The passing of stories, of telling tales is as old as time; inherent to our movement and development as a society. Told around the campfire, passed down verbally from one generation to the next.
Predating writing and technology, stories were passed down through mothers, fathers and teachers, through folklore, myth and legend, through body and mouth. These recognisable patterns, central to human existence, are narratives that help us make sense of our world and to form an identity of self and of community. They help us form meaning.
Yet with the advent of writing and transcribing, our story tellers became mainly men, the winners of battles, the owners of businesses, the educated. The development of new technologies also influenced the stories that were told, with women strikingly misrepresented or underrepresented in art, literature, music and film.
And yet the 21st Century has seen a number of great breakthroughs within these writings, where the affordability of travel and the evolution of the internet have provided a more equalised and immersive platform through which to get voices and stories heard and told.
New perspectives from around the world are more readily available, so the assumption goes that a more diverse array of stories are being heard, right?
Film, a central segment of our modern-day storytelling, has recently gone through a series of positive changes in terms of equal representation, like “the difference she makes” campaign which shares the inspiring stories of women in film who spark change.
It was then, of course, disheartening to read through the lists of best newcomers in film this year as well as the list of Oscar nominees for the best foreign language film, as none listed more than one film with a female director.
.Cent took a deeper look into some of these untold stories inspired by our editor Justine’s love of travelling and found a whole array of exciting up and coming films and perspectives, all with female directors and all examples of beautiful filmmaking and storytelling from across the globe.
Marguerite: Marianne Farley, 2017
To begin our own story we look at Marguerite, a French film by Canadian born filmmaker Marianne Farley, who unfolds a beautiful love story of friendship between an ageing woman named Marguerite (played by Béatrice Picard) and her nurse, Rachel (Sandrine Bisson). The relationship ultimately allows Marguerite to come to terms in making peace with her past.
The film focuses on this burgeoning friendship between two people from very different worlds and times; exploring how this has affected their individual lives, personalities and sexuality. Providing a snapshot reel of intimate moments between carer and cared for, the director builds up to a beautiful crescendo of acceptance and transformation. Exploring an interesting duality between loneliness in old age and sexuality, Marianne Farley brings something new to the table of film.
Can you tell us how and why you built this friendship between Marguerite and Rachel? Why a nurse and older woman? What did that allow you to explore?
The idea that human beings can evolve and inspire each other through simple connection is something that has always moved me. Through this story I wanted to explore human vulnerability. Obviously, Marguerite’s vulnerability stems from the fact that she is an elderly diabetic woman but also from the heavy burden of her loneliness and her secret un-avowed past. Through her friendship with Rachel, a much younger and more liberated woman, she is able to get a glimpse of the life she could have had. Rachel’s vulnerability is also something that flourishes throughout the film. Only when she sees Marguerite open up to her does she allow herself to be emotionally shaken by the older woman. In my mind through this encounter, both of their lives are forever transformed.
How did you use the age difference of these two characters to explain the story and their relationship?
For this story to work, both characters had to have a significant age difference. In fact, both women had to come from polar opposite generations. Things have changed so dramatically since the 50s and it is precisely that culture shock that sends Marguerite into her own past and forces her to take a look at what she could have had. What she should have had. It is also that realisation that inspires Rachel to open up to Marguerite.
What made you choose the darker and more neutral brown tones for the colour scheme of the film?
Although Marguerite’s life is not exciting and is a bit drab, I didn’t want to make things look too dead, too grey or cold. The location we found was perfect because it had a lot of wood trimmings. The theme of religion inspired wood and warm but dark colouring to me. Marguerite’s home also had to be filled with a rich past and souvenirs because she travelled a lot as a flight attendant. The decor also had to have a certain heaviness to illustrate her hidden past.
There seems to be numerous references to time and season (like the cuckoo clock). What is it that you aim to show through these?
I find that one of the most difficult things when making a short film is to show the passage of time especially when the story takes place in only one location. In Marguerite the relationship evolves through several months, through many seasons. It was important to me that Marguerite open up to Rachel slowly for it to feel real, natural. Many things were used to convey that passage in time; the clock, the lighting, the different hair, makeup and wardrobe changes.
What does your film say about the world we live in today in terms of LGBTQ+ lives in particular? And how do you see that this liberates in this day and age?
I think that things have come a long way for the LGBTQ+ community but there is still a lot of work to be done. In some parts of the world the progress is meek or non-existent. Although we talk more openly about homosexuality and gender identity, the laws are slow to change and there is always the potential of regressive laws hampering our evolution to a truly free and fair society. That is why we absolutely need to keep standing up for basic human rights for all!
How do you approach loneliness in old age but in sexuality in the film?
For me there is a lot of nostalgia in the film when it comes to Marguerite’s past. Obviously, she is a lonely woman who realises she will never be able to experience what it is like to love freely, but there is also a sense of inner peace that emanates from Marguerite. I didn’t want the film to be just about sexuality or a specific sexual preference, but I wanted it to be about love. Love of another human being as well as love of herself. The brief moment of closeness that Marguerite experiences with Rachel is deeper than anything sexual she could have had. And it is precisely that brief moment that allows her to make peace with her past.
