Extraordinary women

    FEMALE VOICES: New forms of expression and film language set two films apart from the 30th African, Asian and Latin American Film Festival

    The African, Asian and Latin American Film Festival (FESCAAAL) brings the best of films produced outside the Global North to Milan, the cultural hub of northern Italy. The organisers are members of the nongovernmental organisation COE, which is dedicated to fostering global exchange and solidarity. Films from those regions that, for the majority of film history, could not create them, contribute to the knowledge of cultural diversity. Yet, there is another important insight that these films bring. As people of Africa, Asia, and Latin America were kept on the receiving side of cinematic art, they also did not participate in the creation of cinematic codes, from various formats to the language itself. These codes work in favour of those who created them and further contribute to inequality. The praise of equality and solidarity on the content level is often not enough. For the voices of marginalised groups to be heard, a different expressive form, a different film language is also needed.

    So, as FESCAAAL celebrates its 30th edition, the organisers decided to mark this notable anniversary with a selection of films by female directors that talk about a particular, female experience in a distinct language. Entitled «Women on the edge of changing the world,» the selection provided a true feast for film lovers in search of creative and innovative film language that simultaneously celebrated female desire in a free and open expression of passion, lust for life and men, made possible by the «écriture féminine,» («women’s writing»). In other words, an innovative and creative cinematic expression developed by female directors themselves.

    Noura's Dream, a film by Hinde Boujemaa
    Noura’s Dream, a film by Hinde Boujemaa

    Noura’s Dream

    Two films, in particular, stood out for their innovative expression of the female desire. Noura’s Dream by Tunisian-Belgian director Hinde Boujemaa premiered at Toronto International Film Festival and also won the FIPRESCI prize at the Torino Film Festival. The original title Le rêve de Noura is sometimes translated as «Noura is dreaming», but the protagonist, a mother of three waiting to be divorced from her criminal husband, is definitely not dreaming. She does have a dream though, and it reveals a stark contrast to her reality. Boujemaa’s previous feature was a documentary (It Was Better Tomorrow, 2012) about a young woman in Tunis trying to care for her children after the revolution. Noura’s Dream is also, first of all, a compelling critique of the contemporary Tunisian reality where 10 years after a similar act of protest triggered revolt, young men still see setting fire to themselves as the only way out of their hardship. To prevent her son from burning himself alive, Noura’s coworker keeps stealing from work and this too adds to Boujemaa’s denunciation of the hypocrisy in Tunisian society. Noura’s husband, a member of a gang of street thieves protected by a local dignitary, is left out of prison. But she and her lover risk going to it because of their relationship.

    She does have a dream though, and it reveals a stark contrast to her reality.

    In Noura’s Dream, Boujemaa applies the soap opera form. The main figure of this popular cinematic genre, a close-up of the face, provides a view that, before cinema, was only possible between mother and child or between lovers. The film uses this in the most fascinating manner, simultaneously as a particular token within the narrative as a means to portray the mediated intimacy facilitated by cell phones, and also to illustrate the power of passion that is literally tearing Noura apart in the sequences showing only parts of her face, making her words «I want you so much that my body will explode» almost tangible.

    Lina from Lima, a film by María Paz González
    Lina from Lima, a film by María Paz González

    Lina from Lima

    Lina from Lima, a musical comedy by renowned documentary filmmaker María Paz González, was awarded best film in Chile and screened at several world festivals. This film is more unique and outstanding than any other film shown at this year’s FESCAAAL, not least because of the audaciously creative way it intertwines and overcomes the distinction between fiction and documentary. A story about Lina, a Peruvian woman working as a domestic helper for a wealthy Chilean family is a fascinating account of this universal form of migration. The work of women who leave their families in order to help them survive is often the key to overcoming historic crises. It supported entire national economies yet, as female labour, it is seldom acknowledged. A notable filmic exception is Batang West Side (2001), centred on the children of Filipino domestic workers in New Jersey. Director Lav Diaz also developed an innovative, unique form, that is, a more than 5-hour long crime story.

    The work of women who leave their families in order to help them survive is often the key to overcoming historic crises.

    Lina is a captivating representative of the women «who dedicated their whole lives to working in Chile to construct Peru,» as María Paz González said. Her situation bears the traits of several Peruvian women who were included in the director’s research. Paz Gonzales was initially planning a documentary but the need to visualise the dreams and expectations of the domestic workers brought her to the music which, in Peruvian culture, is part of the people’s identity.

    The film’s key to bridging fiction and documentary is its lead actress Magaly Solier, an environmental and human rights activist who, in between films lives in the Peruvian Sierra with her Quechua people, fighting for their rights and language. Herself a singer, she not only superbly performed the songs but also contributed a Quechua one to the soundtrack. Her solar smile is the main means by which the film subverts several stereotypes, starting with the catholic myth of a mother who needs to repress her desire and dedicate her life to her child. Eventually, in a sharp twist to a known story, we get a glimpse of Lina’s success, making Lina from Lima a unique story. It is one of a strong woman who only gets stronger through hardship, and of migration – not as the eternal longing for the home left but as happiness found in a new one.

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    Melita Zajc
    Our regular contributor. Zajc is a media anthropologist and philosopher.
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