By Mónica Delgado
The only thing that unites the following selected films is that they are attractive first feature films, although they belong to very different expressive universes. At least two of the three that we will deal with come from filmmakers who have previous experience in short films, whether from documentary, transdisciplinary or performative. Two autobiographical documentaries and a fiction that arises from concrete references to a news or police incident of impact.
The Scary of Sixty-First is Dasha Nekrasova’s feature film debut, her first foray into the field, since she comes from the quarries of series and podcasts. Nekrasova, born in Belarus, but based in the US, chooses for her first work the tone of a low-budget fantasy story, with atmospheres of squeaky horror films, and above all voluntarily ending with a exploitation, eurohorror style, especially this tone from the seventies’ eurohorror, inspired by the heyday of the more structured giallo or the most independent horror a-la Wes Craven.
This first film, presented in the Encounters section of the Berlinale, could function as a “spin-off” of a media event due to its harshness, insanity and impunity, based on the story of a renting an old Jeffrey Epstein’s -the sex offender businessman and pedophile- apartment in New York, by a couple of young friends. Both the opening credits and the first scenes in the apartment that has just been rented refer to an explicit need to coincide with the style resources of some erotic B-series films, mixed with horror codes of the seventies, something that inevitably has many oversights in their interpretations, transitions, and narrative coherence.
Nekrasova explores situations with an air of suspense and conspiracy, even more so when a new character joins the plot (that she embodies herself), a nameless girl who arrives at the apartment to warn that the new tenants are living and sleeping in a cursed place of orgies and sexual exploitation. With her presence, one of the friends leaves but enters a sui generis process of vampirization, which turns her into a thirteen-year-old girl who masturbates and dreams of Prince Andrew, or who appears on the outskirts of the prison where Epstein committed suicide to worship and praise him.
In The Scary of Sixty-First the nonsense, the excess, the bizarre cinephile quota is shown, but a quote from another emblematic film about sects or secret organizations is added, such as Eyes Wide Shut by Stanley Kubrick. Two women who investigate the pedophilia network from some cryptic cards, and who also undertake a lesbian relationship -with suffocation scene included-, and the narrative branch of the other maddened friend, who descends into the hell of desire, in an imaginary performative dark process, in a symbolic search for the pederasts.
With this film, Nekrasova extends, in her own way, the Epstein universe, still in force, without punishment or resolution. Through her characters in her catharsis, who enter a labyrinth of madness and disturbing eroticization, she poses a circle of destruction for women, where trauma traverses and survives the grounds of this world.
For its part, and at an opposite pole, we have the first feature film by Egyptian filmmaker Samaher Alqadi, As I Want. This documentary, in the Encounters section, is based on shots by the same filmmaker in an advanced stage of pregnancy, who through a poem defines a state of the art: being born a woman in one of the most macho countries in the world. The impositions of creeds, the lack of policies for women’s rights and a marked misogyny and institutionalized sexual harassment (even protected by religions and public bodies) show a hostile environment.
The way in which Samaher Alqadi develops his film ranges between the autobiographical, archive material and the interviews or testimonies of women, to show the situation of victims of sexual harassment and abuse who do not find justice, but also from the work of activists in a politically hostile environment. For the filmmaker, this aggravated situation is the product of a very strong patriarchal system, and it is reflected in that sequence in a park where girls and adolescents of Islam criticize the director for the disgrace with her way of dressing, wearing her hair loose, even daring to record. Patriarchy as a living structure, conscious or unconscious, in the hearts of women.
The film recovers various events in the framework of the Kifaya, an Egyptian social movement of 2003, which sought a radical political change in the face of years of conservatism and reactionary measures. The overthrow of the leader Hosni Mubarak in the well-known Arab Spring, in 2011, as well as scenes of crowds in the Midan Tahrir square in the center of Cairo, as a point of concentration of protesters, as a fundamental context of revolution, despite rapes being also recorded at rallies there. Moreover, the film begins with a forceful record of women sexually assaulted in the middle of a demonstration, with mobs on them and clothes torn off. In this way, the filmmaker shows a paradox. The people fed up asking to end years of dictatorship, but at the same time exercising another type of violence just as disastrous.
As I Want is presented as a feminist allegation, which is moving because of its strength and militancy, from which we value the filmmaker as a character who confronts, who provokes situations to reveal macho and anti-rights attitudes; Alqadi denounces, emphasizes, cries out, and conveys the desire for freedom of thousands of women who continue, despite their intense activism, under the yoke of government and creeds.
North by Current by Angelo Madsen Minax is an intense therapy against loneliness and prejudice. The transmasculine filmmaker recounts a process of more than ten years, which correlates his transsexualizing process with the death of his two-year-old niece. It seems to be a drama that appeals to a family tragedy in northern Michigan, to scratch and remove material for a visual essay that basks in the pain between relatives, but no. Madsen Minax, as has happened with his previous short films, carefully explores codes of the film diary, the most autobiographical cinema, the performative, but to put it in discussion on paradigms of identity and memory. Who is this Madsen Minax in relation to his family’s idea of ??him?
Madsen Minax is a filmmaker and visual artist, graduated from the School of the Art Institute in Chicago in 2005. His works have been screened and exhibited at the Hamburg Festival, Ann Arbor Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, British Film Institute, among others. His short films have also been marked by the autobiographical touch, where his “I” appears as a place of enunciation in spaces of symbolic dispute.
The departure of the niece puts the family, who is conservative and Mormon, in mourning for a very long period, with a tragic nostalgia that runs through conversations, meetings and outings. This loss not only overwhelms the director, but marks the figure of her sister, who was unjustly investigated and convicted due to the unclear causes of her death. The treatment given by the filmmaker is not devoid of questions and empathy, but in relation to key questions about identity, and the lack of memory when deciding on a transition. In one scene, the filmmaker’s parents tell him that they understand the sister’s pain very well, since they also feel that her daughter died (in reference to Angelo’s past, the girl who disappeared forever). This statement seems to permeate with melancholy throughout the footage, either as a painful truth, or as a turning point, as if those archive images of his own childhood spoke of an impossibility.
Madsen returns home after a prolonged absence, and returns a different person, in every way. Reconciliation with the family becomes progressive, due to the chronological montage, which unravels the reluctant transformation of sensibilities (especially of the sister), not as acceptance but as evidence of a cure for the filmmaker himself. In another scene, the filmmaker registers the mother on a sofa in front of the camera and confesses that it has been terrible not to be able to forget that she once assured that everything that happened with him was a punishment because there were abortions in the family: “Losing to a daughter as punishment ”. The mother asks for forgiveness. There is something that is settled, heals, closes.
North by Current, seen in the Panorama section of the festival, confirms Madsen’s talent to show himself as is, without ambivalence, through heartfelt reflections, which translates the images of the familiar as a strange and unexpected territory (and that we had already verified in the focus that the Berwick festival made last year). Here, reconciliation is not the goal, but rather the affirmation of the filmmaker in his free, original, unique nature, but one that mutates, transits and flows, as the extraordinary song by The Waterboys that appears at the end as an emotional framework of an intimate story points of strength and resilience.