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In the coal mining region of Pennsylvania, Wanda Goronski is constantly drinking to shut out the problems in her life. Having deserted her husband and infant children, Wanda sleeps on her sister's couch - when she isn't sleeping with the latest man who bought her a drink - and is unemployed with no long term job prospect. Her drinking and her life in combination have made her an emotionless woman. Her life changes when she meets Norman Dennis in a bar. She initially believes he's the bartender, but in reality he's a petty criminal who just held up the bar in question. Even after she learns Mr. Dennis' occupation and despite he treating her poorly, she willingly goes along with him and his petty crimes as a way to get through life. Mr. Dennis, on the other hand, sees her as a conduit to bigger and better things. Although things don't turn out quite the way either of the two envision, Wanda does at least begin to feel once again. Written by
Not quite the neglected masterpiece it's reputed to be...
...WANDA is nonetheless a stirring portrait of a woman who has lost her direction in life; that is, assuming she wasn't just going through the societally-mandated paces from the start, which I suspect.
Abandoning her husband and children without a second thought, she sets off on a journey to...nowhere in particular. Latching ignobly onto any man who will pick her up for a quickie, Wanda, played with remarkable veracity by the film's director Barbara Loden, drifts for a while until she stumbles upon a nomadic, dyspeptic robber, whom she meekly accompanies in his run from the law. After a series of escalating events which could have led to tragedy for her, Wanda is given a reprieve. Instead of taking advantage of her second chance, her detached indolence is too strong to overcome, and the cycle of soul-searching is apparently ordained to continue ad infinitum.
Recalling such contemporary cinematic works as FIVE EASY PIECES (1970), A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE (1974), the great GOIN' DOWN THE ROAD (1970), and TWO-LANE BLACKTOP (1971) in its characters' aimlessness and blind existentialism, "Wanda" also has echoes of Bresson's oeuvre; most of all, the film seems to have been a direct influence on Susan Seidelman's SMITHEREENS (1982), an equally good picture.
To the film's detriment, its characters are such pathetic no-hopers that they are not easy to relate to, especially since they are given no biographical framework whatsoever. Moreover, the cinema verite direction is a little too self-consciously austere, lingering unduly on some scenes. Loden seems unaware of the misconception that merely letting the camera run on automatically lends a scene profundity; sometimes the film seems as hollow as its characters. Then again, that's the point. I liked "Wanda" quite a bit, but it takes patience to tease out its nuances, and is hence not for all tastes.
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