Wanda. The name alone is an exercise in brevity, with saying as little as possible while still conveying what needs to be conveyed. That is pretty much the only reason I can justify what Wanda, the film, manages to do, which is extremely little and almost nothing you haven’t seen before. The director and star, Barbara Loden, was the wife of Elia Kazan, and this would be the only film she would direct before her passing from cancer in 1980. I won’t make light of her death, especially since she didn’t have the time to rise and grow as a filmmaker, but I will say that it’s a little sad that this was the only work she would be able to do and to give the world before her premature death. Other filmmakers, even with their first films, have done better.
The Wanda of the title is a meek and timid woman who has just left her husband and kids for seemingly no good reason, and ends up getting with a man she meets while he is mugging a bar owner, following him around while he does his thing (a la criminal actions). Anything more than that, I really could care less about telling you; there is an overwhelming feeling of apathy and ennui throughout Wanda, and that bleeds out of the screen into our eyes and into our minds as well, making us feel as disconnected and generally empty-headed as Wanda herself. Sure, this may have been Loden’s intention, and if so then she has succeeded, but as I’ve said countless times before, I grade films on their entertainment value, and watching a film that sinks you into depression and then holds your head under the water for all 100 minutes of its running time does not an entertaining experience make. And this is without yet bringing up the technicals. What tends to bug me about independent films is that the directors/cinematographers/filmmakers/whoever don’t seem to know how to really use the equipment they have. There’s a shot, for instance, near the beginning of Wanda, that follows the title character from a good distance away as she walks across a bridge and through mounds of dirt. The camera does an okay zoom in on Wanda, but then, as she gets into the center of the frame, the camera moves, with tiny little jerks, to the right to keep Wanda in the center of the frame. Why does it do this movement, which so easily takes us out of the film and alerts us to the fact that, hey, this is an amateur film? Because the cameraguy either wanted or needed to keep Wanda in frame, and that was the only way (or the easiest way) he knew how to do it, that’s why. Also, what is with independent filmmakers and their constant use of handheld camera? To me, all that does is let everyone who’s watching the film know that this is not a professional production, that even with the small or micro budgets they have, they didn’t see fit to buy and learn how to use a tripod. And even the shots in this film that were tripod shots always, always, had movement in them, telling me that the filmmakers don’t know how to properly frame a shot. Everything in the film was like this, from the camerawork to the script to what I can only assume was Loden’s direction, which derived way too much from other independent films of the time, without bringing anything of its own to the table. That, and the actors aren’t all that great, with the exception of Loden, who seems to at least know her way around.
Words cannot describe how bored I was watching Wanda. That the film was so poorly made to boot was only the final nail in the coffin. I’ll give it a point or two for trying, and for importance (if nothing else), but that’d be it. Wanda might have been a significant film, in that it was directed by a woman and was wholly independent, which combined together make for a rarity of a film almost to the level of Within Our Gates. But, just like Within Our Gates, just because this one may be deemed important does not mean it is any good. The only thing I could do would be to describe the plot of Wanda in detail to you, so that you would not have to see it for yourself. But, I was so disconnected from the viewing experience watching this film that I really don’t even want to do that for you; I don’t even want to make the effort to, and that’s how Wanda made me feel, and I don’t like feeling that way.
Arbitrary Rating: 5/10