Ukraine is Not a Brothel (2013)

“Kitty is filming this for some reason.” Fun, newsy doc about feminists in Ukraine who stage topless public actions and usually get arrested, traveling to other countries to protest in India, getting terrorized by cops in Belarus.

“We get money from charitable donations. We don’t know exactly where the money comes from.” The movie takes a turn upon the introduction of Victor, the man in the shadows who organizes all public appearances of this “feminist” group. “Girls are weak,” he says, then “My influence on the girls is the very same as the patriarchal influence against which we are protesting.”

Victor’s expression when asked if he started Femen to get chicks… which he did:


The Face of Ukraine: Casting Oksana Baiul (2015)

A bunch of girls audition to play Ukraine’s first olympic champ. Perfect stepping-stone film between the two features, too short to make much of an impact, though when all the girls are trying to cry it made me wanna cry.


Casting JonBenet (2017)

Casting sessions for each role in a theoretical JonBenet Ramsey movie, shot in Boulder where the murder took place, cutting between actor reactions. After some desperate attempts to connect themselves with the case or the family, some of them start going through their own family traumas.

The would-be policeman-actors run through the investigation, criticizing and analyzing the work of their real-life counterparts two decades earlier. Each family member gets scrutinized. We get numerology, and perverse conspiracy theories playing out like the final scenes of Top of the Lake. My birds got triggered when the JonBenets demonstrated their screaming abilities – I wonder if that’s where I stopped the movie the first time I tried to watch it. Music by Nathan Larson of Shudder to Think! This played True/False in 2017, and is one of the most perfectly True/Falsey movies I’ve seen.

Plaisir d’amour en Iran (1976)
An expanded version of Pauline and Darius’s trip to Iran in L’Une chante, l’autre pas. Pauline and a narrator comment on the sensuality of Persian architecture. I would’ve liked it if the feature had been edited more rhythmically like this short (or if the picture quality had been as good).
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Du Coté de la Côte (1958)
Fun, half-hour exploration of tourism along the coast, more gentle than Vigo’s À propos de Nice and simpler than a Marker travelogue.

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“These parks, overpopulated with merry people attracted by the Latin shore, foreshadow the dead people seeking eternal rest there. In both cases, space is limited because of its good quality. It is a well-rated coast.”

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Les Fiances du pont Mac Donald (1961)
The short within Cleo from 5 to 7 is apparently considered its own little film. “I wanted to provide a little relief for Cleo. … So I thought at the beginning of the third part of the film, where films often have a lull, a weakness, a slow-down … I would introduce something uplifting. My other goal was to show Jean-Luc Godard’s eyes. At the time, he wore very dark glasses. We were friends, and he agreed to this little story about glasses in which he must take them off and reveal his big, beautiful eyes, like Buster Keaton’s.”
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Ulysse (1982)
This was fantastic. Varda finds an old photo of hers, taken in 1954, and investigates. What was she thinking about at the time? What were the models in the photo thinking? She looks them up and asks. Agnes: “This almost painful investigation taught me so much about what an image says, what it says to each of us, and what it cannot say. It merely represents.”
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AV: “How does she see her own goat image? Without making animals talk, like in American cartoons, or defining memory as a rumination of mental images, may I suggest that there is an animal ‘eatingmagination,’ a self-predatory imagination?”
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Salut les cubains (1963)
Months after Cleo from 5 to 7 opened, Varda went to Cuba to photograph the country’s inhabitants for an exhibit which opened in Havana (introduced by Raul Castro!) before it moved to Paris. She also made this film out of the photos, narrated by Michel Piccoli. Subjects include the Castros, famous national artists, workers, dancers, posters and drawings and artworks. She creates action sequences, animating the photos, best of all with this guy dancing for the camera.
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Mentions Marker’s Cuba Si, which came out a couple years before. In her introduction, Varda says twice that “we must place it in the context of 1962,” since the Cuban dream society didn’t turn out the way the French leftists hoped it would. Interesting that she made such a happy, idealist film as this, then her next feature would be the happiness-breakdown of Le Bonheur.
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These last two were reissued in the 2004 collection Cinevardaphoto with a third, current short about a teddy bear collector, but somehow I didn’t have subtitles for that one. If Cleo from 5 to 7 and L’Une chante, l’autre pas revealed Varda’s kinship with the filmmaking of husband Jacques Demy, these shorts represent a definite (and oft-mentioned) kinship with Chris Marker, and either of them could stand alongside his best documentaries. The commentaries are more personal, less consciously witty. The images are wonderful, and the sense of investigation, of images and memory, the psychology of the films puts them on the Marienbad and La Jetee side of the new wave fence… my favorite side.
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Elsa la rose (1965)
A portrait of Elsa in the words of her husband Aragon, who has spent their entire relationship writing and publishing poems about her. Varda calls them a “famous couple and fervent communists.” Elsa is filmed as Aragon imagines and remembers her, says she repeated the exercise with her own husband for Jacquot de Nantes. In voiceover, Piccoli reads the poems as fast as he can, a hilarious idea. First movie Lubtchansky and Kurant shot for Varda.
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Elsa: “The readers of these poems expect me to be 20 years old forever. As I cannot satisfy this need for beauty and youth that the readers have, I feel guilty and it makes me unhappy. That’s what’s terrible, they’re not just for me.”