Let’s now turn the lens on other up and coming female directors from around the world…
Catherine Lurie-Alt: Back to Berlin, 2018
“It’s better to come to Auschwitz by bike rather than by train.”
In an interesting juxtaposition of past and present, Back to Berlin, Catherine Lurie’s 2018 film, follows 11 modern-day Jewish bikers on a mission to deliver the Maccabi torch to the opening ceremony of the 2015 European Maccabiah Games, held in Berlin, Germany at the site of Hitler’s 1936 Olympic stadium.
The Jewish Olympics, now held quadrennially, were the result of a 1912 invention giving Jewish people a sporting outlet, as the rise in antisemitism at the time meant that they were often excluded from organisations and clubs as a people.
Travelling in the tracks of the riders spreading word and gathering support for the 1930s Maccabiah games, these modern-day riders travel to Berlin, where at the time of filming in 2015, the games were to be held.
An unusual story to say the least, but a compelling one. The riders include holocaust survivors, descendants of survivors and the grandson of a 1930’s Maccabiah Rider, who rode from Tel-Aviv to Berlin, in a contemplative and sobering journey of discovery.
Along the way we unearth personal stories of survival and defiance of the holocaust juxtaposed with the modern-day Syrian Refugee Crisis. Catherine Lurie manages to pose necessary questions about how we function as a society in this clever documentary.
Revenge: Coralie Fargeat, 2017
French Film director Coralie Fargeat’s 2017 film, an electric action-based horror was critically acclaimed for its repositioning of the male gaze. Described as a ‘rape and revenge film’, the blood, gore and pop-art colours in this movie are uncurbed, reminiscent of Tarantino’s eponymous style.
The film follows the horrific rape of protagonist Jen (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz), left for dead in the middle of the dessert, who rises up to seek revenge. In a series of shots at the beginning of the movie we see Jen as an exaggeration of the ‘silly’ vacuous Lolita-type, dancing around in front of her lovers’ friends. Director Coralie Fargeat inflates and lingers uncomfortably upon the male gaze in an effort to explore how the girl is considered and treated before this rape; showing the ways in which the victim is often blamed for the way they act and dress, allowing for the survival of the entitled and overbearing male gaze.
The movie then shifts dramatically as Jen rises from the dead to seek her revenge in a fantastical and action heavy chase across the desert. Using sound and colour to build a powerful tension that runs successfully throughout the course of the film, and with dialogue few and far between, director Coralie Fargeat pushes boundaries, rules and genre to their limit in this feminist masterpiece of operatic dimension.
Natalia Almada: Everything Else, 2016
Mexican-American film director Natalia Almada provides an observational catalogue of fixed and tight shots about a middle-aged bureaucrat in her debut fiction film Todo lo demás (Everything Else), an emotionally compelling story from start to finish. We follow the lonely and fixed life of a middle-aged woman named Doña Flor, played by Adriana Barraza, working as a bureaucrat in the city. Flor’s loneliness stems from a seemingly self-imposed rigidity of spirit, her work is a mechanical sub-part of her being, and her interactions with other people limited and emotionless. Flor has become detached and invisible in middle-age, looking at passers-by, going to watch swimmers at her community pool but never actually participating.
Almada uses a series of tight shots to reflect her main protagonist’s tightly led and resigned life, where the parameters of spaces are never quite clear. The structures of bureaucracy that line this film’s visuals have become inherent parts of Flor’s personality, where Almada’s intent is to show the ways in which Mexican society has affected this woman.
Her film, though slow-moving and meditative, carries a certain suspense, an eerie feeling of both knowing and unknowing. Almada’s prowess as filmmaker is found in her attention to subtleties; the minute and impactful instances of every day life.
Nadine Labaki: Capharnaüm, 2018
Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki strings together a powerful and emotional message on child endangerment with her film Capharnaüm. This captivating piece of cinematic drama, selected to compete for the Palme d’or at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival and winning the Jury Prize, follows the story of Zain (Zain Alrafeea), a 12 year old Lebanese boy living in Beirut. Hardened and embittered by his surrounding adult world, Zain who is serving a 5-year prison sentence, decides to launch a surreal court trial, suing his parents for the ‘crime’ of giving him life.
This soured young soul looks at the world around him with aged and hardened eyes that surpass his years. His parents run a tramadol scam business, smuggling the drug in its decomposed form into prisons, concealed in the lining of clothes. Disenchanted with his family’s circumstances and ways of life, he finally decides to run away after seeing his parents sell his 11 year old sister Samar (Cedra Izam) in marriage to their landlord’s creepy son. He then comes to befriend illegal Ethiopian immigrant and cleaner, Rahil (Yordanos Shifera), looking after her son when she goes to work. Rahil disappears, picked up by the authorities, leaving the baby for Zain to look after and protect from the sinister characters we encounter along the way, like the people-trafficker who offers him money for the child.
This is a powerful and gritty film, whose title Capharnaüm, meaning chaos, reflects the chaotic existence and dangers facing a child in the loveless and hardened world that surrounds him.
Images Marguerite: Marianne Farley, 2017