ROTTERDAM 2021: THREE FILMS ON/BY WOMEN

ROTTERDAM 2021: THREE FILMS ON/BY WOMEN

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By Mónica Delgado

Breaking the pigeonhole of women who make films about women provides an opportunity for a diversity of stories, from plots, arguments, from this gender perspective. Three proposals presented in the online edition of the Rotterdam Festival allow exploring expressive options as results of formal searches, arranged to achieve a sensitive effect from female characters (transporting the myth of Lilith to a cinematographic idea or converting the cast into a form of struggle against disappearance or the ephemeral). Here, I analyze works by three young filmmakers: Marta Popivoda, Itonje Søimer Guttormsen and Ainhoa ??Rodríguez, from their approaches to the feminine, escaping the usual representation patterns.

I

In the first ten minutes of Landscapes of Resistance, by Serbian filmmaker Marta Popivoda, a poetic is established from the concatenated crossfades, but also from an ethical perspective: the portrayed character demands this slow sensitivity in the way of assembling the images, of very slow transits between landscapes and textures, which materialize a memory that emerges from the interstices. In this space of reverie, in this zone of exchanges, of soft mergers and unthinkable juxtapositions, the filmmaker proposes a way to approach an idea of the past to the present, or also to shape a subtle correspondence where thought finds a stage of transience. The elongated meeting of two planes as a metaphor for a “between” that refuses to disappear.

Landscapes of Resistance recovers various passages from the life of Sonja Vujanovic, a nonagenarian Yugoslav, communist partisan and survivor of Auschwitz. Based on her narratives (some of them as voice-overs), we are able to confront the images of fields, flowers and solace that refer to a new time, perhaps of old age, of the balance and learning of a life passed in wild and violent contexts, such as that of Nazism in the Second World War. This rhythm of slow cadences achieved by the montage of chained fades (wonderfully elaborated by the also Serbian filmmaker Jelena Maksimovic) allows us to enter into this dynamic of memory, of the calm recovery of violent and cruel times, but also to draw this elegiac dimension of the political.

In this her second feature film, Marta Popivoda admires the figure of Sonja Vujanovic (her partner’s great-grandmother, as well). Not only for her humanity or for willingness to fight in difficult times against a brutal enemy, but as an activist and feminist, because what she finds in her is an inherent reference to all women in permanent struggle against totalitarian and fascist ideas and actions. She chose this woman not only because of her parentage, but because Sonja Vujanovic, who escaped from a concentration camp, who was tortured and almost disappeared, possesses a strength and bravery that must be recovered for others. Despite the fact that she narrates from a dramatized verbality, reconstructing those tragic events while the images appear to form a layer of the present, that only has the mission of accompanying the power of the past.

In Landscapes of Resistance, they also take dialogue scenes from Sonja’s routine as she is fed, cared for, or celebrated on her 96th birthday, as part of the process of closeness with the filmmaker that took ten years. For this reason, there is a kind of story in time from this domestic or intimate side, even more so if we observe the cat on Sonja’s skirts in the prologue of the film, and then, after his departure, towards the end, already aged, hidden, going through a duel that we can absolutely understand.

This meeting of recent images of Sonja and her voice narrating her experiences is contrasted with epistolary moments, through texts about the images, with annotations by the filmmaker in relation to the current situation of women’s struggle against fascism that appears as a reality in various parts of Europe. These impressions of the filmmaker on the battlefield appear triggered by Sonja’s spirit of militancy: all fascism is dangerous and deadly.

We are facing a magnificent documentary of reflection not only on how to show this relationship of times, memories and meanings of the political, of militancy and resistance, but also due to the way of delicately presenting ourselves with the presence of Sonja Vujanovic, the partisan in a context of feminism and findings of referents.

II

Also in the feature length competition for the Tiger Award is Gritt, the Norwegian debut film by Itonje Søimer Guttormsen. Here the actress Birgitte Larsen plays a young theater artist in the midle of a job crisis in Oslo, disenchanted with an environment where opportunities do not appear. Because of the plot, it seems like a film designed to tie in with feelings about the capitalist decadence of these times: unemployment, exclusion, or from Gritt’s perspective, an excess of political correctness or the triumph of uncritical and reflective elites in the development of public policies and support.

