"Ivan’s Woman" and the Woman Behind It

in 15th Flying Broom International Women's Film Festival

by Alexandra Pütter

Natalia and Ivan live in a house that has been equipped with extra security. If someone approaches it, an alarm goes off and Natalia has to crawl to the backroom and hide from sight. That is, if she is not already in the cellar with the reinforced doors where she has to stay most of the time ever since Ivan abducted her. Since then he keeps her hidden from other people, controls what she eats, how she dresses and what she reads. If she does not obey him immediately, he has the means to make her.

Although their situation is not static, and is not simply one of oppressor and oppressed — Natalia is constantly working at expanding her space, at fighting her way up, into the light — it functions as a magnifying glass for the relationship between men and women in general. The way she flirts with him in order to get “favours” from him which are actually her right, and more importantly how she has so fundamentally trained herself to be a good girl that when a chance for freedom opens itself up to her, she might not be able to grab it, can make the viewer question her behaviour towards men. It certainly did that to this viewer.

Francisca Silva, the Chilean director of Ivan’s Woman (La Mujer de Iván) spent one year researching cases of abduction — one Austrian example might spring to mind, but there have been more in Latin America. In an interview she talks about being fascinated “by the unbreakable quality that relationships forged in pain” attain, and cites The Night Porter (Il portiere di notte) as an influence.

Born in 1982 in Santiago de Chile, she went to the local acting school, but knew already in her final year that she was more interested in the organisation of a scene than in standing on stage herself. After working on her first projects with friends from acting school, going to the Escuela de Cine de Chile was the natural next step.

Her training as an actress must have stood her in good stead when working with actors Marcelo Alonso and María de Los Ángeles García on this taxing story. She chose the former for the “underlying threat” he is able to convey as well as for his intellectual capacity, and the latter for her ability to spontaneously slip into any role — something the character she plays has to do in order to survive in Ivan’s prison. Together with her DOP Daniel Vivenco, Francisca Silva has created a distinctive look for her locations and a visual style all her own that belies her young age. It is difficult to believe that this is her first feature film, so assured is she in her rhythm, switching between present time, flashback and flashforward.

I asked her what roles she would have liked to have played if she had gone on to be an actress and she ponders the question for a while, because, as she says, she never really saw herself as an actress and did not have those dreams, but Hamlet and The Seagull’s Nina would have interested her, although she is most attracted by comedy. So I asked her if her next film could be a comedy and she rejected this idea, because for a comedy she would like to be more mature and have better control of her tools of trade.

After a film about abduction and abuse, not enough maturity for comedy? I think this is a director we should not let out of our sight.