Jump in for part 2 of my film reviews for this year’s Spanish Film Festival! All of these films are centred on women and issues of class, as directed by non-Indigenous, non-Black women. But there are other themes of intersectionality that I will draw out.
We start with The Good Girls, a much-celebrated tale about greed and White femininity during the 1982 financial crisis in Mexico. Ana by Day starts from an interesting premise – a White woman comes home to find someone else already in her home: her doppelganger. What to do? We move through risque escapism, as envisioned from a place of class privilege. Two of the strongest films of the festivals follow. For the most thoughtful exploration of patriarchy, sexuality and race I’ve ever seen on film, Carmen y Lola is unsurpassed. It was an engrossing story of a young, lesbian Gitana minority woman in Spain, falling in love in a context where ‘compulsory heterosexuality’ and its complex ties to culture and family are unpacked. Another highlight is a methodical and complex look at the lives of Brown Mexican women who service hotels. If you think that sounds mundane, The Chambermaid will floor you with its poignant study of a woman who has always made herself small to survive. She finds subtle ways to subvert servitude. Finally, with its weighty ideals and harrowing topic of human trafficking, The Longest Night is superb filmmaking but utterly horrific for anyone committed to women’s rights. Let’s find out why.
It’s an exciting season in Sydney, with multiple festivals concurrently keeping us entertained from April to the end of June. First up is one of my favourites, the Spanish Film Festival. I bought a pass to see 10 films, mostly from Latin America and half by non-Indigenous, non-Afro women directors. We have a long way to go with stories reflecting the writing and direction of minorities. The festival has, however, included stories with disabled, queer and/or other ethnic minorities as protagonists. Those are the films I’ve predominantly chosen. The rest are political stories. Today, I bring you the first of two posts reviewing films from an intersectionality perspective. The festival began in Sydney on 16 April and ends 8 May, before travelling to all metropolitan cities.
Let’s take a look at the political thriller, The Realm, which sweeped this year’s Goya Awards (the ‘Spanish Oscars’). Tremors is the compelling but distressing story of a devoutly religious gay man from Guatemala. Champions is a highly successful Spanish movie featuring an ensemble cast of disabled actors playing a famous basketball team. Crime Wave takes a serious premise (an emotionally abusive man is murdered) and turns it into a cascading set of comedic deaths. Yikes! Finally, another political drama, Rojo, swells from the early days of the devastating Argentinean coup. The players ponder: under which local conditions do national tyrants rise? The answer is from ordinary towns, where people are too polite to notice men arguing and boys “disappearing.”
Central Park Mall, where Palace Cinemas Central and Platinum is hosting the Festival
Roma is a beautiful film that covers issues of gender, race, class and violence in Mexico. Dedicated to, and based on, writer/ director Alfonso Cuarón’s childhood nanny and housekeeper “Libo” (Liboria Rodríguez), the film follows Cleo (the sublime Yalitza Aparicio), a young Mixtec woman employed by an affulent Mexican family. She has lived with them since the children’s birth, herself perhaps still in her 20s. She is beloved by the children, but is still treated like a servant.
Her woman employer, Sofia, also tells Cleo she loves her at a pivotal point in the film, even as we see how she flies into rage, diminishes Cleo and blames her for insignificant details. Sofia’s mother also lives in the household, mostly indifferent to Cleo, until tragedy strikes. At one stage, having been on her feet all day working, Cleo sits on the ground, holding the children’s hands, as the rest of the family sits comfortably on the couch watching TV. Sofia then directs Cleo to get her husband a drink after Cleo is settled.
These are women separated by race and class, but who are bound together by the men in their lives who neglect and mistreat them. The men are a wreck. Everyone, including Sofia, call the philandering husband ‘The Doctor,’ his status, vanity and whims disrupting everything around him. Continue reading Roma: Film Review
Let me tell you about Thelma, screening at the Scandinavian Film Festival. A young woman, the titular Thelma, has led a sheltered and conservative Christian upbringing in the country. She rocks up to university having never really partied, including no alcohol or drugs, and without experience with dating. While she has a strong bond with her parents, especially her dad – with whom she shares all her deepest thoughts – she is very lonely in her new environment. That is until she meets the vivacious Anja.
As it turns out, Thelma starts to be attracted to Anja, who promptly breaks up with her boyfriend. It seems Anja begins to fall in love with Thelma too. Thelma struggles with self loathing and tries to deny her sexuality and at the same begins to have inexplicable seizures that baffle doctors. Around this time, I was thinking: if I have to watch another ‘internalised homophobia’ horror (oh, forgot to mention it’s promoted as a horror), I’m going to throw my popcorn at the screen. (Except not really as someone would have to clean it up.) But the film goes in an unexpected direction. Continue reading Thelma: Film Review
The Ranger is a hark back to 80s horror films. A group of young punks run into trouble during a concert and retreat to an abandoned holiday cabin, inexplicably located deep in an isolated area of a national park. Will they be okay? Highly unlikely. The film was very silly, with plenty of hammy humour and over the top gore. It was fun. 6/10.
