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Monday, August 11, 2014

Recommended!: Ravenous (1999)

There's been some passionate discussion over on Twitter about the state of the female director, asking (quite rightly) why female filmmakers are so woefully underpresent in Hollywood and elsewhere. Even this deep into the 21st century we're still seeing very few movies directed by women getting much by way of release. The Twitter conversation, including the hashtags and , has been useful in spotlighting Hollywood hiring discrepancies and showcasing talent deserving wider recognition. And the hashtag has spotlighted specific works helmed by female directors, uncovering a number of mainstream and independent works well worth seeing.

It was less than a year ago that we lost British director Antonia Bird. She's created a solid body of work in movies and television, largely powerful social dramas that weren't afraid to embrace genre elements. Work like Priest and Face established her as a powerful storytelling force, but I suspect even those versed in her work saw Ravenous coming.

Ravenous is a compellingly gruesome modern-day Western, in which Captain John Boyd (Guy Pearce) is punished for cowardice with an assignment to the distant and snowbound Fort Spencer. There he runs afoul of Colqhoun (longtime Bird collaborator Robert Carlyle), a mysterious loner whose tales of being ambushed conceal dark violence, and a powerful, all consuming hunger.

Given that the debate surrounding what female filmmakers are capable of is even necessary, I don't doubt that there are some who would be surprised that a female director would take on a project like Ravenous. It's a gripping, bloody, and violent piece with an all-male cast. And yet Bird goes deep into Ted Griffin's story, not flinching from its gruesome or mythic aspects. Though Bird denies that Ravenous is an intentional piece of anti-American propaganda, its correlation between cannibalism and Manifest Destiny is laid out quite explicitly. And the apocalyptic showdown between Pearce and Carlyle is harrowing and gripping, and pretty much defuses any notion that female directors can't handle fight scenes. (Indeed, they worked without a fight choreographer - among other things it's one of the best acted fight scenes I've ever seen.)

Though the movie is absolutely not for all tastes, Ravenous is a powerful little picture. An exciting piece of evidence to be entered into the debate over female filmmakers, that scores its points in that debate by simply telling its story, hitting all its bases, and, in the end, blowing you away.


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