How ‘Woman In Car’ Presents The Female Experience: An Interview With Writer-Director Vanya Rose


By: Amanda Guarragi

Woman in Car premiered at the Canadian Film Festival last week. It is such a multilayered film, that dives into the female experience through relationships, trauma and deceit. It is always interesting to explore the female characters in high society because there can be so much to unpack. It is an in-depth look at the psychology of past mistakes and how it can affect the future. The script is well-written and Vanya Rose peels back the many layers of Ann (Hélène Joy). There are so many things to unpack in this story and Ann’s experience as a woman is really interesting to dive into.

Rose wanted to explore this bourgeois society because of her interest in Edith Warton’s novels. Warton always wrote about it and more importantly she questioned it, even though she was a part of it,

“We have this neighbourhood in Montreal, called West Mount which is kind of what used to be the center of money in all of Canada. Montreal was the center of everything. It was home to the richest people in Canada. And so that interested me bc it had never been explored in Quebec at all. We see a lot of the working class films, which are great, beautiful films but we don’t really see how Montreal had that historically, and it’s still there.”

– Vanya Rose, Woman in Car
Courtesy of Thievish Films

In order to understand Ann’s internal struggle, one has to understand the society she lives in and the family she is connected to. As we see in the film, Ann’s persona is quite different around her mother-in-law Charlotte (Gabrielle Lazure), stepson Owen (Aidan Ritchie), and newcomer Safiye (Liane Balaban). She hides pieces of herself from the people she meets with. The one thing that really interested me was Ann’s sense of control. Rose wanted to give Ann a passion, so she chose archery,

“I wanted Ann to have a passion. I wanted her to have something that she had given up. What’s amazing about these archers is not only are they complete perfectionists, like to the nth degree, they’re a little bit odd these people, they have a very specific skill that they developed. It’s a skill of shooting something directly on the nose and that’s all you do over and over again. You have to have a personality type, that’s just so foreign this desire and this training that goes into that.”

– Vanya Rose, Woman in Car

Archery has always interested Rose and it came through with the character of Ann. The way that the archery, can be interpreted through Ann’s character is that she always needs to be in control. Even as she was losing herself in her former marriage, she found something in her stepson to regain that control, even though the events made her spiral even further. She wanted to make decisions on her own but this society she was in, this family that she married into, wasn’t easy for her at all. We see that Ann has a clear shot at the beginning of the film, she was composed and reserved. She managed to hit the bullseye. Then towards the end of the film, she can’t even calm herself down in order to shoot the arrow at all.

Courtesy of Thievish Films

Ann slowly unravels as the film goes on, and it is connected to her feeling neglected, in her relationship with her soon-to-be husband. When asked about showing that kind of emotional experience and why it is necessary to show on screen, Rose said, “I think that’s what art is right, isn’t art all about showing our human experience? I think that as a man or woman, though our human experiences, there is a lot of pain and I think joy is actually a very small part of all that.” She goes on to say that we all go through hardships, whether it be relationships or even pandemics, they impact us more than the greater joys in our lives, but that is what makes those moments special.

Woman in Car is all about human connectivity and relationships. Rose explores the way people treat each other and how they can change their perspective. Rose wanted to show a little compassion in this film, especially between women, “I think that’s the key. I think women have been traditionally pitted against each other because of competition and survival. What if we got rid of that? We don’t need to follow that old scenario, get beyond it and reach out to each other.” The relationship between Ann and the women in her life is very strained. There are vulnerable moments shared between the female characters in the film, where they each gain a deeper understanding of who they are. The film is multilayered, nuanced and incredibly sophisticated. It is a film that will keep you glued to the screen and will have you questioning what is possibly going to happen.

Canadian Film Festival Selection ‘Woman In Car’ Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

Woman In Car is written and directed by Vanya Rose. It is an in-depth look at the psychology of past mistakes and how it can affect the future. It takes the female experience of Ann Lewis (Hélène Joy) as she is in the middle of getting married to her new husband. The script is well-written and Rose peels back the many layers of Ann. There are so many things to unpack in this story and Ann’s experience as a woman is really interesting to dive into. It is so intriguing to watch because Joy gives such a nuanced performance and carries the entire film to the very end. Her connections to other characters may be a bit confusing at times but it all pays off in the third act. It is a film that will keep you glued to the screen and will have you questioning what is possibly going to happen.

