Simple Women is a very imaginative original film whose name betrays its complex, metafictional narrative. A young filmmaker Federica (Jasmine Trinca) is a huge fan of the (real-life) actress Elina Löwensohn, and constructs a feature film based on Elina’s life, not unlike the real-life experience of director Chiara Malta creating a movie about a movie about Elina.
Federica is a charming, though novice, director who may be in over her head as she improvises scenes outside of the script, struggles with casting choices, and even accidentally locks herself inside one of her film’s sets. In an early moment, she says to her skeptical father of her work: “It’s not obsession, it’s a vocation.” Much of the film dangerously blurs the lines between the two, as both Federica and her star Elina go beyond their typical lines of duty as filmmaker and performer out of devotion, or desperation, to their art.
One of the film’s lasting impacts is how it frames Federica’s initial fascination, if not obsession, with Elina. Federica is a lifelong epileptic, and is drawn to Simple Men, a 1982 film starring a much younger Elina portraying an epileptic. As a child, Federica seeing a version of herself onscreen made her a fan for life; in today’s climate, as diversity and inclusion grow ever more important and talked about, representation of a chronic condition onscreen has a powerful resonance.
What also leaves a lasting impression is the agency and power Federica, as a female filmmaker, wields in her craft; any challenges and struggles Federica faces as a director seem to be due to her experience, or lack thereof, and not due to institutional barriers to women working in a male-dominated industry. Similar to the representation of epilepsy, Simple Women may provide a powerful image to future filmmakers, seeing a version of themselves onscreen.
The plot mechanics are at times madcap, but the story comes together in a satisfying, somewhat surreal finale, representative of the creativity and swirl of imagination that brought this unique story together in the first place.
Screened at the 31st Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival in 2020.