What Was Love?

in 19th Flying Broom International Women's Film Festival, Ankara

by Janka Barkoczi

What Was Love? (Sevgi neydi?) – This short but complex question was asked in this year’s motto of the 19th Flying Broom International Women’s Film Festival of Ankara. What was my love, your love, and what was our love? What was the love toward a child, a parent, a friend, a man or a woman? What was it before and what is it now? As many different layers of love, as many delicate stories, could be seen on the cinema screen during the one week of the festival.

Even though Flying Broom is still a quite small and cosy event, the importance of the message carried by its spirit is invaluable. The colourful program offered various tales of women told by women, making visible not only their cathartic dramas, but also their small and sweet stories.

The strongest voice of the competition called ‘Each Has a Different Color’ came doubtlessly from the mothers and the children. This striking pattern turned up in more than half of the 12 movies treating the topics of maternity, rebel teens and female-centred family issues. These cinematic stories provided a spectacularly common thematic platform although we found very different tones, ambiguous symbolic essays (MA, Evolution), lighter social dramas (The Wednesday Child (A szerdai gyerek), As I Open My Eyes (À peine j’ouvre les yeux), The Gulls (Chaiki), and lyric chamber plays Mountain (Ha’har) and Motherland (Ana Yurdu) among them.

One of the most interesting entries was Motherland, directed by Senem Tüzen, a movie which was a recent big hit on the Turkish festival circuit. The difficult relationship of the divorced, urban, upper-middle classed woman and her uneasy mother evolves here through the remarkable performances of Esra Bezen Bilgin and Nihal G. Koldas in an isolated Anatolian village. A different and noisier fight is fought by the 18-year-old underground singer, Farah and her mother in Leyla Bouzid’s extremely dynamic movie, As I Open My Eyes. The protagonists’ life is wild and full of emotions since their world is determined by the tense climate of Tunis in 2010, just before the Jasmine revolution. The tiny gestures and the affectionate depiction of the city make this work more vivid than the daring and critical, but sometimes too harsh music of the rebellious band, and create an interesting inner energy for it.

Another and more surreal historical tale came from Russia with Pioneer Heroes (Pionery-geroi) made by the writer-director Natalia Kudryashova in memory of lost childhood and lost dreams. The Freudian and post-socialist stories of the present day grown-ups dragged the audience toward a personal but shared past that made this the most neutral movie of the women’s festival at the same time. In Evolution, Lucile Hadzihalilovic took the surrealism to a new level with the portrayal of the claustrophobic seaside town where a dark, experimental conspiracy of the mothers seems to be shaped. In sharp contrast with Hadzihalilovic’s stunning visual poetry, the chaotic style of the USA entry, MA, was rather more nerve-wracking than meaningful. The declared aim of the director, Celia Rowlson-Hall was the re-textualization of the Virgin Mary’s story, but, unfortunately, the result was far from real spirituality.

Besides the FIPRESCI-winner Things to Come (L’avenir) by Mia Hansen-Løve, the most original movies of the competition were undoubtedly the widely co-produced European entry Sworn Virgin (Vergine giurata) and the Israeli-Danish Mountain. In the former, Alba Rohrwacher in the role of the ‘sworn virgin’, who sacrifices her womanhood for her freedom, was so impressive that made the movie unforgettable in spite of its controversial point of view of orientalism regarding the old Balkan traditions. The other strong contestant, Mountain, also dealt with the questions of tradition, but represented them in an unconventional way. In Yaelle Kayam’s movie, Tzvia, the Jewish Orthodox mother tries to fulfil the desires of her family and religion, but she loses herself unawares that leads to a tragic outcome. While we follow the everyday struggles of Tzvia, we get to know a real female figure in its entire and complicated whole, and this brings up all the problems of ageing, marriage and femininity with the eternal question: What was love?

The idea of Flying Broom is inspired by the worldwide demand of more rights and power for women. The tools of artistic expression, original characters and situations, styles and thoughts can make this slogan real and comprehensive, and these all can help us to get the answer if we have a good starting question.

Edited by Steven Yates