It was preceded by a short, The Shopper, directed by Dev Patel and story by Aussie Leigh Whannell. Another slasher flick with dark humour about a seemingly bored housewife who has an emotionally abusive husband. But maybe not for long. Also 6/10.
I have a rule of faith when it comes to film festivals – I don’t watch trailers or read reviews. I read the program and decide to see movies based on the blurb. I make an effort to see movies written or directed by women first and foremost (documentaries or dramas especially), or about minority groups and women in general in the second instance. Third, I try my hardest to see horrors because they’re rarely released in Australian cinemas. ‘What Keeps You Alive’ hits two of three: a movie about two (White) women and a horror flick. Directed by Colin Minihan (of Grave Encounters, which I disliked) was not what I expected. What I knew about the plot: Jules and Jackie are celebrating their one year anniversary in an isolated cabin in the woods. It is a horror. That’s it! The leap of faith paid off. It was so strong! Great characters. Lots of bad decisions but cleverness too. I won’t say more. Slick 7/10.
TW VAW: ‘A Vigilante’ at the Sydney Film Festival is an affecting film about a woman who has survived intimate partner violence and now rescues women and children from violence. Written and directed by an Australian woman, Sarah Daggar-Nickson, it is a bleak but visually arresting story. Sadie (excellent Olivia Munn) lives a solitary existence and accepts little payment for her services. Most of the violence occurs offscreen or it is retold by survivors – the latter is devastating. The group counseling scenes where women share their stories of leaving violence are painful to watch, but told with great love, respect and care. These are common tales but society turns away from this reality. It was heartening that financial abuse was part of the story, as this is one of the many complex reasons women cannot simply leave. The scenes of violence showing Sadie’s husband are harrowing and triggering because the dialogue and cruelty are vivid. As a story of empowerment, it is difficult to reconcile: most women cannot turn to violence to escape violence. In a superhero origin story perhaps the narrative might be seen as an origin story. But the film is not that. It is presented as a hyper real revenge tale. As a feminist statement, however, this ultimately feeds into the cultural expectation that women need to save themselves or be saved, when the fact is that violence against women and children is a structural issue requiring massive social changes. Regardless, the story treats survivors with compassion. I’m ambivalent about its aim and resolution. I’m glad I saw this and you should also watch it. Then read up on the tireless work of survivors, case workers, shelters, and advocates for whom violence and its aftermath is a daily reality. 7/10
Another Cine Latino film: Woodpeckers (Carpinteros). Unsettling but excellent Dominican film entirely focused on Afro-Latino characters. Julián (Jean Jean) is awaiting sentencing when he’s put into one of the “less hellish” prisons in Najayo. That is to say, an overcrowded, filthy and violent place where many prisoners sleep on the concrete floor. Julián is second generation Haitian-Dominican. In a terse exchange with his brother, we learn he is an entrepreneurial “low level” criminal who doesn’t want to be locked into a low-paid menial job.
Julián quickly earns a job communicating with Yanelly (Judith Rodriguez), the girlfriend of another high-profile inmate who is banned from an open area. Men and women communicate across prison using invented sign language which changes often to stop guards from learning conversations. Julián is soon captivated by straight-talking Yanelly.
The guards and inmates are all Black, and while it’s not ideal to have yet another film focus on crime, it is a story with complex characters. The film is highly violent and it deals with sex, anger and high octane emotions in a compelling way. The film is billed as partially depicting true events and the extras are all prisoners. The film makes for a searing sociological study on social norms and institutional functions. One long, continuous take as Julián walks tautly across the prison is utterly breathtaking.
All the actors are tremendous, but Rodriguez as Yanelly will linger in your memory.
Photo: The Other Sociologist. [Entrance to a cinema with the word “Palace” over the doorway. A man looks at his phone in front of the door.]
At CineLatino, the Latin American film festival, I watched, You’re Killing Me Susana, starring Gael Garcia Bernal. As always, his performance is charming and the movie has lots of affable comedy. But his character and the story is not endearing. He is an unfaithful and selfish husband who does not take any interest in his wife and her writing. He is disparaging of her teaching, which supplements her writing aspirations. He has repeatedly talked his wife out of going away on writing trips because he is suspicious and jealous. Continue reading You’re Killing Me Susana: Film Review
Yes women-centred films! 29 + 1, written and directed by a woman, Kearen Pang is a wonderful film about two women who’ve never officially met but who share a birthday, and eventually “form a deep and invisible bond.“ The film is set in 2005 and it plays with memory and time. Christy has a hectic but glamorous job, a long term boyfriend and supportive friends. Christy doesn’t want to get married and is proud of her independence. Her life is full of light colours, bodily discipline and stifling routine. Continue reading 29 + 1: Film Review