Living As An Exception

in 26th Flying Broom International Women's Film Festival

by Hélène Robert

In Turkey, the attendance rate for Turkish cinema is doing particularly well. In 2019, it accounted for 65% of all attendants, compared with 35% for American cinema. During the 26th Flying Broom International Women’s Film Festival in Ankara, we could, of course, see a few Turkish short films. But there was more to it than that. Nil Kural, the festival’s director, was keen to highlight the geographical diversity of artistic culture. Starting with Iran, with a program of short films by Iranian directors such as Sepideh Farsi and Firouzeh Khosrovani. In today’s difficult context for Iranian women, the aim was to show their trials and triumphs through generations of women.

At the Magical Lantern cinema (Büyülu Fener Sinemasi) in the Turkish capital, films from various continents were screened over the course of a week. The exotic origins of the official selection and other films were appreciated. The poignant Mexican drama by Lila Avilés is the most striking example. Even before Totem (Tótem, 2023) received our prize, it had aroused such enthusiasm that the screening room was unable to accommodate all the spectators. Luckily for those who couldn’t make it, a new screening took place after the closing and awards ceremony, on June 7 at 9.30pm. For cinephiles wishing to immerse themselves in this story filmed in a single location and retracing a single special day, the film’s release date according to your country of residence is posted here.

As much for the variety of genres—four documentaries and four fictions—as for the diversity of subjects covered, the official selection was full of surprises. With hindsight, however, a number of common themes emerged from this seemingly motley crew. Not without a sense of humor, for example, we were waiting for the moment when a cat appeared on screen. If the cat is a beloved and omnipresent animal in Turkey, it’s amusing to find it across the border in so many cinematographies.

But let’s take a closer look at the official selection. Over the course of the screenings, a problem encountered by many of the protagonists in the eight films became apparent. A difficulty so existential and ordinary that it shows itself in so many ways in the seventh art, regardless of genre (documentary, fiction, comedy, drama) or era (here, almost exclusively contemporary).

It’s all about accepting the singularity of one’s identity. Physically and internally.

Loving each other despite our physical transformations is at the heart of the Argentinian film The Face of the Jellyfish (El rostro de la medusa, 2022). Directed by Melisa Liebenthal, the film features Marina, a young woman whose face has imperceptibly changed, becoming unrecognizable to others and to her own. But the strangeness and subtlety of the physical change are such that the viewer wonders: Was Marina really so different before? Thanks to a meticulous and enthusiastic photo-montage of portraits of her ancestors and her past appearance, The Face of the Jellyfish seeks to determine our uniqueness, while taking care not to unravel the mystery behind our physical singularity.

The difficulty of asserting one’s uniqueness is echoed in two of the selection’s documentaries. Two life stories where women’s excellence is required to surpass the competitiveness of their environment. Where individual talents have to be fought for. In Apolonia, Apolonia, filmmaker Lea Glob portrays a painter of the same name (Apolonia Sokol). From childhood to young adulthood, Apolonia encounters many obstacles to making a living from her paintings. Dilemmas multiply. How do you preserve your creative soul? When does one become a marketing product? Apolonia, Apolonia expresses, with the honesty and raw emotion of youth, the priesthood that underlies the so-called passion professions, where financial freedom is difficult to conciliate with freedom of expression.

The only Turkish film in the official selection, Duet (Düet, 2022) confirms what Apolonia Apolonia implied: you have to work hard to get to the top. Here, on the podium of the synchronized swimming duet. But how can we show off our graceful bodies and aim for technical prowess, when a global pandemic and a desire to change our lives put a stop to our initial plans?

It’s a truism, but the identity crisis is universal. We identify with our appearance (The Face of the Jellyfish) and our exploits (Apolonia, Apolonia, Duet). Then we change, and our identity has to be redefined. Beyond these external elements, what constitutes our inner uniqueness and originality? According to two other films in the selection, the answer lies in our shortcomings or feelings of weakness.

The first one, the documentary How To Save a Dead Friend, tells the love story of a couple who become drug addicts and then fight their way out. Directed by Marusya Syroechkovskaya, the film shows the marginality of the addicted person, who through obsession, boredom and lack of future prospects, takes refuge in artificial paradises. Not everyone can transform this feeling of inner emptiness into indifference or strength. Those who fail to do carry this failure with them like a burden, an anomaly they can’t justify. Accepting this handicap and its chaotic consequences is the aim of this intense work.

The second one, the sentimental drama Slow, is without doubt the brightest story in the official selection. To the question “Why are you asexual?”, Dovydas replies “I don’t know, that’s just the way I am”. At first glance, the hero fully assumes his sexual orientation, but here he is put to the test, coupling with a sexual person. The temptation then arises to try to adapt to others in order to please them, and to standardize oneself. In short, how can we live with the complexity of our singularity when it’s seen as unnatural, and how to challenge society’s preconceived ideas?

The 26th Flying Broom International Women’s Film Festival’s program is so rich in questions about identity, that it’s impossible to find a single answer. That’s why let’s thank each of the female filmmakers for not asserting any truths, and leaving us free to form our own opinions.


Hélène Robert
Edited by Savina Petkova