It isn’t referenced much in any well-informed critical “film” discussions. It isn’t typically put forth as a shining example of 80s cinema, or women-directed cinema, or Madonna-starring cinema. It probably isn’t used in many film classes. It isn’t especially well-remembered today, except as a kind of style footnote within the singer’s long and storied career. And yet, I would easily count Desperately Seeking Susan among my favorite films. And I consider it Important.
Ah, October, a month when talking obsessively about slashers, vampires, haunted houses, killer aliens, werewolves, and dismemberment is generally socially condoned. I have been enormously enjoying my own spooky season, an extension of my personal exploration of horror over the past year. Though I’ve seen many new-to-me horror films recently, it has been especially heartening to check out a few titles written and/or directed by women, which aren’t exactly common. Two of my favorites so far are the lycanthropy-as-metaphor-for-puberty drama Ginger Snaps, written by Karen Walton, and the body-mod gorefest American Mary, written and directed by the Soska Sisters.
The instinct to collect may be a basic part of human nature; we acquire and amass and stockpile a variety of things, be it nostalgic keepsakes, artistic treasures, emergency snacks, or cherished memories. Parents hold on to their children’s baby teeth, bibliophiles fill their houses with books, sports fans hunt down memorabilia from their favorite teams; my own mother dutifully collected Longaberger baskets for a good ten years. I myself collect all manner of things, often to the level of hoarding, but that is a discussion for another day. Perhaps this shared tendency is why the work of Joseph Cornell strikes a chord within so many, as I have yet to meet anyone who dislikes his thoughtful and intricate assemblages of found objects.
When university student Hana meets a quiet, lonely man in one of her lectures, the attraction is instantaneous. She soon discovers he is the last of a family of wolf-people, but that does not change her feelings for him. They move in together and have two children, and tragically he is killed in an accident shortly after the second child is born. Hana quickly realizes her offspring are shapeshifters, with the ability to turn into wolves, and she moves her family out to the country with the hope that they’ll be safe from prying eyes and can find a way to reconcile their dichroic heritage by being closer to nature.
A trio of unkempt men living in hidden underground rooms in the forest are forced to flee when a gang of armed men (including a priest) raid their home. Their leader, Camiel (Jan Bijvoet), runs to a large, isolated estate and begs its owner–self-interested businessman Richard (Jeroen Perceval)–to allow him to use their shower. He refuses, and soon physically beats Camiel when he claims to have known Richard’s wife, Marina (Hadewych Minis). She takes pity on him and secretly invites him to use their bathroom, going so far as to make him dinner and agreeing to put him up in their guest house for a few nights as long as he keeps himself hidden. He soon ingratiates himself into her and her young children’s lives, and facilitates the dissolution of her marriage by sending her nightmares about Richard.