Crime / Drama

IMDb Rating 7.1 10 2469


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Movie Reviews

Reviewed by moonspinner55 6 / 10

Not an easy film to like, but one ends up admiring it anyhow...

Barbara Loden, the wife of film director Elia Kazan, wrote, directed and stars in this portrait of a born loser in blue-collar Pennsylvania. Wanda is the perfect bad example: she's poorly educated, unemployed, a doormat for any available man...and when she walks into a bar one night to use the bathroom, she has no idea the lone man inside is actually robbing the place. Loden, who looks like a bedraggled version of Joanne Woodward in some of her hick roles, also helped to raise the funds for this picture, which played film festivals and garnered good critical buzz yet wasn't widely distributed. The uneven sound is fuzzy, the camera-work is all over the place, and the lenient editing allows scenes to ramble on far longer than necessary (also the baby screaming during the film's opening five minutes was a big mistake). However, despite these serious faults, the movie has a realistically squalid, hopeless ambiance that is, at times, touching, pathetic, ingenuous and very natural. A bumpy ride, but worthwhile for fans of character studies. **1/2 from ****

Reviewed by the red duchess 8 / 10

One of those one-offs that makes you glad of the American cinema.

At last! An American director who can ingest European influences maturely, not as a superficial and desperate plea for depth. In its tale of a woman drifting through a barren landscape, falling in with abusive or indifferent men; in its distanced style, its pared down performances and dialogue, its long takes of nothing in particular, or rather, of everything, of life, mundane actions, of people looking and finding and doing; in its use of the crime genre for anti-generic and anti-narrative ends; in its restrained use of religious symbolism culminating in an enigmatic scene in a catacombs, one is reminded of Bresson - less rigorous, maybe, but less misogynistic too, more open.

The central relationship and road movie format reminds me of 'La Strada'; the bank robbery an absurdist take on 'Gun Crazy'. Mostly, this is a wonderful one-off, and it is a real crime that its maker only made this one film, while her husband was allowed over twenty.

Reviewed by theskulI42 9 / 10

Devastatingly barren void = incredible verite experience

A stark and deliberate downer of a character study, Barbara Loden's Wanda is a captivating and unfairly forgotten addition to the indie American New Wave, that also shows the indie American New Wave what 'indie' REALLY means. The film's theatrical non-history is well documented in each review of the film: Wanda was screened, briefly, in one theater in New York, was fairly acclaimed, then vanished, before being championed by the European crowd a decade later, and perhaps finally getting a bit of the credit it deserves by appearing on the TSPDT top 1000 films list, which was, like many other obscurities, excellent and terrible alike, my impetus for seeing it.

The film is a grim and protracted look at a aimless, desultory layabout named Wanda (director Barbara Loden). She abandons her husband and children (we are witness to their divorce proceedings, he annoyed and impatient, she blank and tardy), and hers is a life filled with ennui and survival. She sleeps on couches, drinks and smokes to excess and goes home with men just to have a roof over her head. One night, she enters a closed bar, and finds a pacing man named Mr. Dennis (Michael Higgins) who turns out to be robbing the place. She follows him back to his hotel room, and ends up accompanying him on a sort of pseudo-road trip (in a stolen car, no less), packed to the gills with the Cassavetes special: two broken people (one volatile and dominating, the other crumpling and submissive) who somehow sort of counteract one another.

There is an emptiness to this film that recalls the ennui of the characters in one of the all-time greats, Antonioni's L'Avventura, but here, it's saddening in a more personal way because we are meant to empathize with the wastrel at the film's core. She is a hollow vacuum, devoid of interest and barren of meaning, so she is constantly on the move, but oblivious and unable to attach herself in any meaningful way to anything in her world. By the time she's getting inexplicably drafted into a bank robbery, it becomes clear that perhaps she's content to stay with Dennis simply because he'll put up with her and never follows through on his threats of expulsion.

Wanda features a cast of stiff, amateurish male actors, with an actress at its core whose performance is virtuoso in its realism. There's not a single moment in the film that doesn't feel natural, and with its slow pace, down-to-earth plot line, and the rough graininess of the film stock itself (it was filmed on 16mm and blown up to 35mm), it resembles nothing more than a heartbreaking bit of documentary film-making, as I have absolutely zero doubt that there are hundreds upon thousands of people in these exact sort of situations, uninhabited shells sleepwalking through life, finding nothing and accepting it readily..

Barbara Loden, despite being married to a fellow director, Elia Kazan, made this film, and this film only, and it's really quite sad in its own right. It took John Cassavetes, an acknowledged master, 15 years to make something in this style with the confidence and impact that Barbara Loden got on her first try, and really, I feel shortchanged because, unlike her titular character, Barbara Loden had all the potential in the world, but sadly, almost none of that energy became kinetic, as this heartbreaking f_ck-up ended up her last cinematic will and testament. But the legacy of Wanda endures, and I hope this review will do as much as possible to strengthen it.

{Grade: 8.75/10 (A-/B+) / #5 (of 28) of 1970}

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