The Violence of Gender By Kirill Razlogov

in 27th Istanbul International Film Festival

by Kirill Razlogov

XXY, the brilliant first feature film by Lucia (daughter of Luis) Puenzo, can be considered a provocative introduction to the gender debate on film in Latin America, in Turkey and elsewhere. The story of Alex (Inés Efron got several awards for this outstanding role), a hermaphrodite who is forced (but refuses) to choose between sexes, both his own, has an internal dramatic violence that becomes evident and very much real in any society.

In Turkey it is in the tradition of ‘honor killings’ in implementing the sanctioned assassination of young girls guilty of breaking family rules. Until recently these crimes have been considered legal and even know the judges show ‘understanding’ for the motives.

In Havar (byMehmet Guleryuz) the crime has not even been committed — Havar (the girl’s name means also “cry for help”) lost her scarf by accident but was still sentenced to death. The film was beautifully shot in the province of Batman-Hasankeyf, where numerous ‘suicides’ have been uncovered as killings. Traditional music and beautiful landscapes transform a mince anecdote played by non-professionals into an eternal tragedy: will the father be able to kill his daughter? Will she commit ritual suicide? The final shot — two hands in a closed grip (the father is desperately trying to save the daughter, instead of letting her fall from the cliff) — is a striking image but not a solution.

After the screening I was bothered by an absolute absence of any personal feelings between the two main protagonists. Local friends explained that those were impossible (like in a Greek tragedy) — the Father in the traditional Turkish family is the Sovereign if not a heavenly figure and the distance between him and any of his children is once again eternity and infinity.

From this point of view the second film that tackled the same problem — Hidden Faces (Sakli Yüzler) by Handan Ipekci — is made from a resolutely European perspective. It turns into a thriller, with a fake death and final bloodbath, confirming a pessimistic view of fate and human nature. Even together, the educated and modern women — one of them is without any doubt the director of the film — are unable to change the obsolete rules of the men’s world.

This diagnosis is confirmed by the French director Christine Carrière. Her Darling is the uncharismatic victim of violence from her father (and mother) during childhood and later from her husband (his friends and his mistress). Resolutely dark with traces of black humor the film depicts the feminine bondage in a modern democracy.

The Council of Europe film award FACE was given in Istanbul to Li Yang, the director of Blind Mountain (Mang shan) — a panorama of women abducting practices in China. Brought in the mountains as sex slaves or child bearers, the powerless girls become victims of human trafficking. The FACE award was created to raise public awareness and interest in human rights issues to create better understanding of their importance and reflect values of respect for human rights, individual freedom, political liberty and the rule of law. I cannot agree more that Blind Mountain is a powerful message against all violence to women all over the world.

But I cannot help remembering a recent Kirghiz film Pure Coolness (Boz Salkyn) by Ernest Abdyjaparov, whose educated heroine, after being abducted, finds happiness in the traditional way of life in the mountains, far from the city madding crowds, treachery, adultery and all that jazz.

It brings us back to the ambiguity of the whole human rights issue. Alex in XXY is given the right not to choose — the parents (if not the society) will support her/him whatever happens. But what will happen?