Beau Travail
My Favorite Films by Female Directors
Petra Costa

Petra Costa

Director

Petra Costa directed The Edge of Democracy, which was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 92nd Oscars. Below, Petra shares her five favorite films made by women. Read more about her views on filmmaking here.

I think film has the amazing ability to bring in so many other arts. It can embody literature, it can embody music, it can embody much of theater, all in an alchemy that is very unique to itself, which is the language of dreams in many ways: freely juxtaposed without the limitations of the physical reality. It can go beyond the limitations of time and space, and transgress them, and create this lyrical universe, and put anyone into anyone else’s shoes.

It’s an immersive experience where you’re embodying that other person’s point of view on the world, and their dreams. I remember so many times, feeling extremely frustrated and not being able to communicate to someone else the pain of losing a sister or the pain of losing a democracy—and that would be possible through literature, but the magic of doing it on film and having 300 people leave a cinema embodied by that experience at the same time is really a gift.

1

Cléo From 5 to 7

1962

It’s so daring, so ahead of its time, visually breathtaking, and innovative with language. It’s one of the films that are seminal to the Nouvelle Vague and to auteur cinema in the world. It mixes documentary with fiction in a beautiful way.

WHERE TO WATCH
Cléo From 5 to 7
1962
90 Mins | PG
A French singer (Corinne Marchand) awaits the results of cancer tests.


2

The Piano

1993

WHERE TO WATCH

It’s a film that moves in spirals. Everything is a spiral in that film, and it’s a very beautiful movie. It explores so well this kind of contained female explosion of passion and desire, and the struggle with patriarchy.

WHERE TO WATCH
The Piano
1993
120 Mins | R
Settler's (Sam Neill) mute wife (Holly Hunter) takes a lover (Harvey Keitel) in New Zealand.


3

Beau Travail

1999

It’s a film about military men through such a female gaze. You look at these bodies and they’re almost bodies of a ballet, of an opera. They’re male bodies seen through a female lens so it’s kind of the apex of the female gaze in cinema.

WHERE TO WATCH
Beau Travail
1999
90 Mins | 14A
A former marshal (Denis Lavant) fondly recalls his time in the French Foreign Legion.


4

Shirley

2020

WHERE TO WATCH

I recently saw Shirley by Josephine Decker and was so impressed. It has such a beautiful cinematography and manages to show the inner world of these two women, and the inner world of two creative processes: of a pregnancy and a writing process, and the demons that surround them. It’s also about two women who are the life forces that feed each other, as they are confronting this patriarchal society. It’s edited by David Barker, who is an editor that I’ve worked with a lot. He’s a master filmmaker as well.

WHERE TO WATCH
Shirley
2020
107 Mins | R
A horror writer finds inspiration for her next book after she and her husband take in a couple.


5

The Apple

1998

For Samira Makhmalbaf’s amazing sensibility and cinematic mastery in portraying the life of two girls that grew up imprisoned in their houses.

WHERE TO WATCH
The Apple
1998
85 Mins | PG
Iranian social workers discover twin girls, 11, whose parents locked them up since birth.


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