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James Franco’s Movie Column: Every Aspiring Filmmaker Should Watch ‘In the Shadow of Women’

James Franco's Movie Column: Every Aspiring Filmmaker Should Watch 'In the Shadow of Women'

READ MORE: James Franco’s Favorite Films of 2015

James + Semaj is a column where James Franco talks to his reverse self, Semaj, about new films. Rather than a conventional review, it is place where James and Semaj can muse about ideas that the films provoke. James loves going to the movies and talking about them. But a one-sided take on a movie, in print, might be misconstrued as a review. As someone in the industry it could be detrimental to James’s career if he were to review his peers, because unlike the book industry—where writers review other writer’s books—the film industry is highly collaborative, and a bad review of a peer could create problems. So, assume that James (and Semaj) love all these films. What they’re interested in talking about is all the ways the films inspire them, and make them think. James is me, and Semaj is the other side of me. This week’s column focuses on “In the Shadow of Women,” which opens in limited release on Friday.

James: Wow, I love this.

Semaj: You do?

James: Yeah, don’t you?

Semaj: Yes, I love it because it’s so simple.

James: That’s why I love it.

Semaj: I mean, it’s not just the story that is cut down to the essence — it’s the way it’s shot, the dialogue, the acting style, everything is minimalist.

James: Exactly. Every aspiring filmmaker should watch this film to see how much bang they get out of an economic approach. You don’t need tons of coverage, explosions, guns, or even complicated backstory to make a compelling movie.

Semaj: Okay, so what’s the story?

James: Basically, it follows a couple in Paris. They’re in love. The man makes documentaries — he’s working on one about the French Resistance during WWII, and the woman helps him. The woman’s mother warns her not to gear her whole life around the man, the woman protests that she loves him. Then the man starts an affair.

Semaj: That all happens pretty early.

James: Right, so we’re not really spoiling anything.

Semaj: So why should we care about another story of infidelity? We see that all the time, in life, and on soap operas, in every contemporary novel, and in tons of movies.

James: Right, but, as with most movies that strike us nowadays, often they stand out not because of what story they’re telling, but because of how they tell it.

Semaj: What do you mean?

James: Well, tell me the plot of “The Revenant”?

Semaj: A dude gets left for dead in the woods and he wakes up and vows revenge.

James: What about “Joy”?

Semaj: A woman with a fucked-up family invents the self-wring mop.

James: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”?

Semaj: The Rebels have to protect a thumb drive because it has a map to old man Luke Skywalker.

James: Right. They’re all super simple. But you throw in an amazing bear attack, sleeping naked in a horse carcass, awesome comedic performances by Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro, and recreate in retro style of the galaxy far, far away that everyone remembers and loves…and those stories become amazing films.

Semaj: Very true, very true. So, the style in “In the Shadow of Women”? I guess it makes everything feel very natural.

James: Yeah, but it’s more than that. It’s shot in black and white, and with a limited number of fixed shots, rather than handheld, so it doesn’t feel quite as naturalistic as a Dardenne brothers movie. It’s got a bit of cinematic framing.

Semaj: Right. They’re not going for a documentary style. By “cinematic framing” you mean they’re using some conventions to remind us that this is a movie, a work of art; we’re not just observing people go through situations as if it were real life; that, as simple as it is, it is still elevated to something a little more heightened than realism.

James: There is even a narrator in this thing. He comes in every so often to tell us about the interior life of the characters.

Semaj: In that way it feels novelistic, or like a Lars Von Trier film, such as “Dogville” or “Nymphomaniac.”

James: Yeah, except that this movie isn’t as cruel to its characters as Von Trier.

Semaj: No, it deals with some uncomfortable situations, but nobody is killed, or raped, or has their dick smashed.

James: The black and white, and the fun the filmmakers have with their approach to shooting, and the voiceover, makes me think of the French New Wave.

Semaj: That’s interesting. But the French New Wave used a ton of handheld, and jump cuts, and freeze frames, and everything else in the book. This movie shoots every scene from a minimal amount of fixed angles; sometimes whole scenes are shot from a single angle and the actors move within the frame.
James: You’re right. Maybe I’m thinking more of the Neo-New Wavers like Noah Baumbach and Wes Anderson.

