Four of my five star films from MIFF 2017 were about women either leading, or striving to lead, independent and fulfilling lives. These all delivered on my bedrock requirements identified here. And they also delivered nom my add ons; delivering enlightenment and emotional connection. Spoor in particular delivered stunning cinematography.
I loved Let The Sunshine In. Juliette Binoche is wonderful in a role that sees her in every shot. She’s a divorced woman seeking a meaningful, ongoing relationship with a man. And finds this objective surprisingly (or not) difficult to achieve. This film prompted me to suggest that the men in festival films get a very bad press, to which my friend (female) retorted that this imbalance is redressed a hundredfold in popular culture. Whatever, the blokes in this film are hopeless, and all really familiar! There are excruciating moments of inarticulateness that most women have had to suffer through at some stage in their dating lives. Director Claire Denis gives us a more accessible film than some of her others which I have mostly found to be in my category of grim. Whilst it may be gentler her strong feminist sensibility is, of course, retained here. The self importance of men, be they old friends, cheating husbands, ex husband’s or just passing by is neatly skewered. The fact that Isabelle, the Binoche character, is a mother is immaterial and barely mentioned. A cameo from Gerard Depardieu, of all people, in the concluding stages was a bit opaque, but highlights the question posed by this film: is the search for love worth all the effort that women put in. Here is the trailer.
Another strong woman is featured in the film Spoor. From another feminist director, Agnieszka Holland it was described in the programme as a feminist ecological thriller sprinkled with surreal touches. I don’t think this quite captures the tone. I didn’t have any expectation and was very pleasantly surprised. I loved the character of Duszejko who is a retired engineer living in a beautiful forest where she teaches in the local school and on the side fights to protect the local wildlife. Her love of animals is a fraught business as the area, in Poland on the Czech Republic border, is a hunter’s paradise. So she’s at odds with local officialdom and local gentry alike, not to mention the catholic church. Early on she loses her dogs and it doesn’t take much imagination to work out what’s happened to them. There is a death and she meets her neighbour; the two of them living in quiet isolation, self sufficient. Over time a series of murders occur. Those murdered are not mourned by many. Village life continues. Duszejko finds a trio of unusual like minded people. She finds romance; or is it just sex? Great to see a warm, middle-aged sexual relationship on the screen! The beauty of the forest and surrounding landscapes through the different seasons is finely captured. Hunters in the snow, deer running through the forest, wild boar, foxes, even beetles up close. The quirky characters Duszejko hooks up with add colour and movement of their own. The denouement is foreseeable perhaps but quite exhilarating. The novel on which the movie is based is the wonderfully titled Drive Your Plough Over The Bones of the Dead. Here is the trailer.
From Poland we go to Georgia for our next woman who this time is seeking independence. Manana is the fulcrum around which the characters in the ironically titled My Happy Family circulate. The directors are a Georgian couple Nana & Simon (Nana Ekvtimishvili, Simon Gross). The film opens on a woman being shown over an apartment. Its filthy, in an undesirable part of town, the previous tenant left suddenly (we later find out she committed suicide). We can see that this woman wants it and we wonder why. We move on to fly on the wall view of a family getting ready for the working day. The woman from the flat is wife, mother, working woman. She’s getting ready for work while responding to orders, requests and straight out whinges from the household occupants – her elderly parents, her husband, her son and his girlfriend, her daughter. It’s a chaotic scene. We sense Manana’s exhaustion with it all. It’s her birthday. She doesn’t want people over, doesn’t want a special meal. What she wants is ignored. She comes home to the full on party which she is expected to host. Family life is on automatic. Things are done according to tradition, to a pattern. She announces she’s leaving. There’s general amazement, bemusement, hostility. A family conference is called. More chaos. Again and again a failure to hear, to acknowledge what she wants, what she’s saying. She is calm throughout, repeatedly explaining what she’s doing. Refusing explanations, excuses, without apportioning blame. She’s just leaving, to a place of her own; where she sits quietly, reads, listens to music, takes up playing a guitar again. You feel the peacefulness descend. All the while she’s still attentive to her family, to her children and parents when they need her. Who gradually start to listen to her even if inadequately. You sense it will be a long journey. Late in the piece there is a revelation about the husband which doesn’t seem to quite belong to this story of quiet rebellion. But it doesn’t distract. I found it all quite lovely. Here is the trailer.
The fourth film charting a more subdued road to independence was Claire’s Camera. I had heard this described somewhere as a slight affair but I found it completely charming. It is the first of three Hong sand-Soo films starring Kim Min-Hee that make up a triumvirate of sorts. The other two are On The Beach At Night Alone and The Day After. This is the most accessible. Kim Min-Hee’s character Man-Hee is a producer’s assistant at Cannes during the film festival. We first meet her when she is being sacked by her female boss for reasons not articulated. We later discover the reason. It involves the boss’s partner, a film director. Staying in Cannes (because she can’t afford to change her flight – a very realistic plot device) she crosses paths with tourist Claire played by Isabelle Huppert. Claire likes taking photos with her Polaroid. Instant pictures. She in turn crosses paths with the producer and the director. The story unfolds slowly with people criss crossing, making connections, making judgements, offering opinions, arguing, agreeing with each other. Man-Hee makes her own way, or at least refuses to be swept aside. She and Claire swap anecdotes about life. Claire reads Marguerite Duras to the director. The producer considers her future. The last scene has Man-Hee back with the team clearing out the office as it prepares to leaves the festival. This is a quieter, more oblique look at women’s independence but I loved the focus on the three women. Here’s a very short, and inadequate trailer.
Finally on the subject of independent women, an honourable mention goes to The Teacher to which I allocated four stars, could easily have been a five. This film that confirms my view that you can get plenty of emotional enjoyment from a film whilst hating the main character. Because the teacher in question is a monster! A perfectly coiffured, made up and turned out monster but a monster all the same. It’s a fantastic performance from Zuzana Maurey. The film starts with children coming to the school and into their classroom, interspersed with parents doing the same on their way to a meeting called by the school principal. We see the new teacher being introduced to her new class. She asks each young pupil to stand and tell her where their parents work. Why would she want to know that we wonder. We are in a small town in Czechoslovakia in the days of communist rule. And as the discussion in the parents meeting unfolds we discover the answer. The teacher is up to no good. The story is an allegory; but clear one; despotic state, despotic teacher. Its a great portrayal of individual and collective responses to bullying. The principal and her assistant are good guys; explaining that the a students are failing at senior school. Nevertheless they are ready to abandon the attempt to remove her if the parents don’t support them. The parents of the young gymnast who has been driven to attempting suicide are supportive of this action but what about the others? The dissident physicist who has spurned the teacher’s advances will, but is having his support a help or a hindrance? Of course, those in positions of esteem and authority: the doctor, the judge: won’t jeopardise their positions by making a complaint against a comrade. It’s all very cleverly done. And what becomes of the teacher? Well, it looks as though she maintains her independence. We last see her performing the same ritual we saw at the start, Tell me your name and what your parents do. Here is the link.