The recent furore over race at the Academy Awards helped highlight the fact that film often has an issue with diversity in many forms, not least the lack of female directors. Even those women who have succeeded in the movie industry have tended to be shoehorned into particular categories, such as making romantic comedies and family movies, and then dumped the moment they had a single failure. For example, of the top fifty highest grossing movies ever at the box office, only one had a female director – Jennifer Lee’s Frozen – and even she had a male co-director (Chris Buck).
It’s particularly unusual for women to direct thrillers, making Alice Winocour’s Disorder a rather unusual movie. The film, which is released in UK cinemas on March 25th via Soda Pictures, stars Matthias Schoenaerts as Vincent, a soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder who, having been placed on indefinite leave owing to his diagnosis, is forced to take work as a private security contractor guarding a lavish party at a luxurious French villa. Staying on alone after the bash to guard the beautiful Maryland estate as well as Jesse (Diane Kruger), the wife of its shady owner, and her young son Ali, Vincent becomes more and more convinced that the pair and the estate are the targets for unspecified, highly dangerous enemies.
The well-received film was screened at Cannes as part of the Un Certain Regard section of the festival. It was one of the few movies directed by a woman at the festival, and the only thriller. Women really do have an uphill struggle in the film industry, as even successes – such as Kathryn Bigelow winning the Best Picture Oscar for The Hurt Locker and box office hits like Catherine Hardwicke’s Twilight and Sam Taylor-Johnson’s Fifty Shades Of Grey – seem to have little impact on those in charge of the purse strings.
It’s a situation where men with little or no feature film experience can be given massive budget movies – for example Colin Trevorrow had only made the micro-budget Safety Not Guaranteed before Jurassic World, while the recent Deadpool marked Tim Miller’s feature-film debut. Female directors meanwhile tend to have to work much harder before anyone will take a chance on them with a larger budget film, and then with every film it almost feels like the system is waiting for them to fail so that can say they were right about female directors being risky to hire. After all, while Kathryn Bigelow made massive strides into almost exclusively male-directed genres with films like Near Dark, Blue Steel, Point Break and Strange Days, it only took a single failure – K-19 The Widomaker – to see her cast into the wilderness. Even The Hurt Locker – made after a gap of six years where she couldn’t get any films financed – had to be made independently as no one would take a chance on her, despite her earlier success working within the mainstream system.
All this means that for someone such as Alice Winocour to make a movie such as Disorder is a real achievement. It also shows a desire not to be pigeonholed. Following the praise received for her 2012 debut, Augustine, it would probably have been easier for her to stay with the world of period drama, or to get funding for a traditionally ‘female’ focused film. Instead she wrote Disorder and in doing so helped prove why female voices should be heard more in all genres. Many thrillers have a tendency to treat female characters as a cipher – purely there to look pretty and be in peril. However, while Disorder has a male character at its centre, Diane Kruger is given a fully fleshed character in her own right, adding a dimension to the film that is often lacking.
Even so, the movie joins a sadly short list of female-directed thrillers. They do exist, such as Mary Harron’s American Psycho and Mimi Leder’s The Peacemaker, but they are incredibly rare.
To put into context how difficult it can be for female directors, a recent report revealed that of the top 250 films of 2015, only seven percent were directed by women. That wasn’t because the female-directed movies were worse – it was because so few of them were made, particularly within the mainstream system (of the top 700 movies, 13% were directed by women, suggesting those women who are able to make films are largely doing so in the truly independent and international arenas). Most disturbingly, 7% was actually fewer female-directed movies than a similar report done 18 years before, suggesting the situation for female directors is actually getting worse.
Disorder is evidence of what a ridiculous situation that is, and we can only hope that it is at the vanguard of female directors not being shoehorned into particular genres, and being given more opportunities to make a full breadth of different types of films. In fact, let’s hope they get to make more movies full stop. The film industry still has massive amounts of work to do until there is real parity – not just for female directors, but also for actresses, female writers and in most other jobs too – but perhaps filmmakers like Alice Winocour can point the way.