Semaj: Maybe, but a simplified version of what those guys do. Baumbach often uses quick cuts to make everything move, and Anderson obviously puts tons of work into production design. “In the Shadow of Women” doesn’t move quickly. It’s very measured.

James: Okay, okay, we get it — this movie is done in a minimalist fashion.

Semaj: Although sometimes the transitions between scenes have great energy because they make large time jumps, or unexpected shifts in scene.

James: Still, it’s very restrained.

Semaj: I know I keep talking about it, but I really think it gets so much of its power from its simplicity. And it’s one of the reasons that a simple relationship story suddenly becomes compelling.

James: Okay, explain that last part.

Semaj: Because there are so few cuts in the movie, the actors set the pace in each scene. The film isn’t cutting back and forth between them on every line, which would allow the filmmakers to set the pace and rhythm. Instead, because there aren’t many edits, the actors are called upon to pace the scenes, as in a play.

James: The director is pretty old.

Semaj: Not that old. It’s Philippe Garrel. He’s 67.

James: Okay, it’s not that old, but he’s making a movie about young people in a style that young people should be embracing.

Semaj: Damn right they should. I’m going to recommend this movie to all my graduate film students. They should all aspire to making a first feature as concise and as powerful as this one.

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Oh Jamea Franco. I just want to hog tie you and tickle you until you pee your pants. And TO ALL YOU IDIOTS AND MORONS… MEET YOUR LEADER!!! BOB^^^


Trailer reminds me of Ida, which is another minimalist movie aspiring movie makers should see.


I’m done with all this hipster black and white bull crud. Play an effinh video game for a few weeks straight. Join the rest of us why don’t cha? Nothing wrong with a little attention deficit. Movies were simple and boring back in the day because they didn’t have the technology we have today. That’s why Star Wars is a killing at the box office. Because space ships and light sabers are boss. Stop trying to be so different and just realize lame is lame not cool. Don’t be a bore, be a you know what like the rest of us!


Thanks James, this was very enlightening to someone not even in the business but just a fan. I’ll watch this film whenever I get the chance and have this stuff in mind.

Btw never mind the sneaky bitter comments from others here I mean really, what’s wrong with people being so jealous. They’re certainly not in the film industry as they would flunk collaboration rule #1. Geez. If people would simply lighten up and see the both hilarious and smart and educational ways of Francoshizzland then they’d take away all the goodies only from this column.
Keep up the great work, James.


I’m always amazed by the bitter jealousy shown towards this man! Star Wars spoiler? Oh, by the way, ‘Rosebud’ was a SLED! Sorry!!! As for the ‘Petty Punctuation Police’? Did the Nuns humiliate you in parochial school?

James’s’s films and books are out there because he’s a talented guy, and because people want to watch/read them! His column is here for those of us who are interested in what he is saying, and like the way he says it. Thank you, J&S, for another great column (and for your unique style).

To the pointless critics? Did you find any errors in my post? I don’t care! Now, get me a straw for my Slurpee before I report you to your manager.

James Franco's glaring insecurities

James, your books are a joke, your acting is terrible, and based on the caption where you describe the laughable premise of this article, you don’t know how to use apostrophes. Plural possessive is "writers’" not "writer’s" you fucking moron.


Forza ragazzi!

E vai forza ragazzi.

Ayoola Opere

Lovely read. The shoot style described depicts the standard Woody Allen shoot/film style


Hey Missy …I don’t even like Star Wars but don.t spoil things for others…..CHILL…I love James Franco but I think he has lost it…..Can’t explain why he does such crap….He is so talented….


Star Wars has been out for a month now, can’t expect the entire world to wait because you’re behind in the world. Catch up.

Robby G

Trailer makes me think Closer; Unfaithful; and Haneke. Am I right?

John Barrow

Oh, shut up James. Its bad enough having one of you, let alone Semaj. Why is everything always got to be about you? "Oh look how cool I am referencing film styles – I’m such a cinephile" No, you are awful and make bad, bad movies.


Thanks for the Star Wars spoiler. So appreciated.

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