Ann appears to have it all. But when her stepson returns to Montreal with the beautiful Safiye (Liane Balaban), Ann develops an obsession with the stranger, who she fears could destroy the privileged life she has built. Rose explores two different female characters in a sincere and compassionate way. What starts out as a defensive tact on Ann’s part turns into a very vulnerable olive branch in wanting to tell her story. The film does explore issues of class, family and deception. It is just so fascinating to watch because of Joy’s layered performance. What I found most interesting is the fact that she was an archer and she always had to have a sense of control when shooting the bow and arrow. Oddly enough, that pressure to be perfect ruins Ann’s peace and concentration when craving that form of release, while her secrets build up.

Ann had many secrets that she tried to bottle up but eventually those secrets came back to haunt her. Throughout the film, we see that Ann is losing herself to these skeletons in her closet. She is under so much pressure because of this wedding and her feelings of neglect from her previous marriage seem to creep up on her. We see how everyone can carry their emotional and mental trauma, from one relationship to another, if they feel like they are somehow being treated in the same way. If these issues are not addressed, situations tend to become worse than they already are. Ann is an incredible character because of how she internalizes her pain in order to keep the public persona of being perfect and composed. It is in an obligation in higher social class systems to always appear poised, even if something is bothering you.

The film is multilayered, nuanced and incredibly sophisticated. It is rooted in the culture of Montreal and dives into the social class system by showing how people who aren’t born into it, can become traumatized by their lifestyle. Woman In Car has so much tension and the build up is strong. There are such intimate, emotional moments that will make you really feel for Ann and want to see her come out on top, even though the storyline is a bit risqué. There are so many issues that Rose explores in this film and the most important takeaway is that there is so much compassion between female characters in sharing those vulnerable moments with others.

‘Jumbo’ Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

Sundance Film Festival 2020 selection Jumbo, written and directed by Zoé Wittock, is an interesting exploration of sexuality and coming of age. We meet young Jeanne (Noémie Merlant), who works at an amusement park and is completely taken by these machines. These inanimate objects, fascinate her to the point, that she cannot stop thinking about them, especially one theme park ride, she calls ‘Jumbo’. Wittock does a great job explaining identity and explores queerness in a unique way. We all can say that, “love is love”, until someone questions who we love. The film shows the struggles of coming to terms with one’s sexual identity and the gender norms that are forced upon others.

Jeanne is incredibly shy, naive and reserved. She has had to watch her mother bring home men, who do not treat her well. Jeanne has had a skewed knowledge of relationships because of her mother. When Jeanne goes to work at the amusement park, she experiences a sense of liberation because no one can see her in the dark. She is no longer quiet, with the theme park attraction, she is free to experience this connection how she pleases. It is a great concept and the fantastical elements combined with a really grounded journey of sexual identity, worked extremely well for this piece. It was so interesting to watch, just to see the emotional connection Jeanne felt towards ‘Jumbo’.

The film does suffer from pacing issues and some empty dialogue that doesn’t add much to Jeanne’s development. There are two moments that stood out to me, ones that I will never forget. The first is the scene where she has a very intimate moment with ‘Jumbo’. The oil from the theme park attraction covered her naked body, slowly, and we see that Jeanne is reaching her climax. I thought the set up for this scene worked well because of the contrast of black and white. Society often looks at sexuality in two ways, either gay or straight, but there are others in between, that deserve the same level of attention. Society also looks at gender the exact same way, boy or girl, black or white.

The second moment, which I found a bit jarring was Jeanne having sex with a man who has been pursuing her. The choice to not have the camera on the characters was interesting. It is a sexual moment that Wittock did not want to show, instead she just wanted us to listen. The man is the only one making any noise, while Jeanne is silent. She is being taken from behind and it is not an intimate, emotional connection. Wittock then shows her face, after he finishes, and her eyes are filled with tears. That is not what she thought sex would feel like. How could something so intimate be so emotionless?

Jumbo is a an interesting watch because of Noémie Merlant, she completely took over the role and held the film together. She had such a beautiful understanding of Jeanne and how to portray her. Wittock took a chance on presenting societal issues in a very abstract way and it was impressive! You cannot take this film at surface value because it will lose the meaning of Jeanne’s journey. There is so much depth to this film and Wittock hits certain beats with ease. It is emotional, unique and a fresh perspective on sexual identity.

‘Umama’ Short Film: Interview With Talia Smith And Malibongwe Mdwaba


By: Amanda Guarragi

Umama written and directed by Talia Smith shows the true story of a mother whose son has gone missing. It is a story of love, loss and acceptance. The morning after Sibongile made a promise to celebrate her son’s academic achievement, she wakes to find he is missing. Sibongile (Connie Chiume) still goes into work and she must care for the children, of her employer, in order to get home and keep her promise. Before heading to NYU, Smith was born and raised in South Africa. She wanted to highlight these stories in the most honest way. Smith had a personal connection to the story because of her childhood. She had a second mother, which is an Americanized way of labelling her as a ‘domestic worker’. Smith wanted to showcase her heritage through these special relationships.

