Memorable Characters, Passionate Performances

in 18th Flying Broom International Women's Film Festival, Ankara

by Massimo Lechi

Since its first edition, the Flying Broom International Women’s Film Festival has always had very precise artistic and political ambitions. It was founded in Ankara by a combative and cultivated group of feminist activists, the Uçan Süpürge association, with the intent of improving women’s status in Turkish cinema and of providing women directors with a chance to show their latest works and share their points of view on arts and society.

But the twelve movies in this year’s competition, gathered under the title ‘Each Has A Different Color’, were not simply focused on important issues, noble causes or political statements. The line-up comprised some truly powerful pieces of filmmaking, good storytelling where impact wasn’t determined only by thematic resonance in public debate. And, above all, it displayed strong female characters and performances (most of which were by young or still little known actresses), giving the audience the possibility to discover talented female narrators and to admire intriguing cinematic faces.

Sacha Polak’s elliptic and hallucinatory Zurich (Zürich), for example, featured the intense Dutch singer Wende Snijders as a self-destructive woman incapable of getting over the death of her lover. Star (Zvezda), Anna Melikyan’s semi-satirical collision of destinies in merciless contemporary Russia, revealed the delicate beauty of Tina Dalakishvili and confirmed the charisma of Severija Janusauskaite, perfectly at ease as an oligarch’s girlfriend spiraling into poverty and disease. In Céline Sciamma’s edgy Girlhood (Bande de filles) Karidja Touré, surrounded by the other black newcomers of the cast, shone bright as a young fille de banlieue who painfully strives for a better future far from the violent men threatening her life. While the already much acclaimed The Wonders (Le Meraviglie, Alice Rohrwacher’s dreamy second feature) had a touchingly naive protagonist in Maria Alexandra Lungu.   

Still, the most impressive performative exploits came from two brave and uncompromising films, with totally different styles and narrative structures. The first one, Viktoria (Viktoria), brought the festival’s viewers back in time, into the gloom of Communist Bulgaria during Todor Živkov’s regime. Written and directed by Maya Vitkova, this baffling directorial debut depicts a suffocating and sterile society through the symbolic story of the title character, an unwanted baby girl born without the belly button. A surrealist and at times exhilarating first part is followed by a darker and grievous second act, in which the tempo slows down and the lights dim over the characters’ wasted lives. But what really strikes in this meditation on motherhood and on cruel generational conflicts, besides the young director’s arsenal of symbolisms and her taste for refined framing, is the contribution of the actresses. And among them, even though Mariana Krumova’s sphinx-like mute mama is remarkable and Daria and Kalina Vitkova are both convincing (as the child and the grown-up Viktoria, respectively), it is Irmena Chichikova who stands out. Her pale, impassive but frightfully tormented Boryana, who dreams of fleeing to the USA but ends up a mother of the Bulgarian Baby of the Decade, is both a victim of her inner turmoil and of her environment. A prisoner of history, and of melancholy, she is pointlessly mean, as only a defeated human being can be. Chichikova’s subtle talent was a true surprise.

Another prisoner, and victim, of an implacable power was the leading character of Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (Gett), the FIPRESCI award winning film. A flawlessly written and superbly staged courtroom drama, it can be considered as the conclusive part of the Elkabetz siblings’ trilogy of male domination and female oppression in Israeli society. Years after To Take a Wife (Ve’Lakhta Lehe Isha) and 7 Days (Shiva), we meet again the melancholic gaze of Viviane, a Sephardic Jewish hairdresser stuck in an unhappy marriage with the ultra-conservative Elisha (Simon Abkarian, effective as always). This time, in her struggle for independence, she has to face not only her longtime husband, who refuses to grant her a divorce, but also the rabbinical court judges, the inflexible keepers of Orthodox law. Ronit Elkabetz, who co-writes and co-directs with her brother Shlomi, gives life to a memorable female figure who has both the depth and evocative power of an iconic literary heroine. Watching her act before the camera has been a compelling cinematic experience for many film enthusiasts and critics attending the festival’s screenings. Her Viviane’s stubborn fight for freedom was, without doubt, one of the highlights of this 18th Flying Broom’s edition.

Edited by Tara Judah