The Best Party Of Your Life

in 26th Flying Broom International Women's Film Festival

by Piotr Czerkawski

In her latest book “Empuzjon”, which has not yet been translated into English, Olga Tokarczuk describes a microcosm populated entirely by men. Women appear in it only as the subject of conversations over beer, in which—often supported by quotations from the classics of literature—are condescendingly mentioned through their alleged virtues or imagined disadvantages. It is hard to resist the impression that not so long ago the reality of film festivals looked embarrassingly similar. Although today women directors are more and more often showing their works in the competition sections of major festivals, the road to full equality in the film industry seems to be as long as the list of prosecutors’ allegations against Harvey Weinstein. For this reason—focused on promoting films directed by women— events like the Flying Broom International Women Film Festival in Ankara deserve enduring respect and interest.

When selecting films based on the gender of the artists, the organizers do not forget to protect the quality of the festival. However, the features and documentaries qualified this year for the “Different Colors” Competition section had much more in common than just a high level of artistic craftsmanship. Almost all of the titles presented at Flying Broom boiled with righteous anger, grew out of disagreement with reality and called for questioning the hierarchy in society. However, self-aware female directors also understood that revolutionary zeal is not everything. In order to use its potential in a mature way, there must be a sense of community to link the rebels.

Carnival of outsiders

Looking at the characters from the films presented at Flying Broom, one could get the impression that they all participate in one great party, a carnival of outcasts, which is a testimony to their unity and power. Among the invitees to this imagined party were people as colorful and diverse as the bourgeois woman from the Chilean drama 1976 who vehemently rejected her privileges, the sign language interpreter who openly admits to being asexual, whose fate we observe in the film Slow and a pair of sensitive, Moscow-based nonconformists coming directly from Vladimir Putin’s nightmares, featured in How to Save a Dead Friend. The key role in this group, however, was played by someone seemingly inconspicuous and easy to overlook, the seven-year-old Sol, growing up to become the main character of the FIPRESCI award-winning Totem (Totém) by Lila Avilés.

Confronted with her father’s terminal illness, the girl turns out to be much more mature than many members of her large family. While the grandfather—the patriarch of the family— plunges into silent despair, and the hysterical aunts curse reality, bringing grotesque charlatans home, Sol seems to instinctively understand that none of these attitudes make much sense. The girl does not deny the condition of her parent, but slowly gets used to his departure from this world, at the same time wanting to celebrate the last moments together.

Breaking taboos

Although Avilés begins with an individual perspective, it quickly becomes clear that she wants to give her film the status of a myth or a parable. In Totem, the home of Sol’s family plays a role of small universe, where, contrary to the tendencies rooted in contemporary culture, death is stripped of its taboo odium, deprived of its sublimity, and divested of its omnipotence. In the bustling reality of Avilés’s film, full of people and animals, emanating with refreshing chaos, nothing disappears forever and without a trace. The memory of individuals will transform, inspire, and last, just like the memory of past civilizations, evidenced by the name Tonatiuh, given to Sol’s father and derived from Aztec mythology.

In this situation, it is not surprising that instead of letting the character end his life behind closed doors, the more courageous family members want to be close to him as long as possible and express gratitude for the way in which Tonatiuh managed to influence the lives of those around him. The birthday party organized in honor of the man is the most expressive act of defying the norms as we could observe in the films presented this year at Flying Broom Festival. It is no coincidence that the smile that at one point connects Tonatiuh and Sol, who is performing an artistic performance in his honor, contradicts the mournful grimace expected in situations like this and seems both serious and rakish at the same time. Agreement reached in unusual circumstances between father and daughter is undeniable proof that fashions and conventions, however sacred, are indeed subject to revision and can be turned upside down more easily than we think. The strength of Totem lies in the fact that while remaining a film about death, it also becomes a source of hope. The hope we need so much in a world dominated by conservative revolutions and a lack of faith in the possibility of stopping them.


Piotr Czerkawski
Edited by Savina Petkova