Settimana della critica – Critics' Week: Strong Female Leads

in 68th Venice Film Festival

by Paola Casella

While in the main competition section of the 68th Venice Film Festival the spotlight was on male protagonists, six out of seven films in the Critic’s Week saw a powerful female lead as the center of the director’s attention.

Cyril Mennegun’s Louise Wimmer (France) focuses on a 50-ish divorcee compelled by her personal choices and by the international economic crisis to live out of her car, despite her bourgeois background and refined education. Her fight to keep her dignity in the face of adversities, occasionally mistaken as foolish pride, is moving and in the end uplifting.

A born fighter seems to also be the protagonist of Kyzza Terrazas’ El lenguaje de los machetes (Mexico), a punk singer and social rebel preparing herself for a kamikaze attack on Mexican society, together with her lover. The voice of reason and the push towards life rather than violent death comes to her in the form of a newly found maternal instinct, but her lover refuses to put parenthood before ideological sacrifice, although in the end the woman will prove far more coherent and fearless than her partner.

The same happens in Hernan Belon’s El campo (an Italian and Argentinian co-production) in which the unraveling of a post-partum depression is recounted in the filmic form of a horror story (which it is, in reality!). As the woman owns up to (and denounces) her unhappiness and sense of inadequacy in her new role as wife and mother, her husband remains in denial until the conjugal crisis explodes in its whole lethal destructiveness.

The female protagonist of Michale Boganim’s The Land of Oblivion (Terre outragée, a French-Israeli production shot on location in Russia) goes from blushing bride to jaded tour guide on the site of what used to be her fertile homeland and is now a ghastly no man’s (or woman’s) land attracting a sort of morbid tourism: Chernobyl after the 1986 nuclear disaster. Her struggle between the desire to escape her country and fate and her attachment to her roots is the material for a tragic and compelling story.

In a similar vein the struggle of a farmer whose husband has been killed in a work-related accident to keep her sanity and her farm, as well as to raise her adolescent son, in Guy Edoin’s Wetlands (Marécages, from Quebec, Canada) looks like a Sisyphus’ effort, given the current economic crisis, and the presence of a neighbor intent on praying on her difficulties threatens her dignity as a woman and as a human being.

That same dignity is at stake in Jessica Krummacher’s Totem (Germany), where a young housemaid is treated like a modern slave and pushed into a corner of isolation and depression. Of all the female protagonists in the Critics’ Week, she’s the youngest and the most defenseless: her fate is meant to sound like an alarm bell in all viewers’ consciences.