'Jeune Femme' and 5 films about the lives of modern urban women

18 May 2018 BY Michael Prescott in Film Features

5 mins
Jeune Femme
Jeune Femme

Comedic French language drama Jeune Femme's title translates as "young woman". It follows the life of a 31 year-old, Paula, who has returned to the city of Paris after a lengthy absence only to find herself jobless, homeless and all alone.

This first-time feature film from director Léonor Serraille is the latest in a trend of features which follow the lives of young women in some of the world's biggest cities. It portrays their struggle to navigate urban life, as well as showcasing the societal pressures and expectations placed upon them, from getting married and forging a respectable career to sexuality and religious beliefs.

In Paula's case, she needs to find a new direction in life despite having only a fluffy white cat for company. She embarks on two new jobs - as a babysitter and a salesperson within a store - only to discover that the responsibility which comes with them isn't something she particularly enjoys. She's a people-person, and her larger-than-life, irrepressible personality allows Paula to connect with those around her, new friends and old alike.

It also protects her against difficulty during her hardest and harshest times: despite everything the world throws at her, she's unafraid and unrelenting. Paula may sometimes be self-destructive, but she's also able to self-repair, and her can-do attitude provides inspiration for viewers who may be able to recognise their elements of their own lives, be it through her personality or circumstances, depicted on screen.

Other women who have provided audiences with encouragement in the face of adversity include:

Desiree Akhavan stars in her own semi-autobiographical directorial debut as Shirin, a bisexual Persian living in Brooklyn, attempting to please her family while she struggles to work out her identity and just what it is she wants to do with her life. Her family apparently aren't aware of her sexuality, and her ex-girlfriend Maxine can't fathom why she continues to keep this information a secret. Appropriate Behaviour's plucky protagonist, who must continually juggle identities across social situations, is a reminder that not everyone has it all figured out by the time they hit thirty.

Along similar lines is Noah Baumbach's Frances Ha, a black-and-white comedy drama which takes its cues from the likes of Woody Allen. Co-written and starring Greta Gerwig as the titular character (which no doubt influenced her own filmmaking debut, Lady Bird), Frances, like Shirin, also lives in New York yet struggles to navigate the lure of the city. She's an apprentice for a dance company despite not really being a dancer, and her only confidante in life her best friend Sophie isn't really speaking to her right now. Frances Ha is a film for and about dreamers, and revels in making the most of life - and enjoying the taking part - regardless of your situation.

Set in London, Daphne is the most serious in tone of those listed. A woman in her early thirties who works at a restaurant explores the city's nightlife in her free time. She doesn't want to settle down, but neither does she have any real purpose currently, and so her outgoing personality only serves to mask her developing loneliness and insecurities. After witnessing a violent attack one evening, her priorities slowly begin to change, and this acts as the catalyst for Daphne to reconsider what's most important to her.

Like many of the female protagonists on this list, Happy-Go-Lucky's Poppy - played with such infectious energy and enthusiasm by Sally Hawkins - is, as the film's title suggests, carefree. This film is a lighter, more comedic take on a young woman's London life from established British director Mike Leigh. Poppy is a 30 year-old schoolteacher who resides in Camden and has a similar approach to life as a certain Peruvian bear; she chats to strangers, sees the best in people, and tries to better herself in every way. We bear witness to a number of chapters in her life, mainly the driving lessons she takes with a particularly dour instructor, and the positive influence she has upon him over time.

The Boy Downstairs

One to look out for in the near future is The Boy Downstairs - set to be released into cinemas on 8th June 2018 - a gentle romantic drama which sees a woman re-evaluate her life, and her first relationship, after realising her ex-boyfriend lives in her new building. The first feature film from writer-director Sophie Brooks, this is a low-key, affectionate indie - set in New York like Frances Ha and Appropriate Behaviour - which shares themes with Jeune Femme around relationships, careers and relocation. We learn more about the two characters' past and present over time in this authentic, heart-warming film which features two very likeable performances at its centre.

Michael Prescott

Michael Prescott, Curation Coordinator (Learning)

Michael has an MA in Film Studies with Screenwriting from Sheffield Hallam University. He has previously worked at the British Council and on the BFI Film Academy, and has volunteered at organisations including Sheffield Doc/Fest and Cinema for All.

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