Leonine Women: Strong Women in Competition

in 22nd Tromsø International Film Festival

by Melis Behlil

Among the notable films at the festival, three grabbed my attention with their portrayals of strong leonine women guarding their brood. It is not often one finds such strong women on screen, and they deserve a closer look.

The opening film was Robert Guédiguian’s Snows of Kilimanjaro (Les neiges du Kilimandjaro), in which a loving blue-collar husband and wife getting ready to retire have to deal with a crime committed against them. The mother, Marie-Claire (Ariane Ascaride), manages the situation not only for herself and her immediate family, but also takes charge of innocent third parties, all the while maintaining a smile on her face and keeping the dishes clean. In fact, her composure borders on the annoying, as her patience and multi-tasking know no bounds.

Andreas Dresen’s Stopped on Track (Halt auf freier Strecke), winner of the FICC (International Federation of Film Societies), is a horrifyingly realistic depiction of a middle—aged family man dying of a brain tumor. His wife Simone (Steffi Kühnert), who is as central to the story as her husband, has to juggle her duties as a wife, mother, and care—giver with those of being a tram driver, and coping with the reality of being the one to maintain a sense of normalcy both during and after this draining ordeal. Unlike Marie-Claire, Simone does break down at times, but this is shown as a normal part of the process, a part of her attempt at remaining sane under the pressure. Towards the end, when she admits that she wishes her husband to finally leave peacefully, it is impossible not to empathise with her, particularly as we are also close witnesses to the pain the husband experiences.

The third woman is as protective of her family, but her actions differ greatly from the previous two. Andrei Zvyagintsev’s Elena, winner of the FIPRESCI Prize, tells the story of a retired nurse who puts herself in a position where she has to choose between her husband of two years and her own blood. In keeping with the strong mother theme, Elena (Nadezhda Markina) chooses her son’s family, at the expense of her rich husband. The film does not judge her actions, nor does it attempt to give a moral lesson. Elena is not evil, but she is a woman whose offspring is put in danger, and she is willing to do anything to protect him.

These three representations, all directed by men, are joined by one final film that looks at what it means to be a woman or a man, a girl or a boy. Celine Sciamma’s Tomboy is a gentle portrayal of pre—teen Laure (Zoé Héran), who introduces herself as Mikael in the new town she moves to with her family. Her discomfort in her body and in the gender roles assigned to her by society is demonstrated throughout the film, and it left me wondering what her life would be like upon reaching the ages of these three other women who made an impression on me at the festival.