Bodies, Rest, and Motion

The Walker's 'Women with Vision' breaks the law of inertia

Last year around this time, Academy Award nominees could look out their limousine windows to spot the billboard likeness of that buff golden boy every leading actress lusts after. And it wasn't Jake Gyllenhaal. On the corner of Melrose and Highland in Hollywood was a portrait of Oscar himself--but the famous figurine's arms, legs, and torso looked nothing like Tom Hanks's favorite paperweight. In this particular ad, commissioned by feminist art pranksters Guerrilla Girls and the mysterious female filmmaking collective Alice Locas, the pale, flabby figurine had both hands cupped between his legs. This, according to the text, was the "Anatomically Correct Oscar": "He's white and male, just like the guys who win!"

Maybe this kind of blanket attack makes you wanna shove a banana in the Guerrilla Girls' rhetoric hole. But consider their research: Ninety-four percent of the academy's writing awards go to men. Only two female filmmakers have ever been nominated for Best Director--and neither won. Even the U.S. government supports women leaders more than Hollywood does: Females make up 14 percent of the Senate, but only four percent of the directors who made 2002's top 100 films are women. That's less than the percentage of female cabinet members in Afghanistan's interim government.

Our tickers, ourselves: Sonja Richler (front)  and Mads Mikkelsen in 'Open Hearts'
Newmarket Films
Our tickers, ourselves: Sonja Richler (front) and Mads Mikkelsen in 'Open Hearts'

But, as our tubby Oscar friend might agree, anatomy shapes more than just awards ceremonies. In a way, it molds the films themselves--a fact that's never been so apparent as in the Walker's 10th annual "Women with Vision" film festival. The monthlong series (this year's subtitle is "On the Move") selects filmmakers from all over the world primarily on the basis of their XX chromosomes. Yet curator Sheryl Mousley unites these women precisely so that they can express themselves outside of the overly simplistic language of mainstream film, which so often reduces men and women to the products of their genitals.

Fittingly, then, this year's "WWV" explores the ways in which people feel trapped in their own bodies. Annie Goldson and Peter Wells's documentary Georgie Girl (screening Saturday, March 8 at 9:30 p.m.) follows New Zealand's Georgina Beyer, a transsexual Minister of Parliament who refuses to let the fact that she was born a man prevent her from doing a woman's job. In Rakhshan Bani-Etemad's Our Times (Wednesday, March 19 at 8:00 p.m.), one of Iran's female presidential candidates discovers that she's unable to find a home, simply because her gender classifies her as an unfit tenant. And Claire Denis's voyeuristic epic Friday Night (Friday, March 21 at 9:00 p.m.) spies on two traveling strangers who, at a loss for words to explain what they're feeling, can only communicate carnally. This is the way our bodies become our selves.

Perhaps the most poignant link between philosophy and physique comes from Susanne Bier's Dogme drama Open Hearts (Wednesday, March 5 at 8:00 p.m.). When Joachim (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) becomes paralyzed in a car crash, he decides that since he can't return to his prior state physically, he'll refuse to heal emotionally. Feeling isolated and spurned, his fiancée Cecile (Sonja Richler) falls in love with the doctor (Mads Mikkelsen) who comforts her. Of course, he also happens to be the husband of the woman (Paprika Steen) who caused the accident. Despite the film's familiar, von Trieresque plotline, you'll hear no waves breaking in Cecile's deep-but-still waters. Had the Dogmatic bully directed Open Hearts himself, we might have found our heroine's titular ticker "open" in the literal sense--a bleeding heart offered to her lover in selfless sacrifice. But Bier's film refutes von Trier's melodramatic ideas by proving that you can't conflate acting out of love with being noble. The power of the spirit may lie in the brain, but sometimes our heads just want what lies below the waist.

And maybe that's because reading someone's body is often easier than reading her mind. In the aforementioned Our Times, the heroine's husband tattoos her name all over his body, making his skin into a text of the soul. Yamina Benguigui's dramatic memoir Inch'Allah Sunday (Saturday, March 22 at 8:00 p.m.) recognizes that text as a dual representation of the individual and the larger culture to which she belongs: When an Algerian wife (Fejria Deliba) joins her laborer husband (Zinedine Soualem) in France during the '70s, the marks from his abuse are a physical reminder of the Muslim patriarchy she's trying to escape in Europe. Likewise, in one scene of Chantal Akerman's haunting From the Other Side (Saturday, March 15 at 8:00 p.m.), a documentary-cum-art film about illegal emigration from Mexico into the U.S., an infrared camera captures a long line of Mexicans attempting to cross the border. Akerman reminds us that the map of this border is written in bodies.

Even when national borders aren't marked by the human corpus, though, they're often defined by another kind of body: water. Based on Witi Ihimaera's novel of the same name, Niki Caro's festival crowd pleaser Whale Rider (Saturday, March 8 at 7:30 p.m.) focuses on New Zealand's Whagara people, who believe they are descended from a single ancestor, Paikea--a man who traveled to their shores 1,000 years ago on the back of a whale. But this is also the story of Pai (Keisha Castle-Hughes), a teenage girl named after the ancient whale rider, and her attempts to be a leader for this island community that so reveres the sea. Though the film's exploration of Whagara traditions is interesting for being largely unknown to foreign audiences, its plot line is way too familiar: Like many myths, Whale Rider simply accepts its natural--and very predictable--conclusion as fate.

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