Réponse de femmes (1975)

“Women must be reinvented.”
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Agnes has a few minutes to state the case of all women, socially and politically. Lots of nudity, which she points out is not exploitative unless used to sell a product or titillate viewers.

Coming attractions (when I’ve got subtitles): Black Panthers (1968)
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“The parent system’s no good. Pa grumbles while Ma’s sweet and silent…”

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Fair haired girl, Pauline, 17, she sings – her ex-neighbor Suzanne, 22, doesn’t. In the early 60’s, strong-willed P is having trouble with her parents, so she visits S, who is having trouble with her boyfriend Jerome, married to another woman. S also has two kids and is unintentionally pregnant. There’s illegal abortion drama, Jerome kills himself, and a title card says “ten years later”…

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For those who didn’t get Le Bonheur and thought it was asserting male dominance and endorsing cheating on your wife, here’s Varda’s explicitly feminist movie – exploring the joys and pitfalls and terrible music of 1970’s feminism. Unfortunately, explicit feminism (or explicit anything) doesn’t work as well for me as Varda’s more ambiguous movies have… movie is kinda obvious and messagey at times, but she still takes a multifaceted story approach to her message.

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Anyway, ten years after the suicide, the women meet at a women’s rights demonstration. P is calling herself Apple now, sings a cheesy “my body is mine” song, playing the worst kind of acoustic guitar and tambourine folk. Actually I kinda liked the piano song she sings on an Amsterdam canal boat with her fellow abortion patients later on. S runs a women’s clinic, while P tours her music and theater group, and the two keep in touch sporadically over the years through the mail. Suzanne eventually marries pediatrician Pierre and Pauline goes to Iran with her man Darius (an economist?), and now the two have to cope with being wives and mothers while trying to keep their values uncorrupted. P finds it’s tough to be feminist in Iran so she ditches her guy and returns home. Ends with a lingering shot on Suzanne’s grown daughter, looking troubled at the thought of taking over the plot.

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P. Kael said “Varda brings a Disney touch to women’s liberation.” Otherwise there isn’t crap about it on the internet, besides saying it’s from France, Belgium and Venezuela, which doesn’t even seem to be true.

an Apple performance:
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Every movie released in 1977 looks dirty and cheap. Did the entire international film world’s budget go into the first Star Wars? Dialogue is in French, but credits and voiceovers are in English, hmmm. Maybe all this is because of my shady videotape copy.

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Pauline (Valérie Mairesse) was in Tarkovsky’s Sacrifice and Lucas Belvaux’s Trilogy and Suzanne (Thérèse Liotard, above) was in a Bertrand Tavernier sci-fi flick with Harvey Keitel and Harry Dean Stanton – must see that. The composer shows up as an actor, with four-year-old Mathieu Demy in tow. Assistant camera (in the Iranian scenes?) is appropriately by Nurit Aviv, France’s first licensed female cinematographer.

I passed up seeing The Scarlet Empress in 35mm for this, but it was probably worth it [later note after having finally watched The Scarlet Empress: nope].

Meshes of the Afternoon (1943, Maya Deren)
One of the great poetic movies of the 40’s. Love when she’s climbing the stairs, bouncing off the walls as the camera twists from side to side. Love the multiple Mayas sitting at a table in the same shot (technically impressive, too). Love the movement, the plot (avant-filmmakers take note: an actual plot), the look, that iconic shot of Maya at the window.

