featured screening: “The Love Witch”

I was excited to feature Harvard Film Archive’s screening of Paris, Texas this week, a single showing on Saturday afternoon with director Wim Wenders appearing in-person to talk about the movie. It’s one of my favorite bittersweet films, one of the only starring roles for the great character actor Harry Dean Stanton (who passed away last year), and one of my favorite film scores from any movie in any era (a beautiful, finger-picked acoustic guitar score from Ry Cooder). But the screening sold out a week in advance with reservations from members, before tickets ever went on sale to the general public. That should teach me to become an HFA member!

Instead I’ll shine a spotlight on a curious feminist genre film from 2016, Anna Biller’s The Love Witch. This is a cult film of sorts — I saw it when it first came out during a VERY short run at Kendall Square, but it has since popped up a few times in special screenings. I saw it again in October at a remarkably full house at the Somerville Theatre, and the Brattle is screening it this week as part of a tribute to the studio Oscilloscope.

A tribute in equal parts to cheap devil-worship films of the late ’60s and early ’70s and to Technicolor melodrama, the film is an odd pastiche. It’s something like a parody, with campy performances and music cues, but with costumes and set decorations straight out of a Jacques Demy musical. Samantha Robinson steals the show as the difficult protagonist Elaine. A beautiful young sorceress, she wants to find a man to fall in love with her but is always disappointed by the weak, un-masculine traits revealed in the men she seduces when they start to become obsessed with her. The film is critical of Elaine’s backward views on gender roles — she thinks a woman’s job is to do whatever it takes to make her man happy, no matter what he expects of her, and to perform the role of male fantasy — and empathetic with her plight — men in her life fear the power of her sexuality and try to tame or contain her at every turn. It’s a complicated film about gender theory and feminist film theory, disguised as a sexy horror comedy.

It runs a bit longer than it needs to and there are some scenes (like the long RenFair mock wedding) that would hit the cutting room floor if it were my film, but it’s an absolute treat. Samantha Robinson is a star and the film is fun enough to enjoy on a surface level and challenging enough to debate at length. Handmade by filmmaker Anna Biller (seriously, check out how many roles she is credited with), don’t miss seeing The Love Witch on the big screen when you can — I don’t know how much longer Boston-area programmers will keep giving us chances to discover it again every six months!

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Screening this week in 35mm at the Brattle Theatre at 9:30pm on Thursday, April 12 as part of the series “Oscilloscope 10th”. 

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