The Long And Winding Line of Unhappy Women

in 11th Jameson CineFest Miskolc International Film Festival

by Andrzej Fogler

There were over 200 films made by young filmmakers presented at this year’s CineFest in Miskolc, Hungary. The international competition of full-length films consisted of twenty carefully selected pictures of very good quality.

In about 80 per cent of the competing films women played the leading roles. It has become a trend in today’s cinema that we watch women in the foreground and men in the background. The female perspective seems to dominate. Is it good? Do female spectators really want this? We will see…

We watched at Miskolc festival women of every age, from different places, with different problems. These problems were sometimes very serious, but more often the heroines evidently “produced” some pathetic pseudo-problems straight out of their imagination, or rather from their inability to make the right decisions or/and take some responsibility in their lives.

Most of the characters in the competing films were not too well educated women, whose reflections were not of a high intellectual standard, but strong feelings generally made them worth watching. Let’s have a close look at a few real tragedies.

Here we have Xavier Dolan’s Mommy from Canada, a touching story of a working-class widow who tries very hard to help her sick, troubled teenage son, despite her own messy personal life. She has some dreams, but in fact, she must accept the real thing: her son needs hospital treatment that might last very long and she is completely on her own. In his very good film, Dolan shows that the wide screen is the place for beautiful dreams (the picture expands only for a few minutes during the whole screening!), but everyday life with no hope doesn’t need such an exposure.

Another example of the real tragedy is the Romanian film Carmen by Doru Nitescu. A more touching story of a mother struggling for her child, this time a ten year-old daughter dying from cancer. Unfortunately, both mothers are heavy smokers, who don’t even understand how dangerous it is for their children and how much it accelerates the pathogenic processes. Apart from these real, undisputable tragedies we see several so-called problems that we might treat as more or less ‘imaginary tragedies’.

Norwegian cinema was presented through a picture called I Am Yours (Jeg er din) by Iram Haq, the story of a 27-year-old single mother who is looking desperately for her own place in the world. She dreams of becoming an actress, but every audition is a disaster. She wants to be loved, but only gets what she seems to need, i.e. sex. Finally she gets rid of her only child, because she thinks that her life will be easier this way. A monster? It is not so easy to judge. At least she has the courage to admit that her ex-husband is a much better parent. And what if one fine day she wakes up with a strong feeling that she must have her son back?

Another example of a pleasure-seeking woman comes from the French film Party Girl by Marie Amachoukeli-Barsacq. This time the girl is much older and has spent all her life drinking at bars and manipulating people somewhere on the beautiful French-German border. She looks like an old man with a huge wig, with a ton of cosmetics on her face and another ton of jewelry. At the age of 60 she has a chance to start a normal life, but normal is boring for such people, so she simply comes back to her world of alcohol, cigarettes, prostitution and violence. Her choice — she’s got the right to choose what’s good for her. In the end she seems to be happy, but we know this empty life with no future is only a minor evil for her, something better than normal everyday life. Her dream is to start life as a single in Paris, but her son doesn’t want to take her there. He never had a real mother and she can’t have a real son. Will the Norwegian girl become a party girl one day?

And what about teenage girls? Mostly unhappy, of course! In Celine Sciamma’s Girlhood (La bande de filles) groups of schoolgirls from the suburbs of Paris try to have fun at the edge of law instead of thinking how to get better education and have a better life. There is a slight chance that one of them will achieve something more than the others, but it’s going to take many years of hard work.

The long procession of unhappy female characters should be completed with one teenage suicide — something always unnecessary and tragic, in Rok Bicek’s Class Enemy (Razredni Sovraznik) from Slovenia; and one wife totally disillusioned with her husband who made a big mistake and starts pretending that nothing happened — in Ruben Ostlund’s Force Majeure (Lavina), a Swedish-Danish-Norwegian coproduction. There were many other interesting and important problems presented in the other films, but so many poor, unfortunate women shouldn’t be ignored and deserve these few lines.

Edited by Birgit Beumers