Wanda (1971)—written, directed and acted in by Barbara Loden—is one of the truly good American films of the Seventies.
The newly unemployed, soon-to-be-divorced Wanda (Loden) ignorantly takes up with a robber (Michael Higgins) who is unstable and tyrannical. Theirs is a pathetic (occasionally funny) relationship, but Wanda never has to assist the robber in his stealing until he finally insists on it apropos of a bank.
The cannily written film has to do with what the lives of working-class people—Wanda, not the robber—sometimes become, and with the slow, harmful creep of irresponsibility. The movie concludes with a freeze-frame shot of Wanda sitting in a tavern and at a dead end, not enjoying the conviviality of the strangers who have invited her to drink with them. With her deep performance, Loden proves she understands the character she is playing; likewise with Higgins.
Loden, by the way, was married to Elia Kazan. One wishes she could have made at least one more film before she came down with a fatal cancer in 1978.
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