From tragicomedy elements, Gritt, the protagonist, is shown as an entity that seems to disengage from everything: from artistic groups, from family and friends groups, from work tasks, from women’s communities; even when in one scene she is seen asking for social assistance from the state, this request is denied. Bad luck? Adverse fate? From this logic of indifference, the filmmaker Søimer Guttormsen shows her character on the brink of pathos, and in limbo, since we do not know if her languid and unstable way of acting is due to a depressive issue, childish irresponsibility, or because doors are truly closed to her because she is stateless. And to show it, Søimer Guttormsen chooses an eclectic staging at times, with a documentary halo, or with even super 8 inserts, surprising zooms or varied tones, according to the mood of the sequences.

Divided into chapters, Gritt gains great strength from its last two parts, when the symbol of Lilith appears, the mythical Sumerian or Hebrew figure. Here, the figure doesn’t subscribe to the notion of woman as an idea of evil or of insurrection against God, but to cling to it as a strategy of subversion of all the meaning that this construction implies. If men created the idea of Lilith, what would the idea of a Lilith be like from women? Would it exist? It seems to be one of the questions that Søimer Guttormsen assigns to her character, especially when we see Gritt flee from women’s communities or have uncomfortable dialogues with some of her friends or relatives. There is a search that is not communal, she seems to affirm.

Gritt is a portrait of myth and ritual in the face of individuality. The protagonist reveals at various times that she has been working on a play (which we hardly understand since it is never exposed in a concrete way) that confronts the structures in which creation is conceived in the world of the performing arts, as a critique of individualism and capitalist alienation. Reducing the gap of this disconnection from the world is what the filmmaker goes on until the end, until she achieves that her character asserts herself in her creative premises, not as an experiment but as an affirmation of art as a praxis of life, from the performative. And this can be seen as an ironic witchcraft transit or, simply, as a surrender to the forces of nature.

III

Destello Bravío, the debut feature by the Spanish Ainhoa Rodríguez, is a soulless fable about a community lost in time, portrayed as a stylized fresco. This arcade of men and women, especially middle-aged, is ordered by conservative relationship practices, marked by small-town life, religion, rituals, and insurmountable gender patterns.

Shot in Tierra de Barros, Extremadura, this film populated by ghostly and expressionless characters proposes an approach to the nature of an unlovable community, where there are clearly two sides (and where the female faction stands out as a resistant entity against the patriarchal mandate, although from a very timid dynamic). Here, also, a glance emerges at moments of commiseration and acid touches to depict a Spain that can be narrated or described with some fantastic or surreal codes.

With echoes of the humor of social criticism of an Ulrich Seidl, an ambivalence appears in the treatment of Destello Bravío (Mighty Flash), since at times it seems that the characters are being admired, or at least treated with some warmth or naivety, and at the same time being ” attacked “from their restless or small obscuritie. Like the sequences about the interaction between the gossiping or frustrated women of the commune, in tea parties with aunts or in church prayers.

In this small town there is no big hell, and rather what the filmmaker proposes is a particular and neat aesthetic, based on fixed shots, where compositions or careful frames are arranged like micro worlds, with room for ellipsis or out-of-field events, and that choreographically materializes what the expressionless and lethargic bodies do not show.

Long Tiger Award Competition

Landscapes of Resistance (Pejzaži otpora)

Director and scriptwriter: Marta Popivoda
Script and playwriting: Ana Vujanovic
Director of Photography: Ivan Markovic
Editor: Jelena Maksimovic
Sound design: Jakov Munižaba
Serbia, Germany, France, 2021, 95 ‘

Gritt

Direction: Itonje Søimer Guttormsen
Screenplay: Itonje Søimer Guttormsen, Grazia Di Meo, Linda Hverven, Kyrre Hellum
Photography: Patrik Säfström
Editing: Itonje Søimer Guttormsen, Michal Leszczylowski, Geir Ørnholt
Set Design: Marianne Stranger, Nina Buer Brun, Ann-Kristin Talleraas
Music: Erik Ljungren
Producer: Maria Ekerhovd
Cast: Birgitte Larsen, Marte Wexelsen Goksøyr, Lars Øyno, ??Andrine Sæther, Maria
Norway, 2021, 119 min

Destello Bravío (Mighty Flash)

Direction: Ainhoa Rodríguez
Script: Ainhoa Rodríguez
Photography: Willy Jáuregui
Editing: José Luis Picado
Scenography: Laura Garcia-Serrano Negro
Music: Paloma Peñarrubia, Alejandro Lévar
Producer: Ainhoa Rodríguez, Lluís Miñarro
Cast: Guadalupe Gutiérrez, Carmen Valverde, Isabel Mendoza
Spain, 2021, 95 min

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