The Films That Changed My Life: Margaret Pomeranz

March 8, 2016
The famed critic counts down the ten films that shattered her world, and most of them feature a fascinating female protagonist.

“It’s a big ask of cinema, to demand that those 90 to 120 minutes of your life are earth-shattering and life-changing. It happens rarely, but it does happen, and that’s why we’re drawn back again and again into the darkness, to find revelation. These are the films that changed my life. They’re not necessarily by women or about women, but most of them have a woman or women at their core.”


“This is the story of Barbara Graham, played by Susan Hayward, who is convicted of murder. At the end of the film, she is executed. Sorry if that’s a spoiler. I saw this at a very young age, and it made me vehemently against capital punishment, a stance that I’ve held all my life.”


“I remember the earth moving watching this film about two girls being looked after by an eccentric and possibly slightly deranged aunt, played wonderfully by Christine Lahti. It was such a validation of ‘the other.’ It was based on a 1980 novel by Marilynne Robinson, who wouldn’t write another novel for nearly a quarter of a century. Such compassion has rarely been seen on screen.”


“Written by Robert Altman collaborator, Joan Tewkesbury, this sprawling musical comedy/drama reflected the mood of cynicism in the US post-Watergate. It seemed to me a lament for all the lost ideals that we had had about society, with just one tiny note of optimism at the end, despite the turmoil. Nashville galvanised me into being a passionate advocate of cinema.”

IN THE CUT (2003)

“I thought that I was going to faint when I came out of In The Cut, Jane Campion’s adaptation of Susanna Moore’s virtually un-filmable novel. Campion has the ability to plumb subterranean women’s experiences like no other director alive. This is the story of a New York woman, played by Meg Ryan, caught up in a world between sex and death.”


“This is a most beautiful film from Bernardo Bertolucci. It’s a complex depiction of a man, drawn to Fascism in his search for normality, who becomes involved with two women: the one that he marries, played stupendously by Stefania Sandrelli, and the one to whom he is attracted, the wife of the man that he has been sent to assassinate. She’s played by Dominique Sanda, and the dance between these two women in the middle of the film is erotic and beautiful.”


“This was one of the most exquisite film experiences of my life…Jane Campion again. This adaptation of the Henry James novel was perfectly cast, with Nicole Kidman in one of her most devastating roles as Isabel Archer, a young woman determined to forge her own destiny, but whose stubbornness and gullibility lead her into a loveless marriage from which there is no escape. Once again, Campion toys with the themes of sexuality and destruction.”


“This almost forgotten film from Ingmar Bergman is significant to me for one reason. It is the first subtitled film that I ever saw. I realised that there was another whole world of cinema out there so different from the American and British films that I’d seen up until then. There was such a strange, tantalising sensibility in the film. I was mesmerised by the language, and by the fact that a virgin could result in a stye in The Devil’s eye! Poor old Don Juan, who is sent to seduce the virtuous maiden, played by Bibi Andersson.”

ALIEN (1979)

“This groundbreaking film launched the career of Sigourney Weaver. It was the fabulous scary ride of the film and the kick-arse heroine that won me over, plus the truly sublime direction. It has spawned a number of sequels, with James Cameron’s Aliens a ripping follow up. I loathed it when they killed Ripley off in Alien 3, David Fincher’s directorial debut. But now we can look forward to a fifth in the series, with Neill Blomkamp directing and Sigourney Weaver returning.”


“I can remember sitting in a small cinema at The Venice Film Festival, long after the credits had finished and everyone else had left. I found myself incapable of getting up because I was so profoundly moved by the film. It was a brave film to make, not least by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. Based on a short story by Annie Proulx, it’s a wonderful story of so-called forbidden love, and the price that you pay for that in a homophobic society.”

CADDIE (1976)

“This was one of the films that heralded the rebirth of the Australian film industry in the seventies. It’s the story of a woman struggling to survive with her two children in 1925 Sydney. It was part of a grand movement that validated our stories, our language, our culture, our landscapes, and our larrikinism on screen. And it had at its heart the most beautiful performance from Helen Morse as the title character.”

Margaret Pomeranz presents on Foxtel’s Masterpiece Movies, and co-hosts Screen with Graeme Blundell on the Foxtel Arts channel.

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