Two Women: It's Hard Out There for a Chick By Mahrez Karoui

in 30th Moscow International Film Festival

by Mahrez Karoui

At the 30th edition of the Moscow International Film Festival, it was quite clear that the perpetual suffering of women continues to inspire film directors, and presumably the moviegoing public as well. Certainly, this is a relevant subject, but it’s one that’s been played out to exhaustion in contemporary cinema. What, then, can a filmmaker do with this theme that we haven’t already seen?

Among the new films mining this theme — because we saw several at Moscow — I can quote two works which seemed to me to offer original elements in their voices as well as their aesthetics. I point to the Iranian director Seyyed Reza Mir-Karimi’s As Simple As That (Be hamin sadegi), and the most recent opus of the Italian filmmaker Silvio Soldini, Days and Clouds (Giorni e nuvole).

As is apparent, these two films — which, in many regards, share unmistakable similarities — come from horizons that are considerably, if not diametrically, opposed in artistic, cultural and geographical terms.

Both films build stories around female characters: As Simple As That follows Tahereh, an Iranian, while Days and Clouds focuses on Elsa, an Italian. Both women are mothers; both have lived with an incurable faintness due to their family situations and responsibilities.

In both films — though at different levels — the camera never stops looking for the slightest gestures and movements of its subjects, as if the directors’ objective is to penetrate deep into their hearts, seeking the signifiers hiding behind the surfaces of their mysterious attitudes.

However, both directors are rooted in the artistic traditions of their countries. Mir-Karimi chooses an intimate, minimalist approach in the distinctly Iranian style of a Kiarostami or a Makhmalbaf; Soldini, for his part, takes the style of Italian comedy and extreme melodrama.

As far as their ultimate statements, the two films do not line up readily with regard to the theme of women vis-a-vis male machismo, but in terms of living in and sometimes suffering though the injustices of a society — either Iranian or Italian, there’s no real difference — they’re now able to recognize that women are human beings, just like men.

In fact, Tahereh (as portrayed by the formidable Iranian actress Hengameh Ghaziani) is a housewife who tries to escape her insignificance and distress. Using the structure of her private diary, As Simple As That shows us 24 hours in the life of this woman. More important to this film is the establishment of silence — and even more so, of simplicity. The hard life of our heroine is similar to that of most women in conservative Muslim societies — she’s relegated to the role of a simple maidservant, if not a slave. Ground down by the routine of domestic daily tasks, and by the responsibility to take care of her children and husband, Tahereh suffers in silence and tries to find refuge in the writing of poetry. Her existence is without relief; even her death would be insignificant.

The misfortune of Elsa (Margherita Buy), in Silvio Soldini’s film, is of a completely different nature. A fervent student of art history, Elsa has quit her job to pursue her education and to carry out an old dream. With her husband’s support, she succeeds brilliantly – but her happiness does not have a future, because she discovers suddenly nothing is running smoothly in her life. It is revealed that her husband lost his job months earlier, and their financial problems are now so serious that they must sell their house and yacht. Faced with this reversal of fortune, and her husband’s inability to find a new job, Elsa returns to work to provide for her family’s needs. But her husband’s idleness, and the difficulty of adapting to their new situation, weakens the couple’s relationship until the moment when separation becomes inevitable.

Elsa and Tahereh are both victims of their status as women in a world where it is really hard to be a woman. Whether in a modern Western society or a traditional Eastern society, women continue to suffer that indifference.