WANDA (1971) BY BARBARA LODEN
(DVD, PARLOUR PICTURES)
What is the meaning of a single, very particular work of art in the contemporary world of extreme violence and indifference to it? Wanda is the only film made by Barbara Loden, who produced, wrote and directed it and enacted the title role. It is a fine work.
Set in the desolate landscape of Scranton in Pennsylvania’s coal country, Wanda tells the story of a nearly-homeless woman beset: young, attractive, friendless; unable to speak up for herself. “I’m no good,” she says, “I’m no good.” It’s not true, not true, but there is no one to intercede for her.
A leaf in the wind, a waif, Wanda wanders. She allows herself to be picked up and used by any man she encounters. Wanda gives up the custody of her two children to her husband, saying “They’ll be better off with him.” Loden portrays her tremulously, so sensitive she is to Wanda’s predicament, so feminine, so touching.
The film calls to mind Gervaise, starring Maria Schell, similarly responsive to the anti-heroine’s destiny; Rossellini’s Germany Year Zero, in which the central figure, an adolescent boy, finally commits suicide amidst the war ruins, and more recently, the victims of a pitiless violence in the Swedish and French films Lily 4-Ever and Irreversible. The final image of Wanda is Rembrandtian in its humanity and dark tones.