‘Suite for Barbara Loden’ by Nathalie Léger – The Movie ‘Wanda’ and its Director Barbara Loden


‘Suite for Barbara Loden’ by Nathalie Léger (2012)  123 pages Translated from the French by Natasha Lehrer and Cecile Menon


Barbara Loden was a real person, a United States actress who also directed one movie in 1971 titled ‘Wanda’.

Nathalie Léger is not only fascinated by the movie ‘Wanda’; she is also fascinated by the life of Barbara Loden. In this book, exact detailed descriptions of each and every scene from the movie Wanda are inter-cut with biographical accounts of incidents from Barbara Loden’s own life.

One requirement is to watch the movie ‘Wanda’ first before reading this book which is what I did. Otherwise you will not be able to follow this book.

The actress/director Barbara Loden started out as a “hill-billy’s daughter” in Asheville, North Carolina. She moved to New York in 1949 at age 16 and found minor success as a model for detective and romance magazines, then worked as a pin-up girl, model and dancer at the Copacabana nightclub. Then she started studying acting. She joined the cast of the Ernie Kovacs Show as a “scantily clad” sidekick to Kovacs. By 1957, she also appeared on stage in a play with Robert Redford. She had minor film roles in Elia Kazan’s ‘Wild River’ and also the film ‘Splendor in the Grass’ and she took up with Kazan who was 23 years older than she. They were married in 1966.

Barbara Loden’s greatest acting success was playing the role of Maggie in the stage play of “After the Fall” in 1964 which Arthur Miller wrote about his recently died ex-wife Marilyn Monroe. Loden won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress.

Although Loden preferred the stage and had claimed that she hated movies saying “People on the screen were perfect and they made me feel inferior”, she did direct and star in the low-budget but heartfelt film ‘Wanda’ which won the International Critics Prize at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival.

‘Wanda’ is an honest portrayal of a woman made vulnerable by her own weaknesses, misdeeds, and failures who slides through her life by any means she can. Early in the movie Wanda goes to court for a custody hearing for her children.

When she comes in we already know all about her, the husband has let it all out, we know he has to prepare his own breakfast, that she doesn’t care about anything, doesn’t take care of the kids, neglects them, spends her days lying on the couch.”

Wanda agrees that their children would be better off with their father than with her.

Because she is alone, Wanda drifts aimlessly into bad relationships and situations. To whom is she vulnerable? She is vulnerable to unscrupulous men.  Critic David Thomson says the following:

Shot originally in 16mm Kodachrome, ‘Wanda’ is full of unexpected moments and raw atmosphere, never settling for cliché in situation or character.”

The movie is a fine example of the cinéma vérité style.

Nathalie Léger’s mind is totally engaged with every detail of the movie ‘Wanda’. No one has ever watched a movie as closely as Nathalie Léger has watched ‘Wanda’. She gives us the backstory of every moment in ‘Wanda’.

Barbara Loden died of breast cancer at the age of 48 in 1980.


Grade:   A


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