What started out as a class assignment for Talia Smith had turned into a very important film exploring South African culture,

“This is a very common South African story, but on top of that, non-South Africans can relate to the universal theme but also start to see South Africans, not only their stories, but their talent. There are so many incredible stories so I hope that comes across to non-South Africans audiences.”

– Talia Smith, Umama

The beauty of this story is the connection between Sibongile and the children she cared for, even the dynamic between the mother (her employer) and Sibongile. There is a level of respect and love that can only be felt by those who have experienced connections such as theirs. It is essentially like choosing your own family and at the end of the day, they will support you through anything. That is the love that is shared in this film. Sibongile is having a difficult time with her teenage son Thabiso (Malibongwe Mdwaba). She feels detached from his life but Thabiso is trying to venture out and create his own path.

When watching Umama, we see both perspectives in a balanced way. The worried mother, who is trying her best to work and raise her son. And the teenager, who is trying to survive his high school years by making the right decisions. When asked about his own connection to Thabiso, Mdwaba said,

“To be taken back to that sort of timeline, gave me the time to see the bigger picture and heal from those moments. It really spoke to the kind of work that I love doing. That’s any work that has to do with mirroring society, in the most truthful manner and rarely do we get those stories, where we are literally not fabricating anything and we are just telling it as it is.”

– Malibongwe Mdwaba, Umama

We have all gone through our own hardships, in our teenage years and Mdwaba used this character to heal from his own experiences. There was so much thought, care and love that went into this story.

What Smith and Mdwaba hope audiences gain from this story is the connectivity of human relationships. It does not matter how you are connected to the other person, all that matters is the love and respect that is shared. Smith has had discussions with psychologists that deal with families in a lot of these situations and she is trying to create a toolkit,

“Once people have watched the film, if you relate to a character you will be able to kind of see how you fit into that category and figure out something that you may need, or how you can help other people in your life find resources.”

– Talia Smith, Umama

To see an extension of love and support in this way through filmmaking, just shows how genuine Smith is. Her stories will always be rooted in something honest and personal. It is a reflection of how she sees the world and how she wants people to perceive it through universal themes.

One Night in Miami Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

One night, in 1960s Miami, four men come together from different professional backgrounds to discuss important social issues. Those men were Malcolm X (Kinglsey Ben-Adir), Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.). The majority of the film takes place in a motel room and the dialogue exchanged was gripping because of the incredible chemistry from the cast. The film is directed by Regina King and it is based on the stage play One Night in Miami written by Kemp Powers.

The structure of this film worked really well because it showed each character separately, living their lives and then they come together in Miami. That one night, the night Cassius Clay became the champ and beat Sonny Liston was a special night. Not only because Clay won, or Malcolm X joined him in front of the press, but the aftermath of that night and what it gave the world. It is a very simple film but the screenplay by Powers dives into many conversations and holds your attention the whole way through. The chemistry between the four of them was incredible and their performances were great.

(left) Leslie Odom Jr., Aldis Hodge, Kingsley Ben-Adir and Eli Goree
Courtesy of Amazon Studios

The conversations had between Sam Cooke and Malcolm X were interesting to listen to because they both approached Black power in a different way. Cooke wanted to learn the system and understand how to turn it inside out from the inside track, especially being in the music industry. Whereas Malcolm X wanted their community to unify and stand against the oppressor. Both ideals are right in their own way and it definitely created tension between the two of them. There were such strong moments from all four characters but Eli Goree stole the spotlight with his portrayal of Cassius Clay. We all know that Clay was cocky and outspoken but old footage doesn’t do him justice, so Goree’s performance was great to watch.

Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Regina King’s direction was subtle and effective. She took the stage play and made it her own. It felt effortless as everything flowed from scene to scene, even light conversations to deeper ones. Even though the film takes place in one room for majority of the runtime, it’s the dialogue that holds you and the way King focused on her actors. She brought out such fantastic performances and the way she moved them through each scene was strong. Plays that are adapted for the screen can sometimes be tedious and very static in their atmosphere but King explores every aspect of this one night.

One Night in Miami is a very strong directorial debut for Regina King. It highlights the Black experience and the history of these four important figures. The conversations shared between them are always necessary, even if they’re hard to discuss. Hearing them discuss their own experiences and what they wish for the future was very important. If you enjoy films with heavy dialogue and intellectual conversations about society then this is something that you will enjoy.