Italian documentaries had a field day at Berlinale this year. Whether it was the innovative Selfie, allowing its subjects to become the cameramen themselves, or the harrowing depiction of Cosa Nostra brutality in Shooting The Mafia, the Southern European country asked hard questions of its society this year. The standout was Normal, the latest documentary from Adele Tulli, which takes a fresh and innovative look at gender stereotypes. Allowing its images — whether it’s boys riding motorbikes, or girls dressing up as princesses, or mothers exercising in the park — to truly speak for themselves, Tulli pushes the absurdity of fixed gender norms to their very limit. We sat down with her to discuss her unique documentary.
Many critics of Desiree Akhavan’s The Bisexual have condemned it for not being explicitly subversive enough, somehow implying that because of Akhavan’s bisexuality, she necessarily has to write a neat arc which leads up to a climatic acceptance of main character Leila’s sexuality. I believe that form of criticism in itself is worth interrogating: Why do we expect LGBTQ-centered media (particularly, those by LGBTQ artists) to live up to a totalising and universalising narrative, when all of us have differing experiences on sexuality because of our varied socio-political circumstances? And why do we place the burden on LGBTQ people to figure out all there is to do with sex, gender and sexuality when the world is persistently denying and censoring our access to all these things? Continue reading “Art, Autobiography, and Sexuality in Desiree Akhavan’s ‘The Bisexual’”
This essay is by our guest writer, Cody Corrall.
The classic femme fatale is elusive. She is a film noir staple: Gilda and Honey West. She uses her sexuality as a weapon against the patriarchy, but is inevitably foiled for having challenged it. Since the creation of the femme fatale, however, there hasn’t been a modern version that holds up. This is because the femme fatale, while a beacon of sexuality, is inherently a political statement.
In the height of film noir in the 1940s and 1950s, the rights of the straight cisgendered white woman were the next to be fought for. While these rights may not have been fully achieved yet, the rise of feminism and liberation have weeded out the femme fatale from modern cinema. This archetype no longer fits the rebellion and desire for power of the femme fatale. In order for a femme fatale to work in today’s society, it must be queered. We see these modern depictions of the queer femme fatale in Pedro Almodovar’s 2004 film Bad Education, and in David Lynch’s 2001 cult classic Mulholland Drive.
Anahita Ghazvinizadeh is certainly a filmmaker to watch. A student of Abbas Kiarostami, the writer-director already has a Cinéfondation First Prize under her belt, picked up in 2015 with her short film ‘Needle’. Now, Ghazvinizadeh’s debut feature casts a careful eye over the subject of childhood gender-fluidity, the pressure of conformity, and the construction of identity.
J (Rhys Fehrenbacher) is an introspective adolescent who takes hormone blockers to prevent the onset of puberty. This is a temporary measure, we learn in the film’s opening, as J’s medical tests suggest that a decision must be reached soon, lest their health be put at risk. J’s life is at an impasse as they float between childhood and adulthood, unable to progress until they tick a box: B or G.
Horror has always provided a foundation for social commentary. As an audience, our fear of the monsters on screen can reflect – or negate – the fears that are deeply rooted within our communities. Gender, therefore, is an obvious topic for the horror director, and the academic links between feminist analysis and genre filmmaking are extensive. It’s the reason why Much Ado takes part in ‘Women in Horror Month’; we wish to highlight the fact that women excel when it comes to the monstrous and the terrifying.
Karyn Kusama lies at the very heart of this link, as a horror filmmaker who places female stories front-and-centre within her work. Her protagonists are richly developed, flawed and driven – whether that be for blood, success, or revolution. Her films provide subtle commentary upon the patriarchal grip of masculinity, the immovable nature of grief, and the overbearing pressure of maternal love. Her stories are interwoven with humour, poignancy, and wit. From ‘Jennifer’s Body’ to ‘The Invitation’, Kusama’s short filmography is an example of how female filmmakers truly own the horror genre.
Whether or not art should have a meaning outside of its style — an aim, to be exact, under a political or societal sense — has been a point of discussion among historians and critics since the early days of 19th century French slogan, “l’art pour l’art” and Friedrich Nietzsche’s counter argument to the said statement:
“…what does all art do? does it not praise? glorify? select? highlight? By doing all this it strengthens or weakens certain valuations….Art is the great stimulus to life: how could one understand it as purposeless, as aimless, as l’art pour l’art?”
To this day, there’s no easy answer or explanation to the subject. Though it is true that in the wake of twenty-first century, a more socially consciousness type of filmmaking has emerged both behind and in front of the cameras, especially on matters such as racial diversity and gender equality; a clear definition of art’s responsibility to the real world and its issues is still nearly impossible to make. As it stands a matter of subjective understanding of beauty for the most part, even what art stands for other than its own contained aesthetic nature is debatable. Should it comment on minority issues? Is it for a film to carry the weight of historical accuracy on its shoulders? Is it even logical to think that a simple existence of two hours or four hundred pages can represent a sociopolitical ideology or its assessment to its appreciators?