Rebels With a Cause: Choosing Oneself in Life

in 61st Valladolid International Film Festival

by Salvatore Marfella

The 61 st edition of Valladolid Semana Internacional de Cine, one of Europe’s oldest festivals, has just finished and a lot of independent and auteur films were shown, finding their way into the different sections included in the event, which had obviously its core in the Sección Oficial (Main Competition).

In attempting to detect a red thread which winds like a leitmotif throughout the festival, it is possible to put into evidence the great deal of stories that, in several and different manners, describe a challenge set by an individual (especially a female) in order to choose their own path in life. The women depicted in some of the films (and which we are going to talk about in this article) rebel either against an overwhelming political and economic power or the burden of old cultural tradition and heritage, especially in societies with a poor socio-cultural evolution and primitive living habits. As far as the first case it is concerned, for example, the film Aquarius revolves around Clara, a 65-year- old retired music critic (played by the magnificent Sonia Braga), who fights against a real estate company which has building plans for her ancient residence (called Aquarius). She proudly engages (and wins) her battle with the company’s corrupted agents although all the other inhabitants and neighbours have surrendered, accepting money compensation offered by the greedy speculators.
In Land of the Gods (Dev Bhoomi), directed by Goran Paskaljevic, we encounter another strong character, that is Shaanti, a young female teacher living in a small village in the Himalayas. The main plot is about an old man, Rahul, returning home after 40 years spent in the United Kingdom in order to seek his relatives’ forgiveness for his sins in the past. During his stay in the village, Rahul meets Shaanti who, unlike him, has left central India to teach in this inhospitable place. Her best pupil, Asha, is forced into an unwanted marriage and, due to being female, prevented from continuing her studies. For this reason, Asha commits suicide. This tribal society, in which traditional caste system and gender roles still dominate, accuses Shaanti of backsliding her pupil and burns her house while she is inside but she survives. Nevertheless, Shaanti decides to stay in the village (“I came here to stay and I will not go away” she says to Rahul) and her strength and determination turns into a lesson for the old man.
The issue of authoritarianism also comes up in Iranian film Daughter (Dokhtar), directed by Reza Mirkarimi. The story revolves around the young student Setareh who, despite her father’s objections, takes a plane from her southern hometown to Tehran in order to say farewell to one of her best friends, who is leaving for Canada. This act of rebellion gives way to a large number of dramatic events but, after some perturbations which upset her father’s beliefs, the strict and traditional man has the opportunity to investigate his past, in particular his relationship with the family.
Rebellious and courageous women also form the core of the two films which were awarded by the International Jury and FIPRESCI Jury: Like Crazy (La Pazza Gioia) by Paolo Virzì, the Italian winner of the Golden Spike, and Agnus Dei (Les Innocentes) by Anne Fontaine, which deserved the International Federation of Film Critics Award. In Like Crazy (which also won the Audience Award and, ex-aequo, the Best Actress Award for Micaela Ramazzotti and Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi) Beatrice and Donatella, two women of different social environments and temperaments, are hospitalised in Villa Biondi, a psychiatric clinic, from where they escape during an excursion. Their breakaway, started as an exercise in freedom, soon turns into a way through which they realise their outcast condition.

In Agnus Dei, World War II has just finished and Mathilde, a young French Red Cross doctor, is on mission in Poland to help survivors. In particular, she is devoted to French veterans but one day, when a Polish nun comes to the clinic in search for help, Mathilde is brought to a convent where several sisters are forced to hide their pregnancy following rapes by Soviet soldiers. Disobeying the rule which forbids French doctors to heal non- French patients, Mathilde becomes the only hope for these wretched girls.

In conclusion, the 61 st Valladolid International Film Festival confirms once again that, in an increasingly complex world, where a lot of people still experience tough living conditions, there is a strong need and requirement for stories in which individuals are at crossroads and are obliged to choose either rebellion or subjection.

Edited by Amber Wilkinson