We are exhausted, sleep deprived, but our hearts are content. It is day four of CIFF.
On Sunday, I watched two of the three films in the International Competition directed by women. A lot of people were interested in what the first ever female-led CIFF would look like, especially as gender equality in the film industry is a hotly debated issue these days. I am happy to see a good number of films across all festival categories directed by women and starring strong female characters.
The first female directed film in the International Competition is Ines Tanovic’s Our Everyday Life (2015). After premiering at the Sarajevo Film Festival, it was nominated as the Bosnian entry for the 2016 Oscar’s Best Foreign Film award. As it’s her first feature-length film, this is a great accomplishment for Tanovic.
Our Everyday Life is a character-driven drama that focuses on a Sarajevo family as they go about their everyday lives. The father is a 60-something-year-old who works in a public firm that is about to be privatized, the mother is a retired school teacher who discovers she has breast cancer, and the son is a war veteran who lives with his parents as he recovers from post-traumatic stress disorder. The daughter is the only main character outside of Bosnia, having left in a convoy during the war when she was young. Opening with the camera looking out onto the streets of Sarajevo, this is a film that explores what being a Bosnian after the war means.
Lejla (Maja Izetbegovic), a former student the mother (Jasna Ornela Bery) meets on the street one day, is a photographer. She is back in Sarajevo collecting images from her personal archive for an exhibition in Houston, Texas. Much in line with Lejla’s philosophy as a photographer exploring the war through the ordinariness of school photos and family archive, Tanovic’s film contains several tableaux vivants, characterized by a theater-like stillness. These images are moments of profound reflection. They take the mundane and turn it into an event that confronts viewers with, and absorbs them in, the intense inner life of the characters.
If there is a post-modern aesthetic that attempts in some way or another to blur the line between the image, the representation, and the real, then the tableau vivant as a form is a part of that aesthetic. I would argue that The Wednesday Child (Lili Horvath, 2015), the second feature by a female director in the competition, also creates tableaux vivants with its images.
It is a character-driven drama as well that follows Maja (Kinga Vecsei), an 18-year-old orphan living in one of Hungary’s housing projects, as she tries to gain back custody of her child. Through a government scheme, she starts a laundromat. The Wednesday Child has more close ups than Our Everyday Life and a slightly faster pace but, just like Tanovic, Horvath’s images offer an interesting play between stillness and movement. The blinking of an eye, a smile, the twitching of muscles, and hand gestures all gain a gravitas as they confront the viewer in her tableaux.
Watching these films, I remembered that Fredrick Jameson, a critic and writer of seminal texts on postmodernism, once associated the postmodern condition with the feminine and modernity with masculinity. These two female directors produced films with sharp images, compelling stories and showed great originality and ambition in their frame compositions. I would recommend that you go see both. They are strong contenders for the prize this year.
Our Everyday Life plays again at 3:30 pm on Monday, The Wednesday Child screens at 6:30 pm and also on Monday. The third female-directed film in competition for the Golden Pyramid is Madonna by Shin Su-Won, which screens on Thursday at 5:30 pm and on Friday at 12:30 pm.
If you’re interested in another strong film by a female director that explores the play between stillness and movement, the heterogeneity of the medium as it blurs the line between film painting and photography, make sure to see Erotics, Erotics, Etc by Evangelia Kranicti, which screens as part of the Critics Week on Thursday at 12:45 pm.
See you at the movies!