“I’m Not Willing to Accept the Official Narrative Anymore” — An Interview with ‘Flatland’ Director Jenna Bass

A Western-stye tale of female empowerment that sees two women, Natalie (Nicole Fortuin) and Poppie (Izel Bzuidenhout) ride across the South African Karoo in search of adventure and self-fulfillment, Flatland was chosen to open the Berlinale Panorama Section. We talked to director Jenna Bass all about her landmark feminist film.

Continue reading ““I’m Not Willing to Accept the Official Narrative Anymore” — An Interview with ‘Flatland’ Director Jenna Bass”

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‘Tomb Raider’ promises a new age of action heroine, but doesn’t quite deliver

Tomb Raider’s popularity is genderless. For one reason or another, even the most misogynistic of men have found no problem raiding tombs as the one-woman legend Lara Croft, and many find a great deal of enjoyment in their female protagonist. Academics have investigated this extensively, with some speculating that the power of controlling a woman allows these men to overcome their initial prejudice. Another argument is that Lara’s sexualised form (the origins of which were apparently accidental) appeals particularly to these players and downplays the agency of the character via the male gaze.

The reboot of the game franchise, which began with 2013’s ‘Tomb Raider’ and is currently awaiting news on a third entry, focuses much more on Lara as a young, evolving adventurer. The first game – which the 2018 movie is based on – tells the origins of the icon, developing the character’s emotional and physical depth. The use of performance motion-capture means that this new era’s Lara is less overtly sexualised – she is, quite literally, a “real woman”. It isn’t much of a stretch to say that the Tomb Raider franchise today, whilst clearly influenced by the games that came before, reflects a Lara with much more agency, and a more easily accessible personality.

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Lara Croft in Tomb Raider (2013) (Video Game)

From the very beginning, then, director Roar Uthaug had a pretty big mountain to climb with his film adaptation of this incredibly cinematic and story-driven game. Whilst his efforts are admirable, and Alicia Vikander forms a perfect modern-day Lara, ‘Tomb Raider (2018)’ suffers greatly from a poor script and a needless focus on male supporting characters.

Continue reading “‘Tomb Raider’ promises a new age of action heroine, but doesn’t quite deliver”

Anniversary Retrospective: In Defense of Harmony Korine’s ‘Spring Breakers’

Five years ago today, a young little production company called A24 released Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers onto American audiences. It was the height of spring break season in the States, but as a broke and bookish high school junior, my only escapist thrills came from heading to my town’s multiplex with a friend, buying two tickets to whatever PG-13 schlock was playing, and sneaking into the sex-and-drug-filled art movie with James Franco doing a Riff Raff impression and Selena Gomez in a pink bikini.

Critically, Spring Breakers did okay — five-star ratings from the New York Times and The Village Voice were tempered by absolute pans by The Washington Post and Time. Claudia Puig of USA Today called it “mind-numbingly dull and off-putting,” and general audiences, who came in expecting “Girls Gone Wild” with their Disney favorites, reacted similarly. Moralizing moms and bummed bros aside, the central argument amounted to, “Is this trashy genius or self-absorbed nonsense?”

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Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine and Vanessa Hudgens in Spring Breakers © A24

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Berlinale ’18 Review: ‘Daughter of Mine’ and Female Nature

There is something wondrous about Vladan Radovic’s imagery in Daughter of Mine, Laura Bispuri’s warm and well-intentioned sophomore feature. The bright pink of candy cotton, the light blue of the sea, the flaming red of a girl’s head and all the other colours let the setting brim with beauty and liveliness. Everything looks gorgeous, but there is no stylization felt, the island of Sardinia is alive in a way that makes you feel the sand beneath your feet, the taste of salt water in your mouth and the warm sun on your skin.

In this landscape defined by nature, a story is told, that is fittingly defined by human nature – the story of the young Vittoria, excellently played the by incredible child (and first-time) actress Sara Casu, and her search for her “real” mother. At first everything seems to be fine in Vittoria’s life – she knows where her place is. Under the wings of Tina, a woman who tries to raise the girl as she seems to think is right, and with the aim to make her a good and stable person, she is protected and safe, but also isolated, as her interactions with her classmates show.

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“A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night” Is The Feminist Horror Movie Of Our Dreams. Literally.

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A scene from the movie.

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is not your typical horror movie. It is not your typical movie in any sense, to be completely honest, but regardless — it is a great one.

Directed and written by Ana Lily Amirpour as her first feautre-lenght film, the 2014 made A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (Dokhtari dar šab tanhâ be xâne miravad in its original language, Persian) can be described as a thrilling romance as much as it can be described as an arthouse horror flick. A movie comprised of extremely familiar beats matched up in a completely alienating form, it is shot entirely in black and white, has few lines — that are all spoken in Farsi — in it, and is powered by the performances of a practically unknown cast. As an “Iranian vampire Western”, it is first of its kind, and thus exist on an uncharted territory of filmmaking that makes it extremely hard to be defined or placed within borders. It is also metatextual take upon voyeurism and surveillance thanks to its use of a single cat, but that is an absolutely different perspective of criticism that belongs to an absolutely different piece.

