Stuck in Quarantine? Here are 5 of my favorite films

Francesca Fierro


Francesca Fierro, Editor

  1. Portrait of a Lady on Fire 


I watched Portrait nine times. And the first time I saw it, in theaters, was at the end of February… you can do the math. I have genuinely never had a movie change me to the extent that this story has. Céline Sciamma has shown the world what it is like to be a woman who loves another woman and gets it right- and though this sounds simple, it is shockingly rare.

There is an equality in her film that captivated me, a love story with no gender or intellectual domination. Outside of their romantic connection, Marianne and Heloise befriend the maid, Sophie, and dissolve class divides as well. The movie focuses on sorority, the power of female relationships in every form and I found this to be a story cinema has largely missed. 

The concept of the “female gaze” in this movie is prominent, and it takes a literal and metaphorical meaning. Marianne is a painter commissioned to paint Heloise’s marriage portrait, so she is constantly observing her, but doesn’t realize that Heloise is gazing back. In one of the most poignant scenes, Heloise whispers to Marianne: “If you look at me, who do I look at?” 

Her question flips the idea of a “muse” on its head and transforms Heloise from an object to a subject.  It is this novel quality of Portrait that I appreciate so deeply. It challenges what romance in movies should look like, how we define a happy ending, and ultimately proposes an invitation to experience what the world looks like through a woman’s eyes. 


  1. The Farewell


I remember watching Crazy Rich Asians and feeling like the hype over an all-Asian cast fell short. Though it was funny and had a compelling plot line, it lacked the authenticity I was expecting. The movie didn’t open my eyes to new perspectives or leave me questioning any of my beliefs or biases. But The Farewell gave me this, and more. 

The way Lulu Wang approaches family is both unique and universally relatable. There are specific references and anecdotes to Chinese-American culture that not everyone will understand, but the bigger idea of family being a force that changes lives is applicable across the board. Everyone has grown up in one place, and at one point or another, had to leave it. What does this special kind of heartbreak feel like? What kind of guilt do we harbor when we turn our backs on our homeland? 

For almost the entire movie, I was wholeheartedly on Billi’s side: I thought it was cruel, even absurd, to lie to Nai Nai about her terminal illness. People have the right to know! It’s her own life- doesn’t that mean anything?! But as the film progressed, like Billi, I came to understand the family’s point of view. It was not the black-and-white dilemma I perceived it to be, but instead rich with nuance and difficult decisions. Billi could not think of her life as solely hers but intertwined with those of her family. “In the East, a person’s life is part of a whole,” her uncle reminds her. 

The Farewell can be seen as a touching piece about the fragility of life, but I think it celebrates it. We get one shot, the film reminds us. And when you eventually have to say goodbye, make sure you are proud of what you left behind. 


  1. Inside Bill’s Brain


This Netflix documentary appeared so many times in my “Top Picks for Francesca” section that I caved in just so I didn’t have to look at it every time I logged in. It turns out, the Netflix algorithm is up to something. It was a top pick for me. 

I think I need to preface this by saying that I am decidedly not a computer person. Coding, tinkering, just math in general, is not my forté. But my humanities loving heart still managed to be impressed with not only the documentary itself but the remarkable life of Bill Gates. 

I knew the following about Bill Gates: that he invented Microsoft, and that he’s disgustingly rich. And while those two facts still stand, I can now elaborate further. I can speak, for example, about the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and their work with improving sanitation in developing countries, eradicating polio, and fine-tuning nuclear energy. Despite these lofty accomplishments, however, I would be most eager to discuss the psyche of Bill Gates. Simply put: what makes him tick?

Unsurprisingly, it’s complicated, the documentary tells us. A combination of innate genius and a fiery competitive spirit both contribute to his success. And instead of just rattling off more accomplishments to prove that to us, the film takes a very intimate look into Gates’ childhood and adolescence. I found the personal anecdotes to be fascinating. Stories of re-working the schedules of hundreds of high school students to fit new restrictions, beating peers several years his senior at a state-wide mathematics exam, and intense tennis matches at summer camp (where he had to win every year- and did) made him feel a lot more real. They lent his story a legitimacy. 

Bill Gates is not a ruthless Rockefeller nor a Mother Teresa. He is simply a man with an incredible mind and enormous resources at his command. While it never says it outright, there was no doubt left in my mind: for better or for worse, Bill Gates has changed the world. 


  1. La Vita È Bella (Life is Beautiful) 

This is a classic movie that I will never tire of watching. It is funny, almost painfully so, and uses its innate humor to tell a deeply tragic story. 

La Vita È Bella explores themes of innocence, mainly because much of the story revolves around a child. Guido’s decision to treat the horrors of the concentration camp as a game forces the viewer to share this bizarre perspective as well. We want so badly for Giosué to stay safe. We hold our breath when he blurts out Italian amid his German companions. We watch with tears in our eyes as he tells his dad how many “points” he has. 

The repeated image of hiding to avoid bath time packs a powerful punch at the end, as does hearing the first notes of the opera drift over the camp and watching Dora’s head jerk up in recognition. It’s these mundane actions- a child resisting a shower, playing a familiar tune on a gramophone- that makes the movie so impactful. That fact that love and hope could manage to survive during such a dark time is something that can bring anyone, anywhere comfort. The audience thus comes away with not a World War II story or a concentration camp story, but merely a human one. 


  1. Disobedience

Disobedience restored my faith in religion. Not necessarily in my religion, but in general, in every form. It made me understand the transformative power religion has in some people’s lives. I knew almost nothing about the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community going in, but now I consider it to be the most interesting religious sect I know. There is something about their mystery, deep insular nature, and close-knit community that this movie captures brilliantly. 

Some films rely on their setting or plot to tell the story, but Disobedience uses its characters to draw the viewer in. Ronit and Esti, childhood best friends turned lovers, were split apart by the unforgiving rules of their religion. Homosexuality is not tolerated in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities, and because of it, Ronit was exiled to America. When she returned home for her father’s funeral, I felt Ronit’s discomfort. As an adoptee, I know exactly what it is like to feel like an outsider among your own family. The awkward questions, the staring in the streets… I knew the story well. 

What I was not expecting was to find this religion that is frequently depicted as oppressive and close-minded to be beautiful. I saw beauty in the prayers, in the Shabbat dinners, the women’s wigs. Instead of dispelling their traditions as backward, or “medieval” as Ronit scathingly calls it at one point, I saw the determined effort to preserve a way of living that has long been lost, replaced by one that is faster, more careless, and in a way, less disciplined. 

That is not to say the community is perfect: it is not, and the movie makes that clear. But then again, does a perfect belief system exist? Disobedience taught me that religion is a man-made creation. We shape it, exploit it, suffer its consequences. Sometimes we choose to leave it, and when we do, that can be an act of faith as well.