New Gender Models

in 50th Gijón International Film Festival

by Paula Bordonada

Facts and figures in diverse reports usually show worrying signs for film and gender equality, both concerning the possibilities for women to become filmmakers and the identity representation in characters. This year’s Gijón film festival’s official section, though, seems to have been concerned with these issues, even if only two female filmmakers were in competition among the 18 feature films, still an extraordinary low presence. Aida Begic’s Children of Sarajevo (Djeca) and well-known Palestinian actress Hiam Abbass’ directing debut Inheritance (Héritage) stand out because of their deeply significant addressing of social matters, especially concerning women confronting war conflicts.

Nevertheless, the leading roles of women in this year’s Gijón fiction films, together with both masculine and feminine role models in stories, suppose a great advance from last decade’s statistics. Most of the leading roles in competition films feature women, and they not only focus the narration but most importantly explore intimate matters and fears along with female emancipation in their environments at the same time. This tendency impregnates such different films, like the surrealistic and grotesque Spanish film La venta del paraíso by Emilio R. Barrachina, or how Mexican protagonist Aurora María confronts the broken dreams of emigration, and the conveyed dramatic helplessness in taking decisions under extreme situations that is the focus of James Marsh’s Shadow Dancer, where integrity, political convictions and emotional bonds are the main factors of surviving the Irish independence conflict. Commendation also goes to Lee Sang-Woo’s Barbie (Ba-bi), Todd Louiso’s Hello I Must Be Going, Adam Leon’s Gimme the Loot and even Keiichi Kobayashi’s About the Pink Sky (Momoiro sora o), winner of the Best Film prize. Of course, all of them are very different in shades of respective dramatic natures. But their common denominator is women’s strength, the kind which is in control of their lives, making them fight for their own survival and (most of all) for their own identity as a human being, far away from the so many women who, thanks to a crucial love story, are so often saved by men in the history of cinema.

The same line goes for the acclaimed Beyond the Hills (Dupa Dealuri), and even one step further: there is not only the same theme as in all the other films mentioned, there is also a point to make about homosexuality. That is, usually when sexual orientation is a theme in a film it takes the main role in order to reach the stage where, by wanting to highlight the state of things, it dramatically overreacts and drives social normality out from the whole. Cristian Mungiu’s feature makes a majestic move by presenting Alina and Voichita’s relationship as something accepted and natural. Despite the fact that the film is a heavily-charged drama, the love between two women is nothing in comparison with the fundamental and intense conflict in the rest of the story, especially as the film’s religious orthodox context could have been much more evident when confronted by a two women relationship.

However, gender matters understood as a woman’s affair could only be a risk to equality, as becoming just concerned by a part and not all of population. One of the most interesting thinking over gender points, considering all the official section films in Gijón, is the new masculinity that appears in the Danish entry Teddy Bear: the traditional male concept is profusely overthrown by Dennis, a strong and rough body-builder who hides his romantic sweetness and tenderness in his constant searching for a soul mate. Though a conservative concept in itself, nevertheless it is a symbol of the liberation of patriarchal roles as it is the main trait contained in Mads Matthiesen’s such apparently virile character.

All these gender aspects lead to a special mention, due to its assumed risks, for The Patience Stone (Syngué Sabour), written and directed by Atiq Rahimi with Jean-Claude Carrière’s collaboration. The central protagonist of the film is an anonymous Afghan woman whose only occupations are to take care of her seriously-injured husband and to protect her family from war destruction. Seclusion between four walls and silence from the unconscious husband drive her to start a monologue, a naive one at the beginning, which becomes an intense and important essay on marriage and, above all, on women’s sexuality.

Poetic mise-en-scène and highly-stylized cinematography, of an almost theatrical kind, make The Patience Stone easily able to draw its force from the multiple levels of the speech, different details in depth according to different levels of reception. That is, an initial level where being a woman is directly connected to the obvious context of the film production: Afghanistan, marriage as an obligation, very little communication between men and women, lack of autonomy for women in the public context, deep significance of religion, etc. But soon a second and more universal level appears, since it gets into the roots of desire and emotion, putting into words the worries and drives of every human being on understanding, communication, satisfaction and sexual freedom. Likewise, the film rises up to be almost political by approaching important matters related to morality and freedom: masturbation, the limits of monogamy, prostitution, conciliation between sexuality and religion, etc. All these turn The Patience Stone into a film that reunites local and universal, ethics and morals too, through the principle of “the political aspect in the personal sphere”: by extension, it concerns all human beings.

Edited by Steven Yates