Feminism And Social Struggle At Cannes 2023
by Léon Cattan
On the 25th of May 2023, strange posters started appearing on the public bicycles of Paris. “What if you had let them live?” it said, above drawings of growing foetuses. The heinous campaign was claimed by a far-right group. More than three decades after the legalization of abortion in France, the backlash is still on. Coined by the feminist scholar Susan Faludi, a backlash is a vehement countermovement intervening after a major advance of women rights. But what happens when a backlash can’t even occur because reproductive rights are not guaranteed? What occurs when anti-abortion groups are allocated power and resources, and when the state doesn’t protect women and girls in need? This problem is confronted in Lillah Halla’s first long-feature, Power Alley (Levante, 2023). But rather than a fatalist observation, it’s a non-violent call to arms, where minorities find meaning in passion and solidarity.
Her protagonist, Sofia, is what Emerald Fennell would call a “promising young woman”. She is seventeen, the rising star of her inclusive volley team, and pregnant, a deeply unsettling fact revealed at the beginning of the movie. But a moral dilemma’s excluded; she wants to abort, in a right-wing country where abortion is prohibited. She shares this fate with Anne Duchesne, the heroine of Audrey Diwan’s Happening (L’événement, 2021) which takes place in France before the legalization. However, Duchesne’s beautifully crafted story is cantered on finding a way to end the pregnancy at all costs.
Sofia is about discovering herself and building a community that’ll support her no matter what. An adequate way to tie a political stance with the coming-of-age genre, where young people learn to grow, define their identity, and find love and friendship. Despite its heavy topic, Power Alley displays beautiful scenes between Sofia and her crush, her friends, and what sports means to them.
The volleyball team is a space of amusement, fellowship but also resistance to gender normative codes and the narrow expectations of society. It’s also a pretext to film all shaped and size bodies one’s not used seeing on screen. From Sofia’s pregnancy to a player of the team wearing a period blood mask, including another scene where a trans woman does her injection of hormones; Lillah Halla desacralizes the flesh.
Nonetheless, the film is steeped in tension, notably induced by an anti-abortion clinic harassing Sofia and her loved ones. There’s no shying around about the damages of those activists, and peer-pressure. No shying around either to point out the contradictions of a movement that calls itself “pro-life” while hurting and threatening women and teenagers already endangered by their condition.
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s government has recently decided that Brazil won’t be a part of the Geneva Consensus Declaration anymore, a coalition opposed to the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights guaranteeing the right to abortion. While Power Alley ends on a joyful note, its subversive tone will be remembered. The atrocities perpetrated in the name of life didn’t kill Sofia’s spirits, it consolidated her desire to be part of the social struggle. Just like women and girls will still get abortions under a prohibitive state, feminists will still make their voices heard, no matter the violence or intimidation. A thing to remember as reproductive rights are still threatened throughout the world.
Edited by Rita Di Santo
© FIPRESCI 2023