The Woman's Point of View

in 69th Locarno International Film Festival

by Marta Armengou

When the Locarno Film Festival announced his program for the 69th edition, I had a really nice surprise. Besides one of the most diverse festival line ups this year, of 17 titles competing for the Golden Leopard, eight are directed or co-directed by women, amounting to 47 per cent of the list. That's nearly 50 per cent female-directed or co-directed. Last year, only three of 18 films were directed or co-directed by women. That's an increase of 30 per cent in one year.

Locarno 69 has an amazing representation of female directors competing for the festival's top award. Maybe this is kind of a reflection of a changing direction of world cinema. And, hopefully, little by little, the other festivals will go in this direction. Proof of this is the Palmarès. Out of the 17 premieres in competition for the main prize, eight were helmed by women, and two of the three Locarno First Feature prize winners were directed by women. The Golden Leopard went to Godless, a first feature from Bulgaria's Ralitza Petrova. The film also took home Best Actress for Irena Ivanova.

While looking into the films I enjoyed a lot, three of them are directed or co-directed by women. The first, from Concorzo internazionale, is Glory (Slava), the third feature from Bulgarian directors Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov. This film is the second part of a trilogy that portrays contemporary Bulgarian society, fragmented by class, and it's based on a true story like their 2014 movie The Lesson (Urok).

Glory has the simple premise of a parable: Tsanko Petrov, a railroad worker discovers money on the train tracks, he decides to turn the entire amount over to the police and receives a watch as his reward. When it stops working, he launches a quest to find his old one. Meanwhile, Julia Staikova, the head of PR for the Ministry of Transport, loses his old watch. Here begins Petrov's desperate struggle to get back not only his old watch, but his dignity.

Grozeva and Valchanov offered another small tragedy, a moral tale without moralizing, with a big snowball effect where corruption is a given. Instead, we have some kind of neorealist character study. What follows is a mix between black comedy and social drama, like Luis García Berlanga meets the Dardenne Brothers. A simple premise with a complex approach that keeps expanding the filmmakers' themes.

The script, credited to the directors and Decho Taralezhkov, is a damning portrait of a working class man thrust into the limelight and disoriented by forces beyond his control in a context where everyday routine and social realities take on poignant dimensions. In the previous film, there is only one main character, a provincial Bulgarian schoolteacher who discovers one of the young students in her English class has pilfered a small amount of money from her purse. In Glory, the story expands to another central character: Julia, a tough workaholic (another astonishing performance by Margita Gosheva). The movie shifts between Julia's world and the opposite world that Tsanko inhabits (played by Stefan Denolyubov), two facets of Bulgarian society. Both characters will be immersed in a train wreck.

Glory reminds me that Romanian cinema is truly realistic and so confidently directed and performed. The duo has created a powerful and fascinating film which highlights the injustices suffered by disadvantaged people managing and resolving complex ethical responsibilities and value conflicts until the shocking and surprising ending.

In this edition of Locarno, the main competition also hosts a larger number of upcoming directors along with Cineasti del Presente and Signs of Life. In an issue where women have played a major role this year, I want to highlight two titles from other sections that seems very remarkable and are lead by two female newcomers. Still Life (Gorge Cœur Ventre) is Maud Alpi's harrowing first feature, which takes place in one of these most unpleasant workplaces: an abattoir. The protagonist, a young, tortured and confused boy and his dog, takes care of animals in a pigsty before they are slaughtered. The French director brings the camera down to the level of the eyes of animals to paint a portrait, somewhere between documentary and fiction, of the savage, sinister and painful world inside the walls of a slaughterhouse. Alpi's approach alludes to Dante's Inferno. She explores death, but never in a morbid way. On the contrary, this is an honest, poetic and humanistic portrayal of the relationship between humans and animals trying to find their path. Dreadful but delicate.

The other film debut is from Israel. People That Are Not Me (Anashim shehem lo ani), by Hadas Ben Aroya, talks about Joy, a young woman living in Tel Aviv who has a love-hate relationship with its casual sex scene. Her ex refuses to keep in touch with her and she tries desperately to get him back. The young filmmaker directed and wrote the script as her final project of her degree, and plays the lead role. The film is full of irony and absurdity. With seemingly simple yet subtle dialogue and cunningly observed situations, often reminiscent of Lena Dunham's Girls. A fresh movie, funny but tragic and one that, for a once, doesn't talk about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

Edited by Amber Wilkinson
© FIPRESCI 2016

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