For Women’s Day, an obvious “women’s film” versus a not-so-obvious one

Posted on March 7, 2019


Read the full article on Firstpost, here:

The very term “women’s film” is a problematic one, though it has its uses. American film critic Molly Haskell wrote in her classic book From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies, “A film that focuses on male relationships is not pejoratively dubbed a ‘man’s film’.” Point noted. But the term is useful to discuss a type of film, something like Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s Mustang (Turkish, 2015), which is the story of five orphaned sisters — all hovering around their teens — who are subjected to increasing oppression. Their uncle refuses to let them go to a soccer match. (“It’s not your place to be in the stadium with men.”) As they increasingly seek freedom, the windows of their room are barred, the walls of the house become higher. And even when they move into another house, after marriage, the trials continue. After the wedding night of one of the sisters, the in-laws exclaim: “She did not bleed.”

In short, the well-intentioned Mustang is everything you expect from a “women’s film”. It shows how women are treated in a patriarchal society, how they yearn to break their shackles, and so forth. This is why I call it “obvious”, because it checks all the boxes that have come to define a “women’s film” today. Now consider another film directed by a woman, the great Agnès Varda’s Le Bonheur (French, 1965; the title translates to “happiness”). At first, it doesn’t seem to be a “women’s film” at all. The protagonist is a man, a carpenter named François. He lives in a small town with his dressmaker-wife, Thérèse, and their very young children. It’s an impossibly idyllic life, and in her Criterion Collection essay, the critic Amy Taubin described it perfectly (and hilariously): “They obviously adore their children, who never whine, almost never cry, and have the peculiar gift of falling instantly asleep anytime their parents want to make love – which is often.”

Continued at the link above.

Copyright ©2019 Firstpost.