Fuses (1967, Carolee Schneemann)
Fairly rapidly-edited shots of director having sex with James Tenney, with other scratched and weathered colored filmstrips superimposed over it. The editing and content are exciting for about ten minutes, but the movie is twenty minutes long, and silent. Girl in front of me tried reading from the reflected light of Tenney’s alarmingly red-tinted penis on the classroom wall, then texted people for a while. I sat wondering why there were so many shots of her cat staring out the window. Maybe it was supposed to be boring, and that was the point. Worth watching on pristine 16mm, glad I saw it, just saying it felt long. Schneemann has few film credits, but they’re in collaboration with Andy Warhol, Yoko Ono and Stan Brakhage. The Brakhage influence can plainly be seen here, and the film process work makes for some wonderful images. This was apparently a reaction to the objectification of women in movies, with Window Water Baby Moving named as an example. The director: “I wanted to see if the experience of what I saw would have any correspondence to what I felt – the intimacy of the lovemaking… And I wanted to put into that materiality of film the energies of the body, so that the film itself dissolves and recombines and is transparent and dense – as one feels during lovemaking.” Won a special jury prize at Cannes.

Reassemblage (1982, Trinh T. Minh-ha)
Black with ambient sound. Then shots of a rural scene in Senegal with silence. More shots with narration. More shots with ambient sound. More narration. Eventually, more black. The sound is rarely commenting directly on the visuals, and even the ambient sound rarely seems to line up. Shots of bare-breasted African women, daily chores, kids (two albinos!), youth playing in the river, and so on, with comments about ethnography. The commentary might make sense written down, but as we heard it, all scattered and edited (the sound editing was pretty poor), it seemed to circle around some points without managing to make any. Got nothing against the film, was fine to hang out in Senegal for a while. L. Thielan: “By disjunctive editing and a probing narration this ‘documentary’ strikingly counterpoints the authoritative stance typical of the National Geographic approach.”

Reassemblage:
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First Comes Love (1991, Su Friedrich)
Pop music by the Beatles, James Brown, Willie Nelson and more, but someone please get this woman a cross-fader – it’s all so abruptly edited. The songs sometimes work really well with the images, though. Image is of four wedding ceremonies, astoundingly woven together into an ethnographic study of heterosexual marriage ceremony, interrupted by a text crawl of all the countries in which homosexual marriage is prohibited (every country but Denmark). Bell & Zryd: “This simple strategy, which contrasts the lush life of heterosexual ritual with the stark legal and constitutional realities of gay and lesbian relationships, reframes the anthropological text with political rigor.” Rigor isn’t something I look for in a movie, but avant-critics love to proclaim it. What rigor! Anyway, would like very much to see more of her work.

Girlpower (1992, Sadie Benning)
I hear the intro feedback of a Sonic Youth song and all is right in the world. Even though this movie (the shortest of the bunch, I expect) is a half-res crap-quality videotape, the music and narration are clear. About the narration – sounds like either a petulant girl or a woman in performance-art mode… an impressionistic video diary of disaffected youth, comfortable with herself but not with society. Aha, Benning was 30 at the time. Lotta shots of the television. Punk film, but with nicer sound editing than the Friedrich, weird. Short, enjoyed it. Ooh, she’s James Benning’s daughter.

A bright-looking city movie about a single family, nice contrast to the dull-colored medium-shot rural Emitai. Rapid escalation of Sembene’s feminist filmmaking that would lead to the glorious Moolaade. Kine at first seems too harsh and rough to be a likeable lead, but after hearing her story and experiencing her kids’ party and meeting her ex-husband, she looks very much like a hero and deserves the happy ending she gets. Cool movie – I’d watch it again.

S. Gadjigo:

Faat Kine is a chic, sexy, and “liberated” woman. She is a forty-year-old single mother, born at the same time as Senegalese independence. From her humble beginning as a gas-station attendant constantly being harassed by male customers, Faat Kine has climbed a ladder reserved for men to become a successful station manager of a multinational oil company. She is financially in control, well-connected in the business world, and adept at manipulating the banking system. Le Credit Lyonnais keeps no secrets from her. When she needs it, she can afford boy-toys. She owns a car and a stylish villa littered with posters of Sembene’s revolutionary icons. She has adopted all the fetishes of the moyenne bourgeoisie, including telecommunication knickknacks, modern appliances, and, best of all, a servant who draws her a warm bath when she comes home from work.

