"Paulina": Rape "Victim" Who Turns the Tables

in 68th Cannes Film Festival

by Ramy Abdel Razek

By the end of Semaine de la critique the Argentine-French film Paulina directed by Santiago Mitre, was awarded the best work among seven entries in the 54th edition. FIPRESCI (The International Federation of Film Critics) also announced that the film had received the prize for the best first film in the two strands: Critics’ Week and the Directors’ Fortnight.

Paulina is a young woman who is raped violently by a group of people in the town where she works as a schoolteacher. When she discovers who were the perpetrators and in particular the identity of the man who raped her she decided to find him and ask: “Why did you do this to me?”

The director chose to present the events through a narrative non-linear technique which means that the scenes are not going to be shown chronologically. There is an absence of absolute truth and the difficulty of pitting one side against another. Here, we are all victims and we are all rapists.

The film breaks the stereotypes for these kinds of narratives. We face a lot of questions that a traditional narration could not easily pose. When Paulina decided to look for her rapist to ask him about his feelings during the act of rape and refuses to get rid of the baby resulting from this assault, we are looking here at an unexpected reaction. Paulina is not a masochist person who enjoys the violation but she is a strong woman who left a legal career and a bright future as a judge to focus her political and social concerns through teaching in poor areas in order to contribute to the creation of a new and educated generation.

The director knows exactly how to tell the story. Before Paulina tries to discover the feelings of her rapist, the narrative style answers with the utmost violence the question. We see the rapist as a peaceful worker from the town. He endured a severe emotional distress when his girlfriend left him for a Brazilian young man from out of town. He even saw her having sex with this young man in his car like a whore. The worker’s friends took photos of the couple as if they were watching an erotic film. Being hurt as a man, this psychological violation pushes him to change from a young peaceful person to a sort of animal that wants to get rid of his internal sense of violation so that he becomes the tormentor.

The scenario does not give an excuse for rape but builds up the story in front of us by fragmenting it and making it difficult to be against the rapist categorically. What increases our confusion is the position of the victim herself who refuses to press charges against the rapist despite the police investigations that prove his involvement with his friends in the incident and she insists on trying to talk to him first.

The director listed a series of scenes of torture by the police to extract confessions closer to the scenes of sexual rape. The series of violations can lead to a society deprived of affection, culture and education. This society is portrayed through scenes that have been filmed from high angles above a town full of greenery and trees. So, the director puts us in a clear contradiction between this fertility and this drought of emotion, sensuality and ignorance, which remain in the minds and hearts of the townspeople.

But Paulina believes that human beings deserve better and that life should be preserved which is why she refuses to get rid of the child she is carrying. She has chosen to be a schoolteacher instead of becoming a judge, a dramatic choice that highlights the character’s personal and natural depth which makes her take the side of the rapist and refuse to have an abortion. She does not want to prosecute people or judge them; she wants to illuminate the way for them and guide them to ways of making their existence better and more valuable.

Edited by Richard Mowe