Wanda ★★★★½

I went into this not really knowing what to expect, just a vague memory of hearing it was good and interesting, probably based on copy from a Criterion Collection newsletter. But it would be hard to convey exactly what makes this film special with words alone, so it's a good one to go into with limited foreknowledge.

That said, here are a few words about it anyway.

Barbara Loden directs the film and stars as Wanda, a character who is chronically unable to exercise any agency in her own life. This kind of character could easily make for a boring story, but Wanda perfectly embodies the quiet desperation of a person unable to deal with life. There's something visceral about the depiction, an elusive quality that makes the viewer empathize with Wanda on an unusually deep level. We know she's not going to suddenly turn her life around in the third act, but the slow arc of her journey from one bad situation to another is compelling in its own right.

Additionally, it's hard not to see Wanda's plight as an explicit metaphor for the status of women in the mid-20th century. Loden's depiction of contemporary gender dynamics is unsparing and brutal. How can one not see Wanda as a stand-in for all women of the era, and her emotional state as a comment on their exclusion from most parts of "normal" society?

Wanda is both an engaging, unusual story and a unique historical artifact. It's a gem that easily could have been lost to time, and nearly was. But it wasn't, and we're much richer for it. You should watch it.