Beau Travail
Petra Costa: My 5 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
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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.

2
The Piano
1993
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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.

3
Beau Travail
1999
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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.

4
Shirley
2020
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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.

5
The Apple
1998
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For Samira Makhmalbaf’s amazing sensibility and cinematic mastery in portraying the life of two girls that grew up imprisoned in their houses.

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