Women's Non-Lib

in 42nd Molodist International Film Festival

by Kirill Razlogov

One of the key features of the 42nd edition of Molodist International Film Festival in Kiev was (at least in the feature-length films from the International competition) an emphasis on female characters in different phases of liberation from traditional confinement. The audience favourite The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom featured an 11 years old girl (Julia Sarah Stone) in 1976 – the high point of Women’s Lib, as pointed out by the director Tara Johns at a Q&A session. Discovering that she was adopted at the eve of adolescence, the girl crosses the Canadian-US border in search for her real mother, and gets to a Dolly Parton concert. She is disappointed in her hopes, but finds contact with her adoptive mother, in fact liberating her by revealing the truth. An ironic melodrama…

On the other extreme the FIPRESCI award winner A Beautiful Valley (Emek Tiferet) by the Israeli Hadar Friedlich features Batia Barr as Hannah Mendelsohn, a 80 years old widow and Kibbutz activist who witnesses the end of her dreams in a modernised world that condemns socialist utopia. The award itself is paradox in a festival called Molodist, that means Youth.

In the Czech tragic black comedy Flower Buds (Poupata) by Zdenek Jurasky, Women’s Lib is symbolised by a calendar, featuring erotic photos of naked housewives from a small settlement in the Czech province. A dysfunctional family desperately tries to escape their fate is at the centre of this film, reminding the early films by Milos Forman (shown at the festival in a special tribute).

The Georgian bitter parody Keep Smiling (Gaigimet) by Rusudan Chkonia, shot in the style of a TV reportage, depicts a sadomasochist Beauty contest for Georgian Mothers fighting for the big prize – $25000 and an apartment – and the voluntary withdrawing from the competition, resulting from the suicide of one of them under the pressure of male chauvinism.

The most ambivalent version of the conflict between women’s lib and tradition is given in the psycho-drama Hemel (meaning Sky in Dutch, which happens to be the name of the protagonist, brilliantly played by Hannah Hoekstra), which received the award of the Ecumenical Jury for seeking love through sexual experiences. Frankness of the erotic episodes, an undertone of incest in the difficult relations with her father and his multiple lovers, make this portrait of our times both touching and repulsive. The desire you can’t help but feel for this beautiful naked body in distress generates a Christian feeling of guilt that probably seduced the Ecumenical Jury.

My personal favourites in this line of heroines was the couple Fatmah (Nihal G. Koldas) and Ayse (Begum Akkaya) in Kuma by the Austrian Kurd Umut Dag. Kuma means second wife. Young Ayse is brought from Anatolia to Vienna as the new bride to the son of a big traditional family. She was chosen by the matriarch Fatmah as the second wife for the Austrian patriarch and eventually a trusted replacement of Fatmah, who has cancer and is about to die soon. The young sister-mother in law is not accepted by all the members of the family. She is obviously not adapted to Western way of life, neither does she speak German but learns very quickly.

The story moves from surprise to surprise. Fatmah is saved by a difficult treatment, but the elderly man dies first. Ayse gives birth to an Austrian’s child, and when she turns to her husband, she  discovers his deeply kept secret – he loves men.

To help her family that is getting little by little to accept her, Ayse starts working in a supermarket owned by a Turkish family… and is seduced by her male colleague. When this is discovered through a foreseeable accident by her whole family, she is almost killed by her former protector and friend Fatmah – the tradition keeper, and saved by her new relatives. This man’s view of a world ruled by women in a mixed Muslim and Christian environment seems to me the most appropriate approach to the transculturalism of the future.

Edited by Christina Stojanova