Wanda (film)

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DVD cover
Directed by Barbara Loden
Produced by Harry Shuster
Written by Barbara Loden
Starring Barbara Loden
Michael Higgins
Cinematography Nicholas Proferes
Edited by Nicholas Proferes
Release date
  • 1970 (1970)
Running time
102 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $115,000

Wanda is an independent 1970 drama film that was written and directed by Barbara Loden, who also stars in the title role. It is set in the anthracite coal region of eastern Pennsylvania.

The film played at the 31st Venice International Film Festival where it won the Pasinetti Award for Best Foreign Film. A special restored version of the film was played at the 67th Venice International Film Festival out of competition.[1]


Wanda Goronski, an unhappy housewife, stays on her sister's couch after leaving her husband. Showing up to a court divorce hearing late, she relinquishes her rights to her children and grants her husband a divorce.

Unable to find work, Wanda runs away with a man with whom she had a one night stand, only for him to abandon her at an ice cream stand. With rapidly dwindling funds, Wanda takes a nap in a movie theatre, where she is robbed in her sleep. Going to a bar to use the restroom, Wanda becomes infatuated with a man she thinks to be the bartender. Unbeknownst to her, the man, Norman Dennis, is a bank robber in the process of robbing the bar. Unable to rid himself of Wanda, Dennis takes her on the run with him. Even after learning about the details of Norman's lifestyle, Wanda decides to stay with Norman.

Wanda spends some time on the road with Norman, even though he becomes physically and emotionally abusive to her. Eventually, Norman convinces Wanda to be his lookout for a planned bank robbery. The robbery goes wrong, and Dennis is shot and killed; Wanda escapes undetected.

Alone again, Wanda hitches a ride with a man who attempts to sexually assault her. Wanda escapes and runs through the woods. The film ends with Wanda at a bar, where strangers supply her with food, alcohol, and cigarettes.


Barbara Loden stated that the film was semi-autobiographical and that she was inspired to write it after reading a newspaper report that a woman had thanked a judge after he sentenced her to prison. Her husband Elia Kazan claimed to have written the initial script and then "[Loden] rewrote it many times, and it became hers."[2]

The movie was shot using on a budget of roughly $100,000 and using a crew of four: Loden, editor/cinematographer Nicholas Proferes, Lars Hedman doing lighting/sound, and assistant Christopher Cromin.[3] Loden and Michael Higgins were the only two professional actors used in the production and most of their scenes were a result of improv between the two.[4]


Despite its warm reception at the 31st Venice International Film Festival Wanda received little attention in the U.S.

The film is a favourite of actress Isabelle Huppert and she championed its release in France in 2004 on DVD.[5] Gucci and The Film Foundation collaborated on a restoration of the film for the 67th Venice International Film Festival.

The restored version currently holds a 94% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.[6]

The film is referenced in Rachel Kushner's 2013 novel The Flamethrowers.

In 2012, French author Nathalie Léger published Supplément à la vie de Barbara Loden a novel about Barbara Loden and the film Wanda. In 2016 an excerpt of the work was published in the Paris Review and a fully translated version of the work was made available by Dorothy, a publishing project under the name Suite for Barbara Loden.[7][8]


The film is improvisational in style and meditative in nature, similar to the works of European directors like Robert Bresson. It is seldom seen, but strongly admired. Loden, the wife of director Elia Kazan, died from cancer before she had an opportunity to make another film. But the legacy of Wanda, one of the very few American feature films directed by a woman at that time, endures.

The film has been cited as a favorite by filmmaker John Waters, who presented it as his annual selection within the 2012 Maryland Film Festival.

Further reading[edit]

  • Melton, Ruby, "Barbara Loden on Wanda—'An Environment that Is Overwhelmingly Ugly and Destructive'", Film Journal v. 1, no. 2 (summer 1971), pp. 11–15.
  • Reynaud, Bérénice, “For Wanda”, in The Last Great American Picture Show, Thomas Elsaesser, Alexander Horwath and Noel King, eds, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2004, 223-247 <also published in Senses of Cinema>


  1. ^ "Out of Competition WANDA (1970) [SPECIAL SCREENING] - BARBARA LODEN". Retrieved 15 March 2015. 
  2. ^ Taylor, Kate. "Driven by Fierce Visions of Independence". Retrieved 15 March 2015. 
  3. ^ McCourt, Kate. "Who Was Barbara Loden?". Retrieved 15 March 2015. 
  4. ^ Longworth, Karina. "ONE-HIT WANDA". Retrieved 15 March 2015. 
  5. ^ Paley, Tony. "London film festival puts a trailblazing film called Wanda back on the road". Retrieved 15 March 2015. 
  6. ^ "WANDA (1971)". Retrieved 12 February 2016. 
  7. ^ "SUITE FOR BARBARA LODEN". Retrieved 29 September 2016. 
  8. ^ Léger, Nathalie. "Barbara, Wanda". Retrieved 29 September 2016. 

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