Wanda (film)

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DVD cover
Directed by Barbara Loden
Produced by Harry Shuster
Barbara Loden
Written by Barbara Loden (uncredited)[1]
Starring Barbara Loden
Michael Higgins
Music by Dave Mullaney (uncredited)[1]
Cinematography Nicholas Proferes (uncredited)[1]
Edited by Nicholas Proferes (uncredited)[1]
Foundation for Filmmakers[1]
Distributed by Bardene International Films[1]
Release date
  • September 1, 1970 (1970-09-01) (Venice F.F.)
  • March 1971 (1971-03) (US)
Running time
103 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $115,000[1]

Wanda is an independent 1970 feature film written and directed by Barbara Loden, who also starred in the title role. Set in the anthracite coal region of eastern Pennsylvania, the film focuses on a lone female protagonist with limited options for a better life. It was a rarity in 1970s filmmaking, featuring a woman's existential crisis, as written and directed by a woman. Wanda was chosen for the 31st Venice International Film Festival where it won the Pasinetti Award for Best Foreign Film. A restored version of the film was screened out of competition at the 67th Venice International Film Festival in 2010.[2]

In 2017, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[3]


  • Barbara Loden as Wanda Goronski
  • Michael Higgins as Norman Dennis
  • Frank Jourdano as The soldier
  • Valerie Manches as The girl in the roadhouse
  • Dorothy Shupenes as Wanda's sister
  • Peter Shupenes as Wanda's brother-in-law
  • Jerome Thier as Wanda's husband
  • Marian Thier as Miss Godek
  • Anthony Rotell as Tony
  • M. L. Kennedy as Judge


Wanda Goronski, an unhappy housewife, stays on her sister's couch after leaving her husband. Walking across a field of coal and hitching a ride, she shows up to a court divorce hearing late, she relinquishes her rights to her children and grants her husband a divorce.

Unable to find work in a sewing factory, 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 theater, 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. 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 who she calls "Mr. Dennis."

Wanda spends some time on the road with Mr. Dennis, even though he becomes physically and emotionally abusive to her. He sends her shopping in a mall for new clothes while he robs cars in the parking lot. He convinces her to be his lookout for a planned kidnapping and 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. Loden's husband Elia Kazan claimed to have written the initial script and then "[Loden] rewrote it many times, and it became hers."[4]

The movie was shot on 16mm stock,[1] on a budget of roughly $100,000 with a crew of four: Loden, cinematographer Nicholas Proferes, who also edited the film, Lars Hedman doing lighting andsound, and production assistant Christopher Cromin.[5] Loden and Michael Higgins were the only two professional actors used in the production and most of their scenes were a result of improvisation between the two.[6] Loden and worked for union scale, and Higgins' costumes came from Kazan's cast-offs.[1]

The film was financed by Harry Shuster, who formed Bardene International Films specifically to distribute it. Shuster had a one-third interest in the film; the other two-thirds was held by Loden, Kazan, and attorney Milton Kazan's non-profit Foundation for Filmmakers. Any profits after recupment which went to the foundation was to be put into a fund to finance future films.[1]

Originally slated to be set in the South, the high cost of filming there, and the production's need to be near the film processing houses in New York City, prompted a change to the coal-mining regions of Pennsylvania. Location shooting took place in Fall 1969 in Scranton, Pennsylvania and Carbondale, Pennsylvania.[1]

Wanda was edited in Loden's home.[1]


Despite its warm reception at the 31st Venice International Film Festival, where it was the only American entry, and won the International Critics' Prize for Best Film, and was also exhibited at the London Film Festival and the San Francisco Film Festival.[1] However, in its national American release in March 1971, it received little attention.

The film is a favorite of actress Isabelle Huppert and she championed its release in France in 2004 on DVD.[7] The film has also been cited as a favorite by filmmaker John Waters, who presented it as his annual selection within the 2012 Maryland Film Festival.

Gucci and The Film Foundation collaborated on a restoration of the film for the 67th Venice International Film Festival. The film has a 94% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 18 reviews with an average rating of 7.4/10.[8]

In popular culture[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Wanda at the American Film Institute Catalog
  2. ^ Eggebeen, Greg; Lippman, Ross (January 24, 2014). "Hey New York, Come See a Hidden Gem of 1970s Cinema Tuesday Night". Vice. Retrieved October 16, 2017.  With reprints from an essay from the UCLA Film and Television Archive by Ross Lippman, and Zembreno, Kate (2013). "One Can Be Dumb and Unhappy at Exactly the Same Time: An Essay on Failure, the Depressed Muse, and Barbara Loden's Wanda". Frequencies. 2: 99–116. 
  3. ^ Cannady, Sheryl; Leggett, Steve (December 13, 2017). "2017 National Film Registry Is More Than a 'Field of Dreams'". Library of Congress. Retrieved December 13, 2017. 
  4. ^ Taylor, Katie (August 27, 2010). "Driven by Fierce Visions of Independence". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved October 16, 2017. 
  5. ^ McCourt, Kate (Fall 2012). "Who Was Barbara Loden?". Propeller. Retrieved March 15, 2015. 
  6. ^ Longworth, Karina (March 17, 2011). "One-Hit Wanda". LA Weekly. Retrieved March 15, 2015. 
  7. ^ Paley, Tony (October 16, 2011). "London film festival puts a trailblazing film called Wanda back on the road". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media. Retrieved March 15, 2015. 
  8. ^ "Wanda (1971)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved July 16, 2018. 
  9. ^ Léger, Nathalie (2016). Suite for Barbara Loden. Translated by Lehrer, Natasha; Menon, Cécile. St. Louis: Dorothy. ISBN 9780997366600. Retrieved September 29, 2016. 
  10. ^ Léger, Nathalie (Fall 2016). "Barbara, Wanda". The Paris Review. Retrieved September 29, 2016. 

Further reading

  • Melton, Ruby (1971). "Barbara Loden on Wanda – 'An Environment that Is Overwhelmingly Ugly and Destructive'". Film Journal. 1 (2): 11–15. 
  • Reynaud, Bérénice (2004). "For Wanda". In Elsaesser, Thomas; Horwath, Alexander; King, Noel. The Last Great American Picture Show. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. pp. 223–247. ISBN 9789053566312.  (also published in Senses of Cinema)

External links[edit]