With cinema still being a male-dominated field of work, it was nice to see that during the 37th Moscow Film Festival four woman directors from across the globe screened their movie in the main competition. And among all the male perspectives we are used to, their views on life, relationships, love and art, as well as their creative process were a breath of fresh air.
Playing a home game, Russian Irina Evteeva gave the audience something to chew on with her meditative Arventur. With a very loosely scripted narrative that combines two intertwining stories, she explores the difficult relationship between the reality and art of illusion. This animated work of art requires you to let go of conventions and just experience what you see. Evteeva shot her movie with real actors, after which she projected the footage on glass panels and painted over the action frame by frame. Asked about her three-year long labor of love and her role as a woman director, she explained that for her the essence of her movie was not inherently feminine, but a pure artist’s view, transcending gender. However, she added with a smile on her face that it would be questionable if a man would ever be patient enough to finish the project.
Playing at first glance by far more conventional movie rules, Danish Frederikke Aspöck served up Rosita, a romantic comedy with a twist. The middle-aged widower Ulrik lives with his son Johannes in a small fishing town in the northern part of Denmark and misses a woman in his life. Like a few of the other men in the village, he arranges for the young Filipino Rosita to come to Denmark. Things start to go awry when both father and son fall for the beautiful woman. Mail order brides are a very real issue, and the aura surrounding it portrays the women involved as nothing more than servants and sex toys dominated by men. But Aspöck flips it all upside down and tells the story mostly from Rosita’s perspective. She not only gives her agency, but also offers a rare insight into the psyche of this woman. By eventually approaching love as a very practical issue, not following the (male) romantic ideas we’ve seen in so many Hollywood movies, including happy endings, she gives Rosita true power.
Going one step further is Mipo Oh with her Being Good (Kimi wa iiko), a movie that tackles child abuse and the difficulties teachers and parents face in dealing with the subject. Oh forces the spectator to identify with Yoko, a woman who physically abuses her little daughter. It makes for a highly uncomfortable viewing experience that haunts you, for you both despise this woman for her actions, but you can’t help feeling sorry for her as well, as she is clearly unable to act differently because of her own upbringing. By doing so, Oh broadens the scope for female protagonists in movies: she attributes new character traits and a unique position on the good-evil spectrum for women.
With The Road, director Rana Salem does the same: she delivers a touching story about grief that doesn’t come pre-packaged. With harsh cuts to black and long pauses she divides the narrative into chunks, uneven in length, and gives the viewer fragments to process. Her intricate and poetic puzzle about a couple who flees Beirut has a very soft and delicate feel, and breaks new cinematic grounds. Beirut here, both intimate and suffocating at once, is a metaphor for love and long relationships, and the perspective is highly personal. As Salem, who wrote, directed and starred in the movie, explains: “I fed on emotions from my life and people I knew, and threw myself into the process, trusting my instinct. I believe that cinema today must find a new way of making films and I enjoyed trying this method for my first feature film.” In doing so, this way of filmmaking isn’t only radical in style, it also suggests a different representation of womanhood than is the norm in her home country. Salem comments: “I tried to portray a woman in different aspects of what a woman is. In a country where the patriarchal concept of family is still very present, I feel that in that sense I tried to show a different possibility.”
In different ways, and in different degrees, these directors opened up the perspective for women in film, treading new ways of production and putting spins on familiar role patterns. In doing so, they create a whole new playing field that hopefully inspires colleagues, aspiring as well as established, female as well as male, to follow.
Edited by Birgit Beumers
© FIPRESCI 2015