Made by Women

in 38th Cairo International Film Festival

by Tara Judah

From sixteen titles in Official Competition, just six were directed by women. Though the festival began with an Egyptian film made by a woman, about women, there was a constant through-line of misogyny in the content up on screen. I lost count of how many times women were casually referred to whores or sluts, sometimes relevant to the narrative and other times gratuitously included and bafflingly abided by audiences. Even the Opening Night title, Youm Lel Setat (A Day For Women), that centres its story around the utility and grace of a community centre that allows women a single day out of seven to remove their headdress, speak freely about their oppression, thoughts and feelings and to form some semblance of a collective that might give them strength enough to go on in an otherwise unbearable society, still made casual jokes about domestic violence that played to laughs onscreen and off by men and women alike.

Searching, then, for a film that would offer anything other than an unbearable portrayal of women became the chief task for my tired eyes and one that eventually paid off, both inside and outside of the Official Competition.

Out of Competition, Peter Grönlund’s Swedish social realist drama starring two women, Malin Levanon and Lo Kauppi, who are desperately trying to break the cycle of substance abuse and homelessness, was a breath of fresh air. A film that focuses on the persistence of humanity and the importance of individual struggle in the face of systemic oppression, Tjuvheder (Drifters, 2015), offered a refreshing perspective on familiar themes.

In the Official Competition, there was one shining light: Anna’s Life. One of four films with a female protagonist, the others; Serbian A Good Wife (Dobra žena, by Mirjana Karanovic), Egyptian YoumLelSetat (A Day For Women by KamlaAbouZekri) and French Voir du pays (Stopover by Delphine and Muriel Coulin); Anna’s Life shows us the daily struggle of a single mother with an autistic child in contemporary Georgia. Where women often stand in allegorically for the nation in cinema, Anna is representative of contemporary Georgia, fighting for human rights. Her mother, who is showing first signs of Alzheimer’s or dementia, is the previous incarnation of the country, confusing past and present struggles for equity and forgetting how to take care of herself.

The child of contemporary Georgia is, then, imprisoned within his own condition, here shown as an extreme case of autism. Anna is at her wits end. The only hope she has, working several jobs; as a seamstress’ assistant, a house cleaner,adish washer in a local restaurant; she is pushed to the limits of her natural ability/resources and still cannot save enough money to solve the problem before her. With a housing crisis looming on the horizon, Anna is considering selling the one piece of security she has: her apartment. She was abandoned emotionally and financially by the father of her son and is considering illegal passage to America in the hope of finding a better life in the so-called land of opportunity.

Buying a piece of the American Dream, however, is much costlier than Anna could have imagined. Having sold her home and given everything she had to an immigrant, she is robbed of the opportunity, fed instead on false lies and a new plan that involves her crawling through a tunnel with the aid of people smugglers in Mexico.

The extent of the complexity of her situation is intense and she faces more problems than any single human could hope to solve. Finally, after discovering that she is pregnant, Anna must decide– for herself and, allegorically, for the country’s future: awaiting her appointment for abortion, she looks into the eyes of a young boy and sees a glimmer of hope. Changing her mind, she leaves the appointment and walks straight out of the clinic into the middle of a protest march, the person next to her cloaked in the Georgian flag. She will fight for human rights for her country, she will not flee to America and abandon a new generation of Georgian people. The country may not be strong, but it will fight for its future.