The double success of her children is yet another achievement for Faat Kine, one which stirs memories of her own youth in 1981, “when Sanghor left and handed power to Abdou Diouf.” So, Sembene’s pendulum swings back to the time when Faat Kine was twenty, in her last year of secondary school, just months before her final exam. She had dreamed of becoming a lawyer. But this was not to be. Immaturity, perhaps, and weak social and educational safeguards conspired against her. She was instead seduced by Gaye, her philosophy professor, and left alone pregnant.

The foolishness of the past exacts its brutal price, Sembene reminds us, in the crippled form of Mammy who lives on in the present with Faat Kine, Aby, and Djib. She is Kine’s mother and another of Sembene’s pillars of strength. For once she was expelled from school, Faat Kine’s only protection at home came from her loving but powerless mother. When Kine’s conservative father wanted to kill both his daughter and her newborn, it was Mammy who shielded the children with her body from her husband’s vicious blows.

Crippled Mammy, ambitious Faat Kine, the fatherless Aby: Three generations of women, who have only each other for support in a world shaped by feudal and neo-colonial values, hold the keys to Sembene’s moral. At first to survive, then to succeed, Faat Kine entered a world forbidden to women. By breaking taboos, she unabashedly took control of her life. She faced the world, was rewarded with a degree of financial independence, and moved steadily toward the center of Dakar’s middle-class. What does it mean then, when Sembene lets the pendulum loose once more? Faat Kine becomes pregnant and is abandoned again. Her lover strips her of her savings and their son Djib of his paternity. Apparently, one lesson Kine has yet to learn is that independence can never be a gift. It is hard won.

California Newsreel:

In a film permeated by commercial transactions, Faat Kine exemplifies a model of economic self-reliance tempered with charity; she frugally refuses to take bank loans at usurious rates or accept foreign currencies in clear contrast with African nations’ growing indebtedness to Western banks and lending agencies.

Yet Faat Kine may have become so accustomed to relating to people through money her children fear she has cut herself off from deeper emotional attachments. In Djibril Diop Mambety’s Hyenas, for example, Linguère Ramatou, another businesswoman scorned by male society, retaliates by bribing a village to kill her dishonorable former lover in exchange for an international line of credit. Here, in contrast, Faat Kine decides to marry her male counterpart, Uncle Jean, a widower and businessman who has raised three children on his own.

This will finally be a marriage between equals as the unexpected last shot indicates. Held for a disquietingly long time, it shows only Faat Kine’s feet curled in pleasure. In contrast, to pornography where the woman’s body is fully exposed for the man’s pleasure, here we see only Faat Kine’s anticipated satisfaction. In fact, the audience could be seen as being placed in the unaccustomed position of the provider of that pleasure. This seems like an appropriate ending to a film which, after all, has been a tribute to women who for to long have had to do everything for themselves.

The whole point of keeping a film journal is to write about these movies right after I see ’em, to preserve details, remember plot points, since I’m so quick to forget things like that. Moolaade is the kind of movie I feel comfortable waiting three weeks to write about, since I’m not about to forget any of the details. Maybe so memorable since I talked about it with Katy afterward or since we watched it in two parts spanning a week, but I think just cuz it’s a simply told and visually exciting and completely unique and memorable movie on its own.

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Collé is the middle of three wives, I believe, and has had what we’ll call “the surgery”. Sex is unpleasant, as it should be. Four girls run away from the pre-surgical ceremony and ask her for protection, and she offers it. As long as they stay in her household and she doesn’t utter the phrase to break the spell, nobody can touch these kids. The villagers throw every kind of intimidation at her… husband whips her in public, it is promised that Collé’s daughter (who has also avoided the surgery) will never marry (untrue, as the guy she was promised to marry is a well traveled man, liberated from local superstition), Collé is personally threatened, all women’s radios are stolen and destroyed, and eventually the merchant is murdered. One of the girls is captured and dies in surgery, but Collé saves three, and celebrates with their mothers at the end.

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All customs and beliefs in town are passed down through the ages with apparently little outside influence until the merchant and Collé’s daughter’s man and the radios start threatening the status quo with talk of modernity and primitive feminism… then the red-cloaked enforcers and village elders start cracking down and insisting on compliance with The Old Ways. It provokes an advancement of human rights, but a loss of (admittedly repressive) tradition and local custom. Funny how in movies, radio is almost always a good thing and television almost always bad.

Great movie – a shock after watching Black Girl first. Don’t know why I thought they’d be stylistically similar (since from the same director) although there’s forty years between them.