2008)

The Hurt Locker, by Kathryn Bigelow, 2008

© Photography Shutterstock

To date, still the only woman to have won the Oscar for best director, the American director has impressed critics and audiences with this anxious thriller. Jeremy Renner plays an expert blaster on duty in the Iraq war who develops an addiction to combat adrenaline.

10. Fish Tank by Andrea Arnold (2009)

Fish Tank by Andrea Arnold, 2009

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Raw and magnificent, the telltale story of the English director about a girl (Katie Jarvis) raised in a popular house in East London spares us nothing. Michael Fassbender, in an amazing performance, plays the mother’s new boy, a charming villain who soon begins an illicit flirtation with her.

11. A freezing winter by Debra Granik (2010)

An icy winter by Debra Granik, 2010

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Jennifer Lawrence won her first Oscar nomination by playing a disadvantaged teenager in this chilling mistery. On the eve of the eviction from his home in rural Missouri, he must find his missing father, a methamphetamine dealer who mortgaged the house. A realistic social fairy tale, with a turning point in the final scene.

12. … and now let’s talk about Kevin by Lynne Ramsay (2011)

… and now let’s talk about Kevin by Lynne Ramsay, 2011

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At the same time fascinating and disturbing, this tense thriller examines the dangers of parenting. Tilda Swinton plays the mother of a sadistic boy (Ezra Miller) who commits a crime, changing their lives forever. As he sifts his memories of his son’s childhood, he wonders if it is his fault.

13. Selma – The road to freedom by Ava DuVernay (2014)

Selma-La stada for freedom by Ava Duvernay, 2014

© Photography Shutterstock

David Oyelowo is formidable in the role of Martin Luther King Junior in this impressive civil rights saga. The film follows him in the course of a historic march through Alabama, a demonstration that helped prepare the way for the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Without any hesitation in describing police brutality, it is a powerful vision.

14. Diary of a teenager by Marielle Heller (2015)

Diary of a Teenager by Marielle Heller, 2015

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Adapted from the graphic novel of the same name by Phoebe Gloeckner, this exuberant comedy is a rare pearl: an exploration of candid and judgment-free female sexuality. The protagonist is Bel Powley, a teenage artist, happy to experiment and intolerant of the social expectations that limit her.

15. Toni Erdmann by Maren Ade (2016)

Toni Erdmann, by Maren Ade, 2016

© Moviestore Collection Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

This German farce plays on the contrast between its two protagonists: a serious company manager (Sandra Hüller) and her anarchist father (Peter Simonischek) who has a passion for jokes. When he makes a surprise visit to the office, his life based on the company is subverted by side effects.

16. Lady Bird by Greta Gerwig (2017)

Lady Bird, by Greta Gerwig, 2017

© Photography Alamy

A training story that quickly became a classic, the directorial debut of the native actress of Sacramento (she is the director of the award-winning and recent Little Women) is full of intelligence and brilliant dialogues. Saoirse Ronan plays a high school student grappling with friendships and sorrows, as well as with bickering and bonding with her mother (Laurie Metcalf).

17. Capernaum – Chaos and miracles by Nadine Labaki (2018)

Capernaum – Chaos and miracles, by Nadine Labaki, 2018

© Photography Shutterstock

With a title inspired by a biblical city doomed to hell, the moving drama from the Lebanese director and activist tells the lives of the residents of the slums of Beirut. The film is based on the magnetic performance of Zain Al Rafeea, a Syrian refugee who plays a boy running away from his irresponsible parents.

18. Atlantique by Mati Diop (2019)

Mame Bineta Sane as Ada in Atlantique

© Netflix

The French-Senegalese director made history in the 72nd edition of Cannes as the first black director to compete for the Palme d’Or and to win the Grand Prix. Diop’s supernatural thriller is about a young woman (Mama Sané) in Dakar, persecuted by her partner’s ghost who left by sea in search of a better life.

19. The Farewell – A good lie by Lulu Wang (2019)

The Farewell, directed by Lulu Wang, 2019

© Photography Alamy

In the “delicate” drama of this Chinese-American director, comedy and yearning collide. Awkwafina plays a New Yorker who returns to China when her grandmother (Zhao Shuzhen) is diagnosed with cancer. But, with the information kept secret by the stubborn matriarch herself, the results will be hilarious.

20. Portrait of a young woman on fire by Céline Sciamma (2019)

Portrait of a young woman on fire, directed by Céline Sciamma, 2019

© Photography MK2 Films

In this sumptuous love story set in 18th century France, an artist (Noémie Merlant) is tasked with portraying an aristocrat (Adèle Haenel), in a painting that will be sent to her potential pretender. Unbeknownst to the people around them, the two women fall in love and reflect on the power of the female gaze.

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