Women under Pressure By Necla Algan

in 10th Ankara Flying Broom International Women's Film Festival

by Necla Algan

The 10th Flying Broom International Women’s Film Festival greeted its audience with a selection of 150 women’s films. However, it was for the first time that an intercontinental gathering of women in cinema took place with women from different parts of the world discussing their favorite films, and why they liked them. This meeting was tantamount to a free exchange of experiences for the forthcoming meetings. I hope these meetings will foster multi-dimensional reviews and results in the succeeding years. And therefore I’ll express some of my opinions concerning the themes that women directors explore, with a special focus on four films.

Conveying the downfall of the protagonist, a woman of Polish descent who earns a living as the glittered icon of the post-modern image culture, Birgit Möller’s Valerie from Germany gives us a strong impression how fake this world is. A beautiful model, Valerie collides with the real world when she falls from the upper echelons of the society, landing abandoned, penniless and unemployed on the streets of Berlin. Unable to turn to anyone from the rich and glamorous world in which she had recently lived, she is literally on the street without a shelter.

The Hungarian director Agnes Kocsis, on the other hand, carries us with her Fresh Air (Friss Levegö) into the doleful lives of Viola and her daughter Angela, who live in Budapest trying to hold on to life. Viola works as a toilet supervisor in a metro station. She takes tango lessons and looks for romance in letters. Studying fashion design, Angela is very unhappy with her mother’s job, opening all the windows when her mother comes back from work so as to get rid of the toilet smell. Viola goes to the bathroom as soon as she comes home to scour herself with hot water for several minutes. Both strive to move beyond the smell that life imposes on them, and find fresh air. But is this even possible? Seeing that such an escape is not easy at all, Angela eventually realizes she needs to change her attitude and voice solidarity with her mother at the end of the film. This realization is, perhaps, her true deliverance.

The graphic designer Shahrzad, protagonist of A Few Days Later (Chand Rooz Ba’d…), has a pretty big problem: Her fiancé’s ex-wife returned to his house to stay with him. Despite her fiancé’s assertions that he has no relationship whatsoever with his ex, Shahrzad — played by the film’s director and co-writer Niki Karimi — experiences this situation as a sorrowful and blind one. Karimi’s direction conveys the impossibility of leading a daily life freely as a woman in Iran, glimpsing violent male behavior even in traffic. Even the act of Shahrzad smoking on the street is an unacceptable behavior in this masculine world. The main topic of her conversations with her female friends is the determining role of the man in the relationships between men and women. Unfortunately, this fact isn’t likely to change a few days later either.

Kaori Momoi’s FIPRESCI award-winning film Faces of a Fig Tree (Ichijiku No Kao) tells the story of a housewife and the fig tree that witnesses the changes in her life. In the first half of the film, the life of the housewife, who lives with her spouse and three children in a house whose garden has a fig tree, is derailed by her husband’s death. After struggling for a while during this period, the woman marries another man and keeps on living as she used to. Although it observes the events of its protagonist’s life in a traditional and familiar way — much as the fig tree she moves from her old home to her new house seems to stand dispassionate watch over her — the film has a structurally innovative and creative language. If this suggests a narrative cul-de-sac, Momoi does not convey this with a sorrowful language as other directors might.

On the contrary, the film reveals its story through the metaphor of a woman’s ability to live her life like a fig tree — enduring no matter where she’s planted, and no matter what the conditions are — with an innovative and eccentric approach. Though Faces of a Fig Tree seems different from the other films with its structurally creative language, all four films work to tell the same story — of women confronted with hardships as they struggle to change her life and free themselves from entanglements, squeezed up in between locations and lifestyles they did not make for themselves.