A Woman's Touch By Kirill Razlogov

in 46th Thessaloniki International Film Festival

by Kirill Razlogov

In the turmoil of organization changes in the festival management this year it is difficult to say what will be the losses and gains of the new situation. In a couple of years, perhaps.

My immediate feeling about the official part of the program – the opening and closing films and the international competition of first or second films – was that of a distinctive feminine touch. Despina Mouzaki – the newly appointed festival director and a producer of European importance – not only controlled the selection but also gave it a highly unusual thematic, if not stylistic, coherence.

The tragedy of four women (one mother and three daughters) in Hell (L’enfer) by Danis Tanovic was part of a three part project by the late Krzysztof Kieslowski, after the first part, Paradise, by Tom Tykwer. It was a semi disappointment, though it was very professional and had an exceptional cast – some critics even said that the stars overshadowed the plot: Carole Bouquet as a hellish mother, Karin Viard, Emmanuelle Beart and Marie Gillain as her daughters, Miki Manojlovic as the mistreated father and Jacques Gamblin, Jacques Perrin and Jean Rochefort as the men in their lives.

The FIPRESCI award winner The Hours Go By (Como pasan las horas) by Ines de Oliveira Cezar is also a family story presented as a philosophical reflection on life and fate. I had already seen this Argentinean film in Berlin (it was presented at several festivals before Greece) but went to the screening to verify my judgment and stayed till the end. The story involves three generations (as in How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer by Georgina Riedel, awarded in Moscow and presented here in the section Independence Days): grandmother and mother, on the one side, and father and son on the other. Two parallel road movies and a de-dramatised tragedy in the end.

The second entry from Latin America (Chile-Argentina-France) was also by a woman director, Alicia Scherzon. Play shows us a young girl’s quest for social identity with somehow more optimistic perspectives than the majority of films in competition.

On the exact opposite we find a Chinese-Korean co-production Grain in Ear (Mangzhong) by Zhang Lu. The male director tells the story of a woman of Korean origin in a Chinese no-man’s land (it is difficult to imagine an almost empty territory in mainland China, but go and see the film!) who manages to survive and even solve some problems in her life, until her only child dies in a railroad accident. The audience waits for a suicide a la Anna Karenina, but she just crosses the rails and goes away nowhere after poisoning, with her kimchi (Korean-styli pickle she sells), the wedding guests of the police officer who helped and then raped her.

The second masculine character – her Chinese-Korean married lover – seems specific to the Thessaloniki perception of male-female relationships. An active and enterprising woman forces the passive man to go to bed with her. Discovered by the wife, the man lies that he had paid the woman and she is denounced as a prostitute (which she obviously is not, but her nice neighbors were).

I do not think that it is by chance that we see the same type of male character as the protagonist of Blood (Sangre), a Mexican film by Amat Escalante, produced by Carlos Reygadas. Torn between a jealous wife and a junky daughter, he remains passive even while making love or getting rid of his daughter’s corpse. Both men’s faces have the same disgusted expression on their unpleasant faces and are shown naked, standing and passively waiting for something to happen.

In the Iranian film One Night (Yek Shab), seen in Cannes, the passive male does not appear at all – the boy-friend is missing when most needed by the heroine – the beautiful actress-director Niki Karimi – forced to spend the night out and meeting by chance other unhappy men. Even the sexually active Alan from the Taiwanese film Falling. in love (Lianren) by Wang Ming-Tai brings unhappiness to all his women, even the one he loves, before being killed by a jealous Mafioso.

Hysterical females are the main characters of two other competition films: the Greek Sweet Memory (Glykia mnimi) by Kyriakos Katzourakis and the French Backstage by Emmanuelle Bercot. The first is obviously influenced by Theo Angelopoulos in its baroque approach to historical reconstruction. The second, set in a show-business ambiance, retraces difficult relations between a pop-star and her teenage fan, who goes as far as to conceive a child by the star’s unhappy lover.

Much of the competition showed the diverse ways, both narratively and stylistically, that films can confront gender problems. Women and children can be protagonists in a social (almost socialist realist) drama as in the Irish film Pavee Lackeen: The Traveller Girl by Perry Ogden or they can be witnesses in a modern parable of universal guilt like Someone Else’s Happiness (Een Ander Zijn Geluk) by the Belgian Fien Troch. Women and children are the obvious witnesses of the power or the deterioration of basic human emotions and values, incorporated in love, sex and family life. So, it was only logical to close the Thessaloniki festival with All the Invisible Children, produced by the Italian Adriana Chiesa and featuring marginalized children in seven different countries or regions of the world.