In recent years, female filmmakers have been carving out a space for themselves in the American West, redefining a genre and a place that is has historically been depicted as the terrain of lonely male cowboys and vigilantes. There have been period pieces like Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog, and Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff and First Cow, as well as contemporary stories set in the west, such as Chloe Zhao’s The Rider and Nomadland, and Reichardt’s Certain Women. These films bring a new realism to the western as they widen the lens to center female characters and to incorporate themes of friendship, romance, and community.
A woman writes to her fourteen-year-old daughter. Not letters but a manual. She tries to offer advice on how to live in Germany in the early twenty-first century. There are the practical matters, the dos and don’ts that are imposed on each member of society depending on the stratus he or she belongs to. There are also the more nuanced aspects of human interaction such as friendship, why it matters, and how it could be lost. The woman writes in present tense, without much ornament, it flows and flows, and in the act of writing the woman is being transformed.
Petite Maman, Céline Sciamma’s fifth feature-length film, following 2019’s critically acclaimed Portrait of a Lady on Fire, is a time travel story that reminded me of one of my favorite movies from childhood: Back to the Future. Aesthetically, the two have very little in common—one is an art house movie with unknown child actors, the other a somewhat goofy studio feature starring Michael J. Fox—but at the narrative core of both films is a deep psychological wish that many children harbor: to know their parents when they were younger. In Back to the Future, a teenage Marty McFly accidentally travels back in time to meet his parents at the beginning of their high school romance. In Petite Maman, eight-year-old Nelly stumbles into a kind of woodland passageway through which she can visit her mother’s childhood and play with her mother as an eight-year-old girl. In this alternate reality, Nelly also interacts with her maternal grandmother who, in Nelly’s present-day timeline, has recently passed away.
Breaking the Rules of Time Travel: A Film Review of Celine Sciamma’s Petite Maman
There are books of poems that in their creation seem, for the poet, to rise out of a sheaf like an oasis, something unknown, unmapped, to be discovered in all its vivifying magic. Then there are books of poems that the poet always seemed to know the map to, where a central insight or trope allowed the book to unscroll itself in the poet’s tongue and brain and heart.
I didn’t have much awareness of overnight childcare centers until I watched Through the Night, a documentary about a married couple, Deloris and Patrick Hogan, who run Dee’s Tots, a 24-hour daycare in New Rochelle, New York. Sadly, I don’t think my ignorance is unusual, and is likely shared by the many members of Congress who have consistently declined to fund public childcare, even after the pandemic revealed how necessary it is to working parents. Although not overtly political, Through the Night is quietly radical as it shines a light on the work of caregiving. It’s highly skilled labor that is essential to the health of children and families, yet childcare workers are often overworked and underpaid. To the extent that the government has childcare policies, they are designed to fit a model of a nuclear family with one stay-at-home parent. Director Loira Limbal shows the reality: many parents (usually mothers) are raising children on their own, and their jobs do not offer the pay, benefits, or flexibility to accommodate child-rearing.
For our September round of Friday Reads, we spoke to two recent online contributors: Kaori Fujimoto, author of the dispatch “Shinjuku Golden Gai and the Midnight Diner,” and Sophie Crocker, author of the story “Lyuba Boys.” Their recommendations both speak to the power of language; an American author journeys toward writing in Italian, and a new collection of poems challenges English as a weapon of colonialism.
Recommendations: In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri and Pilgrim Bell by Kaveh Akbar
In Tara Westover’s bestselling 2018 memoir, Educated, a wildly intelligent young woman finds herself stuck working in her family’s junkyard, unable to leave her isolated Idaho town even as she longs to go to college. Public school is forbidden by her fundamentalist Mormon father, so she is homeschooled with her siblings and forced to scrap metal in illegal and unsafe conditions. Westover’s gripping story of escape captivated readers across the country, and I found myself thinking of it as I watched Nicole Riegel’s directorial debut, Holler, which concerns a young woman facing similar challenges.
In the June edition of Friday Reads, our Managing Editor and two of our volunteer readers recommend books that have refreshed and engaged them as the start of summer creeps closer. Read onward for reflections on translation, the lasting and often problematic legacy of novels, and the importance of maintaining hope.
Recommendations: Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri, Without a Map by Meredith Hall, Lolita in the Afterlife edited by Jenny Minton Quigley
Amidst the warmer days and rainy weather, we at The Common are busy preparing to release our spring issue. In this month’s Friday Reads, we’re hearing from our Issue 21 contributors on what books have been inspiring and encouraging them through the long, dark winter. Read their selections, on everything from immigration to embracing loneliness in pandemic times, and pre-order your copy of the upcoming issue here.
Recommendations: The Poetry of Rilke by Rainer Maria Rilke, Transit by Anna Seghers, Stroke By Stroke by Henri Michaux, By the Lake by John McGahern.
We’re starting 2021 with a Friday Reads packed with recommendations set everywhere from the wilderness of British Columbia to modern day Nigeria. Recommenders from the TC team reflect on how their recent reading tackles issues of gender and sexual identity, strained familial relationships, and of course, a classic murder mystery or two.
Recommendations: My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier, We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, The Reconception of Marie by Teresa Carmody, The Wild Heavens by Sarah Louise Butler, The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi