Esoteric, Eclectic Women in March: Female Gaze at Work
by Rwita Dutta
In a stupendous Film Festival like Valladolid that has a legacy of its own, film buffs from all across the world look forward to witnessing the latest trends of world cinema, be it in the cinematic forms or in narrative practices. Similarly, in the 68th edition of Semana Internacional de Cine de Valladolid, a few memorable films have been thoroughly consumed by the audience. In the quaint city of Valladolid, there is no dearth of serious cine goers. Even in the first screening (quite early in the mornings) there was always a full house. It’s so satisfying to see that the world has not yet been solely engulfed by content-driven platforms. An overwhelming presence of big screen theatres with the pure magic of cinema still enthrals its audience.
Amidst the numerous films being screened, let us discuss a few exploring female subjectivity and beyond.
Kaouther Ben Hanis’s most talked about docu-feature Four Daughters competed for the Golden Palm in the Cannes Film Festival, 2023. The film depicts the story of Olfa Hamrouni and her four daughters, two of whom— Rahma and Ghofrane—left Tunisia to fight along with the Islamic State (IS) in Libya. The film probes into the repercussions of their disappearance. It’s an account of what happened to their family. The film is a result of successful co-production among France, Tunisia, Germany and Saudi Arabia. Professional actors were hired to perform the roles of the two estranged daughters, and the real intersected successfully with the reel. Throughout the film, various archival footage is used, the mother and daughter duo describing their horrific life stories, while the actors enact some of the crucial moments of their lives quite convincingly. The resilience of the protagonists, their bittersweet banter, sense of humour is prolific. The socio-political aspect of the country and its women folk, coupled with religious extremities make the film extremely pertinent in today’s world. It’s more of a female gaze towards their surroundings that dominated the narrative. The director treated the volatile subject in the most non-judgemental manner. Olfa’s trauma has been perfectly etched out. Visually it was strictly a woman’s world out there. Indeed, a commendable film.
Another very intense film from the Spanish director Manuel Martín Cuenca, Andrea’s Love (in Spanish: El Amor de Andrea), is a poignant tale of a broken family. The protagonist, a 15-year-old girl named Andrea, is entrusted with the responsibility of raising her two brothers in the absence of her parents. Their father no longer lives with them. Resultantly, they have to undergo various hardships of daily life. Eventually, the girl seeks the intervention of law to coax her father to accept his duties towards them. Andrea’s character was astute and the performance of the actress, Lupe Mateo Barrado is memorable.
Ilker Çatak’s Teachers’ Lounge (German: Das Lehrerzimme) is a wonderful take on a teacher’s ideal and the institutional probing into a student’s life. It’s somehow an intimate story for the director, at times drawn from his personal experiences in high school. Allegorically, the school has been used as a trope to introspect the society at large as well as the state. The interconnection of duty with truth, crime with reality has been investigated. This film premiered in the Berlinale in 2023. The film is also about envisaging children’s rights. Carla Nowak, as a new maths and physical exercise teacher, is played brilliantly by German actress Leonie Benesch, who finds herself at the centre of an incident involving money stolen on school premises. In the film, a pupil of Turkish descent is singled out as a suspect in the theft. It could be the life of any Turkish person growing up in Germany. The story is also about resisting any form of hierarchy.
Another noteworthy film again came from Spain. Something is about to Happen (Spanish: Que Nadie Duerma) by Antonio Méndez Esparza. It’s a Spanish-Romanian thriller that also has a solid female protagonist. Navigating her whirlpool life, the film not only reveals her inner psyche but also exposes the volatile society around a single woman. Malena Alterio as Lucía is phenomenal. Her shift from a professional software developer to a taxi driver, traversing through diverse routes across Madrid, carrying various quirky characters as her passengers, creates a fascinating plot. At the end, the film turns melodramatic, which may not be desirable for many.
How to Have Sex is also a festival favourite. This is a nuanced tale of young adults and their fantasies intersecting with reality. Written and directed by Molly Manning Walker, How to Have Sex is a powerful drama of three 16-year-old girls in the party resort of Malia, on the Greek island of Crete. In the vortex of sensory pleasure in the growing up years, the thin red line between consent and sexual abuse tend to get blurred. We all know that but the director dared to ponder on the tabooed subject. Mia Mckenna-Bruce as Tara skilfully brings out the fragility of one’s own self. This film already won the Un Certain Regard award in the Cannes Film Festival, 2023. The buzz around it was real. The female gaze was strong and provocative. It’s good to know that feminism is not yet a thing of the past. It resurfaces again, especially in visual mediums where the torch bearers are too less in number. Female friendship, teenage vulnerability, discussions around sexual violence and the most controversial subject like consensual sexual activity has been explored extremely well in this film. It created an indelible impact on the audience.
This is the analysis of only a small number of remarkable films among various other significant works being screened in this year’s Valladolid Film Festival. But the presence of the diverse voices of independent cinema has been felt throughout. The common thread among above-mentioned films is the prominence of strong women characters irrespective of their language, continents or race. It’s like watching the world through a provocative female gaze and understanding the intricacies of life as a whole.
Edited by Savina Petkova
© FIPRESCI 2023