Review: Women Make Films: A New Road Movie Through Cinema

Women Make Film with Mark Cousins

Women Make Film with Mark Cousins - Credit: Archant

The entire history of female film-makers as told by a man unsurprisingly lacks insight into what they have contributed to cinema

Women Make Film with Mark Cousins

Women Make Film with Mark Cousins - Credit: Archant

Featuring Tilda Swinton, Jane Fonda, Kerry Fox, Adjoa Andoh, Thandie Newton and Sharmila Tagore. Streaming in five parts on BFI Player. Or a Four-disc Blu-ray set.

Running time: 848 mins.

There are precious few mercies offered by this 14-hour exploration of the work of women filmmakers, but one is that writer/director Mark “The Whispering Death” Cousins doesn’t provide the narration.

Instead, a selection of women actors and directors do the voiceover, which seems only right. It’s their voices; reading His words, giving His views, His interpretations of His selection of scenes from the work of 183 female directors.

Mansplaining is avoided; instead 13 decades of female filmmaking is Marksplained to us.

You can’t doubt the man’s enthusiasm but, there is something about his passion that is off-putting rather than engaging. Cousins’ narrates with short, explanatory sentences: a noun followed by an adjective / abrupt/ a description of a camera movement,/ loving,/ a rhetorical question,/ sometimes/ maybe a simile.

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Predominantly though it is a description of what is happening in front of your very eyes. Occasionally, his observations will illustrate the film maker’s methodology, but mostly it’s the obvious - bleeding.

The 14 hours are basically a selection of clips that offer little insight into what women specifically have contributed or added to films. Occasionally, you’re introduced to a clip that perks your interest, but Cousins is usually done with it in less than a minute.

Mercifully the BFI have broken it up into five parts, released weekly since mid-May and now available in its entirety. Too much for me, but I did make it through part four which covers 26 – 34 of the 40 chapters. In the one on sci-fi, Thandie Newton gets to deliver Cousins’ single dumbest line. Controversially, he decides to include the Wachowskis’ Matrix even though Lana and Tilly were Larry and Andy when they made it and both in possession of masculine attributes. Of their later Jupiter Ascending, he has Newton say it is “a feast of design and movement; one of the reasons why it got bad reviews perhaps?” Does that make sense on any level? I can’t speak for other critics, but I know that I got into reviewing to rail against the barrage of design and movement that blights modern-day movies and grievously impairs my appreciation of clichéd stories, tired action and abysmal acting.

1/5 stars

Go to for a review of De Palma’s 70s thriller Obsession, available on BFI Player subscription.