I’ve watched a few films recently and it occurred to me that most of them have shown women’s stories from around the globe. Recent studies about gender inequality in film imply this was not fate, and perhaps I’ve just been more drawn to female-led movies lately. Nonetheless, I’ve really enjoyed them and thought I’d share!
Turkey: Mustang (2016)
This film is currently in the cinemas, and I highly recommend watching it. It follows the journey of five sisters living in rural Turkey, and the turn their lives take after they’re seen playing in the sea with boys on the last day of school, (hint: “It all turned to shit”). Their house becomes a “wife factory” and despite efforts to fight against their fate, it seems the sisters have very little agency over their own lives. A poignant look at the oppressive nature of patriarchy, Mustang perfectly encapsulates the suffocation and despair these girls feel as their freedom is increasingly restricted. Yet it was undoubtedly humorous at times too, and my friends decided it could be classed feel-good (though perhaps more like Slumdog Millionaire than Love Actually). From a societal perspective, it highlighted the continued importance of female virginity and modesty, and the seemingly lesser importance attributed to female education, work and independence. With Istanbul hailed as a refuge, perhaps these issues are more pertinent in their countryside setting. Nevertheless, there are clearly women’s rights issues that blight Turkey as a whole, with there being a gender gap in secondary and higher education, the prevalence of child marriages, low participation of women in the workforce etc. With talk at the moment of Turkey being granted greater access to the EU, I’d personally like to see more demands made, and more funding given, to the improvement of the position of women in Turkey. I think Mustang is a beautiful testament to why Turkish women both need and deserve greater opportunities.
UK: Amy (2015)
On a completely different note, Amy is a documentary about one of my favourite musicians. I must admit, my feelings towards Amy Winehouse have been rocky at times; I remember seeing her a bit off her face at the Isle of Wight Festival in 2007 and growing more disillusioned as the bad news kept coming. Crack, heroin, boob job, alcoholism – she seemed a young woman destined for disaster. I remained deeply moved by her music though, and this documentary really opened my eyes to the reality behind the headlines. Pre-Frank, Amy comes across as a charismatic, though undoubtedly still troubled, individual. It seems moving from her family home to Camden and later achieving worldwide fame only served to heighten this to an unmanageable degree. Through the tales of those closest to her, the audience is able to piece together a picture of her life. Despite her father dismissing the film as negative for focusing on her drug addiction, I think there are plenty of stories and footage that showed her personality – she seems vivacious, funny, modest and surprisingly shy too. In a touching moment, she records a song with her idol, the jazz singer Tony Bennett, and she just seems so bashful and eager to please. Amy is also a true indictment of tabloid culture. With cruel headlines and the press hounding her, she seems unable to escape her demons. Amy’s bodyguard and close friend Andrew Morris recalls Amy saying on one of the last nights before she died, “if I could give it all back just to walk down that street with no hassle, I would”. A heartbreaking final note to a very moving depiction of the one and only, Amy Winehouse.
Mexico: Los insólitos peces gato/The Amazing Catfish (2013)
Set in Guadalajara, The Amazing Catfish is a semi-autobiographical movie that revolves around a lonely young supermarket assistant, Claudia, and her integration into a matriarchal family unit. After contracting appendicitis, Claudia finds herself in the bed next to Martha, a mother of four with a debilitating illness contracted from her late husband. In contrast to the swarm of family that remain by Martha’s bedside, it becomes apparent that Claudia is very much alone. In a kind gesture, Martha invites Claudia back for dinner and she soon grows to be an increasingly important part of the household. As a somewhat subdued, slow-moving indie, I admit this film may not be for everyone. The film is punctuated by return visits to the hospital, which leaves even the happy moments feeling bittersweet. Even so, I think the film is ultimately steeped in kindness, love and the importance of family (even if there is no blood relation). The writer/director Claudia Sainte-Luce revealed that she locked the protagonists up together for a week before filming to create this authentic family dynamic, and I think it really shows. In terms of women in film, no men have lead roles in The Amazing Catfish (although there is a young boy who plays Martha’s son). The soundtrack also seems to reflect female voices, with music from Julieta Venegas and La Bien Querida. Overall, it’s a warm look at a solitary woman, Claudia, who finally finds her place in the world. Although this is granted to her by the grace of Martha and her family, there is no doubt that Claudia gave back as much as she was given. Perhaps then, this film may encourage others to look at those around them and also ask that unsettling question: “Are you alone?”. We might find our lives improved by the outcome.
Iran: Persepolis (2007)
Now I’ve mentioned this film in a previous post about Iran but I really do like it! I watched it again recently and found a good link to the English version here. Persepolis is an animated film based on Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel. It tells the story of Marji, a spirited and inquisitive heroine, growing up in Iran during a time of great social upheaval. As a young girl, Marji witnesses the fall of the oppressive ruler Mohammad Reza Shah, which seems to hold promise for liberation and democracy. With the subsequent establishment of an Islamic Republic, however, male dominance and political oppression soon become entrenched into Iranian society – so much so that Marji has to move to Vienna by herself to assure her safety. Trapped between two worlds, the film captures Marji’s feelings of dejection when she realises that she doesn’t quite belong in either. This is certainly an elite perspective of Iran but I think it gives insight into the diverse nature of Iranian society, which is often portrayed as monolithic. What’s more, it doesn’t just chronicle the modern history of Iran, it’s told from Marjane’s personal experiences as a young woman. Marji does not just suffer from war and rebellion, she also experiences heartache, loneliness and puberty, which make the story relatable even to the non-Iranian viewer.
USA: Tangerine (2015)
The fifth and final film I watched is about a transgender sex-worker in Los Angeles, called Sin-Dee. After spending 28 days in jail, Sin-Dee discovers that during her time away her boyfriend/pimp Chester has cheated on her with a cis-gender woman, “a real fish, like vagina and everything”. Self-defined as “fierce as fuck”, Sin-Dee furiously storms around LA looking for Chester and his new girlfriend. Tangerine also follows a supposed family man with a fetish for transwomen and Sin-Dee’s friend Alexandra, an aspiring singer who runs into trouble with clients. Alexandra (Mya Taylor) is the stand out performance of the film but although the other performances may lack polish, they more than make up for it in their authenticity. The narrative only takes place over one day, Christmas Eve, but it gives a lot of insight into the daily grind and the brutal reality of a transgender prostitute. Although there’s been some debate about whether transwomen are “real” women, with feminist Germaine Greer and Richard Dawkins weighing in on the debate, I personally lean towards respecting self-definition. Interestingly, Tangerine was filmed with iPhones due to budget constraints. Though the quality is still decent, it seems demonstrative of the persistent marginalisation of transwomen.