Losing Ground

86 minutes 1982

This low-budget 1982 drama was one of the first features directed by an African-American woman, but it's much more than a historical footnote. Formally and intellectually ambitious, it moves daringly between Bergmaneseque psychodrama and probing conversations on philosophy, race, and religion. A black philosophy professor at a New York college (Seret Scott), working on a paper about "ecstatic experience," starts to reevaluate her life and realizes that for years she's lived without passion. Writer-director Kathleen Collins charts the character's emotional breakdown subtly and perceptively, never drawing easy conclusions about her life. Bill Gunn gives a powerful performance as the woman's husband, an arrogant abstract painter; his unpredictable, deeply sympathetic work recalls such John Cassavetes films as Faces and A Woman Under the Influence and makes for a compelling frisson with the cerebral script. With Billie Allen and Duane Jones.

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