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is also a movie that creates space for important conversations on issues such as conservatism, patriarchy, female rage, sexuality and cultural isolation.

Continue reading ““A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night” Is The Feminist Horror Movie Of Our Dreams. Literally.”

Istanbul FilmEkimi ’17 Review: A Fantastic Woman and Perception

(The following review includes spoilers)

This year’s line up for Istanbul FilmEkimi (October Of Film), organised by Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (IKSV), had many films with LGBT themes and characters, including Sebastián Leio’s A Fantastic Woman. The film tells the story of Marina, a transgender woman brought to screen by the impeccable performance of Daniela Vega, whose older boyfriend Orlando (Francisco Reyes) dies because of a aneurysm shorty after the film starts. After his death, we are taken on a journey of Marina dealing with getting treated as a suspect by authorities and as a shame by Orlando’s family. Marina can hardly find time to grieve her boyfriend when she is faced with accusations, insults and physical attacks by almost everyone for things she didn’t do or had no control over. The struggles, of course, come from people’s perception of who she is, based on her sexuality.

There is a scene in the film in which Marina is lying naked on the couch, with a mirror covering her genitals. The mirror catches Marina’s face, looking at the place where society’s judgement against her rests. The scene plays as a metaphor for the film, what lies – or doesn’t lie – between your legs is what you are in the eyes of others. The mirror not only reflects Marina’s face back to her, but in the eyes of society, what the mirror is covering reflects who she is. Our genitals determine who we are, how we are seen and perceived by the others, and in the case of Marina and thousands of trans people, when someone doesn’t fit into the norms of society, they are deserving of being treated inhumanely. People’s perception of Marina’s gender is what puts her in the category of murder suspect, when the treatment she deserves is the one of a grieving girlfriend.

“I don’t know what you are,” says Bruno, Orlando’s son, to Marina, who he kicks out of his father’s house. He then attacks her verbally and physically with his friends to show Marina her place in their eyes. Bruno’s mother and Orlando’s ex wife makes a similar statement: “I don’t know what I’m seeing,” and forbids Marina from coming to Orlando’s funeral. She then insults Marina when she attends. Their statements point to where their transphobia lies – not knowing. They cannot categorise Marina within their norms and, as the saying goes, what they don’t know they fear. Their fear expresses itself in confusion first and violence later when Marina refuses to go by their rules. In his Guardian review of the film Ryan Gilbey, points out how some of the characters physically resemble each other. Amongst these look-alike people, Marina continues to be different and, as happens in a beautifully shot scene, keeps fighting against the strong wind.

Despite the tragic experiences Marina goes through, the film gives it’s audience, and Marina, a much hoped for happy ending of sorts. She takes her revenge in her own way, by jumping on Orlando’s family’s car where they’re trapped under her strength. In the finale we see her as we first did through Orlando’s eyes, singing, but this time she isn’t singing in some bar. Instead she takes the centre of a big stage, singing a piece worthy of her talent.

Leio’s direction and framing is amazingly done. He shows Marina on the screen in a way that makes the character stand out and shine amongst other characters. Daniela Vega is absolutely phenomenal in her first big role. It’s a nuanced and powerful performance that deserves to be included in contention for every major award, including the Oscar, which would make her the first openly transgender actress to be nominated.

‘A Fantastic Woman’ will be released in the US on the 2nd of February 2018, and in the UK on the 2nd of March 2018. Tweet me your thoughts at @muchadocinema or @marioncotilards, or comment below!

The Paradox of Controlled Autonomy: Westworld, Maeve Millay and the Male Gaze

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The male gaze is a theory that has been debated frequently over the past few decades; Laura Mulvey’s original 1975 article holds the record for the most referenced film article ever. The theory, to simplify a much longer idea, states that visual media is created from the point of view of the heterosexual male, and as a result, women on screen are subject to an oppressive gaze from the camera, the audience and the other characters. With this in mind, it is unsurprising that feminist arguments relating to the gaze have cropped up frequently in recent pop culture analysis of HBO’s 2016 hit ‘Westworld’. Many critics have already commented upon the abundance of nudity in the series, from the starkness of a naked body against a clean laboratory background, to the desexualisation of the female hosts outside of the park, and the dichotomy this creates between the fantasy of Westworld and the reality behind the scenes. This essay will focus upon the character of Maeve Millay, the ways that she gains autonomy through manipulation of her oppressors, and how this autonomy is represented through a change in cinematic framing of her body. As both a black woman and a host, Maeve is subject to the gaze in three separate ways: through the male gaze, the white-supremacist gaze, and, arguably, through a further oppressive human gaze, due to her non-human status. As Maeve’s story progresses, however, the ways in which her body is shown to the audience change, with her rise in power as a host coinciding with an increase in control of her nudity, and a reduction in the impact of these gazes. Nonetheless, this essay does not wish to argue that these oppressive forces disappear entirely; in line with Mulvey’s original theory, the reality is much more complex than this, and the human patriarchy that Maeve suffers under remains present throughout the series, despite her increasing autonomy. In order to demonstrate these changes and complexities, this essay will use scenes from episodes two, six, and ten respectively.

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