One of the Netherlands's best-known filmmakers and an important, often provocative voice in world cinema, writer and director Marleen Gorris is renowned -- and, in some circles, reviled -- for making unapologetically feminist films that assert the rights of women as they question the patriarchy that often represses them. Gorris earned particular international recognition for Antonia's Line, a portrait of several generations of Dutch women that won a 1995 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.
Born in Holland's Limburg region in 1948, Gorris studied drama at home and abroad. She began working as a filmmaker with almost no previous experience in the cinema and made an auspicious writing and directorial debut in 1982 with De Stilte Rond Christine M (A Question of Silence). A story about three unacquainted women who murder a randomly chosen man, the film was hailed by some as a logical case study of what happens when women are driven to the brink by a male-dominated society, while others decried it as a juvenile revenge fantasy. Gorris was honored in her homeland with the Netherlands' Golden Calf Award and earned a reputation as a subversive new filmmaker.
Gorris followed up De Stilte Rond Christine M two years later with Gebroken Spiegels (Broken Mirrors). Set amongst a group of prostitutes in an Amsterdam brothel, the film re-examined some of the themes at play in Gorris' previous feature, particularly in its analysis of the ways in which the patriarchy (literally) starves and strangles women. Viewed as even more radical than Christine M, it was greeted with predictably mixed reactions, although many critics recognized it as a deeply insightful, albeit disturbing, look at the sexual threats (both literal and metaphorical) directed at women in everyday life.
Gorris did not make another film until 1990, when she directed The Last Island. An allegory on the human condition, the film, which told the story of a group of people (two women and five men) and a dog stranded on an island, was dubbed by one critics as "a feminist Lord of the Flies for the '90s." Another indictment of male power -- the women are seen as the only balanced, sane people in the group, while the men constantly fall victim to stupidity and violence -- The Last Island furthered Gorris' reputation as an insightful and uncompromising feminist filmmaker.
Gorris had her greatest international success to date in 1995 with Antonia's Line. The story of a fiercely independent woman (Willeke van Ammelrooy) and her descendants, it was not as radical as the director's previous work, although a number of male critics complained that the men in the film were portrayed as either ineffectual idiots or potential rapists. However, critical support for the film was overwhelming, and it was honored with a number of international awards, including a Golden Calf and a Best Foreign Film Oscar. Gorris did not make another film for two years; when she returned to directing, it was with a highly praised adaptation of Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. Featuring an excellent script by Eileen Atkins and a cast that included Vanessa Redgrave, Rupert Graves, and Natascha McElhone, the film earned a number of international honors, including an Evening Standard British Film Award.
The director returned to the screen in 2000 with The Luzhin Defense. Based upon a novel by Vladimir Nabokov, the film told the story of the love affair between an eccentric chess champion (John Turturro) and a strong-willed society woman (Emily Watson).