Woman and Freedom

in 30th Fribourg International Filmfestival

by Eithne O'Neill

The Festival opened with a striking musical entertainment. The Norns, an a capella singing trio, heralded the overarching theme of Women. There followed  Chaplin’s 1921 classic The Kid, with the director as hero-tramp, and the insert comment on the female character: “Her only crime was motherhood”. The Shorts and Documentary Sections provided enjoyment and food for thought. Three of the thirteen feature films in competition were by women -directors while the historic town was alive with guest directors, producers and actresses in colorful national costume.

A key section entitled “Being a Female Film Director” had its full-blown documentary, shorts and feature films, some to be discovered, such as The Revolution won’t be televised, by the Senegalese Rama Thiaw, about the “y en a marre” rapper movement for the overthrow of President Abdoulaye Wade’s bid for a third mandate. More familiar were Mati Diop’s Mille Soleils and Moufida Tlatli’spoignant Les Silences du palais. in the section “Fiercer than the Male” Breathless Time hinted at an FIFF motif of the lack of breathing space allotted to women in today’s societies.

A retrospective medley of beautiful films directed by women and of female film characters included The Piano with Ann Paquin, whose subsequent performance in Margaret by Kenneth Lonergan, inspired by Gerard Hopkins’ poem “Spring and Fall” was admired in Geraldine Chaplin’s carte blanche programme. This included Buñuel’s Robinson Crusoe in which woman are but a ghostly remembrance. This however spurs the castaway, played by Irish-born Dan O’ Herlihy, to return to civilisation. The topic of the absence of women is also explored in the competing Algerian documentary by Hassen Farhani Roundabout in my head . [Cf. Irene Gerhart’s appreciation of this film on the Fipresci site].

Matias Meyer, Swiss winner of the Grand Prize at Toulouse’s Cinelatino Rencontres in 2011, earned a mention for his adaptation of “Yo”, a portrait of women from Leclézios short story collection, Histoires de pieds. The film deals with stalwart females who prefer to live and work on the edge of society rather than being caught up in its inhuman ways. Yo’s mother running a roadside café with trucks roaring past reminded one of Ursula Meyer’s Home, 2008.

The Regard d’Or was awarded to Mountain by Yaelle Kayam, about a mother of four belonging to the Hassidic sect who lives in a semi basement home on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives cemetery. Her Thora teacher husband is one of those husbands all around the world who fail to understand their spouse’s needs. This remarkable film was also the winner of the Don Quichotte prize awarded by the international association of independent film societies. The Fipresci award went to Song of Songs, a striking film by the Ukrainian Eva Heymann. It conjures up with humour, wit and poetry a rural rabbinic community. Athough it is technically a period film evocative of the turn of the 19th century, this tribute to childhood, youth and the memory of impossible love is borne aloft on the wings of painterly talent and a flair for atmosphere.

Pierre Rissient, the discoverer of directors of talent, among them, New Zealand born Jane Campion, master-minded theprogramme of films by and with Ida Lupino (1918-1995). Pierre, a faithful ally of the French monthly Positif, presented the homage screenings. He stressed that Lupino’s sensitivity verged on vulnerability. Young filmgoers discover Outrage and more seasoned buffs catch Hard, Fast and Beautiful, a 1951 biopic about the tennis champion Florence Farley. Excitement in the audience was palpable during Hair by the Iranian director Mahmoud Ghaffari, winner of the Comundo Youth Jury’s prize.

Taken as emblematic of what is happening in the world and on the screen, the Festival selection represents woman as a fighting citizen of cultures that are still patriarchal, capitalistic and harsh. Dismay at the depiction of sexism, violence, and rape was expressed at the satirical portrayals of present-day societies and their bilateral victims of both sexes. Accordingly, discrimination against women tends to be blurred. Inspired by Scandinavian mythology, the devastating humour of the the Nords’iconoclastic lyrics should sharpen awareness of the need to focus on the specificity of the feminist standpoint. Looking forward to next year.

Eithne O’Neill