Often times, female characters are given only lip service, and to me, that is more offensive than a director like Kurosawa leaving them out of the film all together.
I have seen many great, interesting, and essential performances from female actresses, among my favorite are Massina in Nights of Cabiria, and Hepburn in The Lion in Winter.
Every character in every film is interesting and essential. Otherwise they wouldn’t be there.
When I think of great characters or performances, many of them are women. Masina in Nights of Cabiria is one of them, but here are others:
Falconetti The Passion of Joan of Arc
Gena Rowlands A Woman Under the Influence
Isabelle Huppert Story of Women
Joan Crawford Johnny Guitar
Emily Watson Breaking the Waves
Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton gave an amazing, performance, and I really need to see more from her.
sure there are plenty of characters in film that are non-essential. Why does Batman need a love interest, and why is that love interest only paid lip service? There are other examples, in films far greater than Batman; but often times, a male, or female character will be seemingly tacked onto the story just so that the writer can try and add another layer to the main character.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
She (Batman’s love interest) is essential in her lack of need in the film. It comments on the film, filmmaker, and audience that she is unneeded, and still there.
All characters are essential.
Yeah, that was a pretty good character/performance—probably not great or “esssential,” though.
In a similar vein, Sigourney Weaver in the Alien films.
Harriet Andersson / Through a Glass Darkly
Ruan Lingyu / The Goddess
Madhabi Mukherjee / Charulata
Nora Aunor / Himala
Leonor Silveira / Abraham Valley
Maria Amélia Matta / Benilde or the Virgin Mother
Renate Krößner / Solo Sunny
Margarete Schön / Kriemhild’s Revenge
Pina Pellicer / Autumn Days
Margarita Terekhova / The Mirror
Leila Hatami / Leila
Anne Wiazemsky / Au hasard Balthazar
Sharmila Tagore / Days and Nights in the Forest
Hideko Takamine / When a Woman Ascends the Stairs
Dominique Sanda / A Gentle Woman
Ana Torrent / The Spirit of the Beehive
Delphine Seyrig / Jeanne Dielman
Nadine Nortier / Mouchette
Dolores del Río / María Candelaria
Lena Duarte / In Vanda’s Room
Smita Patil / Bhumika: The Role
There’s so many to name. But I don’t think there can be any discussion of essential, iconic female characters without at least a mention of Jane Fonda’s Bree Daniels (Klute, Pakula 1971). Truly a door-opening performance in post-feminist Hollywood (like Ellen Burstyn’s Alice would be a few years later) – and its importance is probably amplified by the fact that Fonda remains, of course, one of the most outspoken, radically leftist female political activists of our era, celebrity or otherwise.
Julianne Moore in Safe is top of mind since I just watched it.
Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton (which I love no matter what y’all think).
Samantha Morton in Morvern Callar—interesting if not reprehensible.
Are there interesting and non-essential female characters out there? You guys are naming some central characters. How could they not be essential?
I don’t know about non-essential, but as far as a character who was not a central character, I thought that Jodie Foster was terrific in Taxi Driver.
Loved Jodie Foster, but I think she was important — she became the focus of why he went on a rampage.
No one is gonna mention Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s females?
Hanna Schygulla in The Marriage of Maria Braun?
Margit Carstensen in The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant?
There are essential female characters that do not even appear on screen: Rebecca.
Gelsomina in La StradaHari in Solaris — one of the most haunting female characters in film historySaskia in The Vanishing — Only has a brief appearance at the beginning of the movie, but one of the most fascinatingly complex and human performances I have ever seen.Debbie (Samantha Morton) in Control
To address both the OP and Odilonvert, I think that all of the female characters in The Hours really left such different yet powerful impressions on me. Obviously NK as Virginia was integral to the entire plot of the film, Julianne Moore’s unsatisfied housewife/mother probably left the most lasting impact on me, and Streep’s character added another layer of complexity to the story. But beyond those three main characters I felt Alisson Janey as Streep’s girlfriend and Claire Danes as her daughter also were important and complex, albeit brief, roles. Toni Collette’s as Moore’s friend who wanted all the Moore didn’t, and yet couldn’t have it, well I can’t tell you how much that scene, even though it is Collette’s only one in the film, left such an emotional stamp on my heart. I have some very personal connections to that storyline as well, but I think that even without that connection there is something powerful about that part of the story, and that brief yet extremely crucial scene. And even Mrs. Dalloway, the character Virginia was creating was essential. And, perhaps more of a stretch, but even Moore’s daughter, who is never seen, never heard from, is never even fully alive at any point of the film, still left me thinking. What did she think about her mother’s choice. Did she become caregiver to her older brother after her father died? What path did she choose in life.
Jodie Foster’s character was the catalyst in Taxi Driver. Couldn’t be more essential.
anything with Mary Pickford.
in the cup, the best female role is True Heart Susie
Eiko Matsuda as Sada Abe in Nagisa Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses.
If TV actors count, I think Edie Falco’s performances in various premium channel shows are incredible. In Sopranos she could match James Gandolfini, and steal the show from anyone else in the cast.
Liv Ullman is great in many Bergman films.
Arletty in Children of Paradise. The male characters try to reduce her to an object of adoration and she refuses the reduction.
Antonioni gets a lot of really good female performances.
The Lady Eve
or phyllis dietrichson
or catherine in jules and jim
…almost the entire cast of Black Narcissus.
Hence, my earlier statement. All characters are essential. They all work towards shaping our understanding of the film we’re watching.
Without Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver… without Cybil Shepard… without Harvey Keitel… hell, without Albert Brooks and Peter Boyle our perception of the film is altered, and the film itself is a different entity.
IPV – So there are no superfluous characters, male or female?