Selma, Asha and Arno
by José Solís
Selma, Asha, and Arno subvert the patriarchy through culturally aware girl power.
Global majority girls, hailing from myriad cultures, left an indelible mark at the 28th International Film Festival for Children and Young Audiences SCHLiNGEL, where they led works that dazzled audience members with their diversity, enthralled them with their empathy, and proved that creating more compassionate paths is possible. From the freezing forests of northern Quebec in the 1940s, to a kingdom high up in the sky where the sounds of majestic opera and mundane whispers fill the air, films like Adventures in the Land of Asha (Jules au pays d’Asha) and the animated Sirocco and the Kingdom of Winds (Sirocco et le royaume des courants d’air) turned the adventure genre on its head, presenting us with courageous global majority heroines that did all the rescuing.
In Sirocco, two girls who have fallen under a spell must find their way back home guided by the ethereal Selma, a grand bird diva, whose voice can literally sway the wind. Voiced by chanteuse Aurélie Konaté, who is of Guinean descent, Selma pays homage to the grace and elegance of African women who proudly display their culture in the oppressively white opera world, while becoming a modern version of Glinda the Good Witch from The Wizard of Oz. Although Glinda’s preferred pedagogy was to let others come to the correct conclusion through discernment, Selma rolls up her opera gloves to glide across the skies and take the girls where they need to be.
Rather than sky-gliding, Asha (Gaby Jourdain) canoes down a wide river hoping to find a remedy for Jules’ (Alex Dupras) illness and the location of her parents who disappeared without leaving a trace. Just like in Oz, neither will get exactly the thing they imagined they would, but in the journey they will learn things about themselves and the world that will most likely change them forever. It’s hard to believe this is Jourdain’s first film because she commands the screen with the presence, strength, and charm of someone who has been doing this their entire lives. Although her comedic timing and action skills are quite good, Jourdain is at her best when she conveys the profoundly moving depth contained in silence. As Asha becomes one with the forest that birthed and nurtured her, on Jourdain’s face you can see flashes of her ancestors’ visages, who have become both guiding spirits and parts of her physicality. Few actors have captured the beauty of communion with the planet like Jourdain, her knowing smile often reminding us to always choose hope.
The perilous river onto which Asha and Jules set out on their mission, seems to extend all the way to the remote, rocky canyons of Kyrgyzstan in Dalmira Tilepbergen’s stunning The Gift (Belek) a story about time bowing down to tradition and imposing an unfair sentence on girls and women, based on the happenstance of their biological sex. Although Iman has been blessed with five daughters, he hopes the next baby his wife is expecting will be the boy that makes his life worth living. His daughter Arno (Zhannat Kuruchbekova) however, won’t wait around for a boy to let her live the life she wants. Cutting her hair short, refusing to wear the bright floral dresses her mother sews for her, and constantly questioning the system she must live in, but not made for her, Arno goes on the journey of a lifetime. Watching The Gift, you would not expect Kuruchbekova to be as cheerful as she is, onscreen she brings quiet ferociousness to a tiny person who carries the weight of the world on her shoulders, making her way across the CineStar multiplex where the film was screened, Kuruchbekova seemed to almost float, her luminous smile a sweet contrast to the desperation in which we leave her character in The Gift.
Edited by Savina Petkova
© FIPRESCI 2023