Reviews and notes
1978 Locarno, Toronto
More than perhaps any other classic independent film, Claudia Weill’s Girlfriends
feels like the ür-text of the modern Amerindie, namely for showing the dramatic potential of a small-scale story seemingly about nothing. Its conflicts are so understated that they only come into focus over the period of years that the film covers, with most of the narrative trajectory devoted to patiently observing the characters as they grow together and apart... It moves from a comedy of manners about coming of age into a more reflective study of the various paths life can take and how enviable even the most seemingly rudderless existence can be for some. The film’s seemingly disconnected structure thus comes into sharp relief as carefully planned, revealing the strong direction that guided its listlessness.
- Jake Cole, Slant Magazine, 11 November 2020.
Certian movies grow on you, and Girlfriends
is a case in point. It has to do with the rather commonplace little problems, and the mild case of Angst
, that beset a Jewish girl named Susan, not long out of college and laboriously embarking upon a career as a professional photographer in New York. The girl friend with whom she has been sharing an apartment gets married, and the rift gives Susan a bit of a judder until time brings adjustment, as it will. Time, however, hangs pretty heavy while the manifestly earnest director Claudia Weill is introducing us to Susan and her ho-hummish predicament; but if one is patient for the best part of the first half hour, the film comes good - indeed, very good.
At a time when a fair amount of current cinema seems to be imbued with a high-powered drive best exemplified by Fellini and to a slightly lesser extent Ken Russell, it comes as a change to hark back to the kind of realism attempted here. The danger in the present climate is that what Ms Weill sets before us can so easily look dull. When, after that initial drag, it begins to look otherwise, Susan's doings impart the very whiff of life and thereby hold the unqualified attention, a feat equally attributable to the director and her leading actress, Melanie Mayron, who by perseverance arouses a healthy concern for the girl's well-being.
Susan is not a prepossessing wench. With full moon face and recalcitrant hair that improves only marginally when she has something done about it, the girl slogs on courageously towards the exhibition of her work in a gallery which might presumably give the necessary impetus to her career. On a personal level, missing her platonic relationship with the former room-mate, she gently evades a lesbian liaison with the next one, from who she learns a few beneficial setting-up exercises; and she has a touchy affair, nicely delineated, with a boy whose nerves are closer to the surface than her own, as well as a fleeting passionate throb or two with an ageing rabbi, a character beautifully delineated by Eli Wallach who crowds into his modest share of the footage a world of humanity and sorrow and embarrassment, understated and the truer for that.
Susan's embarrassment, too, as well as her accumulation of minor irritants and her sense of inadequacy, stopping well short of the suicidal mark but hurting a great deal nevertheless, are so eloquently and quietly indicated as to win one's heart completely before the movie has run its course. Claudia Weill and her co-writer Vicki Polon have noted with astute subtlety the pinpricks in the quality of Susan's life: at a party, the glass only half-filled with red wine, to which an ice cube is added by the unjustifiably confident hostess; on a dutiful social call to the ex-room-mate and her husband, the inundation of curiosities and snapshots from their Moroccan honeymoon; in the office of a photo editor who has purchased some of her efforts for a magazine, the deflating perusal of proofs which disclose that one of her favourite shots has been cropped. Small matters, of course — but each one the sort of molehill that adds its quota to the mountain of woe experienced by Susan, and contemplated with interest and compassion as this slow-starting, oddly-titled film gathers its very considerable momentum.
- Gordon Gow, Films and Filming, September 1978.
Sourced from a 4K transfer, the grain and texture of the film’s 16mm photography has been preserved. The natural colors look well-saturated, and there are no visible instances of debris or scratches. Flesh tones are realistic and capture all the blemishes that make the actors look like, well, real people. The soundtrack is clear, with dialogue centered and crisp but for the slight echo of speech in high-ceiling rooms.
- Slant Magazine, 11 November 2020.
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