WHATEVER HAPPENED TO FEMINIST CINEMA? (ON BIGELOW AND BIER)

I’m reading Teresa De Lauretis already ancient collection Technologies of Gender (1987!) and I stumble onto her post-Mulvey cry for a truly feminist cinema. By this she means, as it is well-known, not just a cinema by, about and for women, dealing with issues concerning women, but a cinema using specifically female narrative and aesthetic codes in opposition to the predominant male ones of (commercial) cinema. She enthuses about Yvonne Rainer, so I check IMDB and I find two spectator comments for her The Man Who Envied Women (1985): a man proclaims this is a “Very funny movie, if you like feminist deconstruction” and rates it 10/10; a woman (?) who saw this in her feminist class and claims to be an experimental film buff claims that feminist cinema died because “their mantra included removing pleasure from movies.” He was writing in 2010, she in 2005.

Barcelona hosts every year an international festival devoted to women’s films (http://www.mostrafilmsdones.cat/), soon to reach its 20th edition. I’ve never attended it, as I don’t feel comfortable with this kind of positive discrimination (see my previous post). I know I’m very wrong to be so prejudiced and I should be open to what women directors have to offer, flooded as we are by the painful trash spawned by male-oriented Hollywood films. Yet, again, in the style of what I wrote in my previous post: I look forward to either a film festival openly about (heterosexual) men, or more inclusive film festivals in which all identities are balanced. Keep on dreaming…

De Lauretis set me thinking about the ONLY TWO women directors who have won an Oscar: Kathryn Bigelow (in 2010 for the Iraq war film The Hurt Locker) and Susanne Bier (in 2011 for the film about school bullying In a Better World). Bigelow, currently making a film about Bin Laden that has been re-written to fit his assassination, was brutally criticized by some feminists (even though she won against ex-husband James Cameron, nominated for mega-hit Avatar!). The criticism had much to do with Bigelow’s being specialized in action films about male characters; also with the alleged criticism that she makes films not just like a man but as a man. After Bigelow’s win, some expected more nominations for women directors and there were complaints that, instead, there were none this year. Oddly enough, this complaint completely missed Susanne Bier’s success; her film, get this, won the Oscar for best foreign-language film. Had you noticed?

Surf the net and you’ll find that Bier, an ex-Lars Von Trier’s protégé and a former Dogme 95 member, has stirred no comments with her triumph, except in Denmark, where she is praised, logically, as a quality Danish director. I’m puzzled by this, very much. Could it be that Bier’s films (I love After the Wedding, Brothers and Things We Lost in the Fire) are too ‘feminine’ to threaten anyone? To me, both Bigelow and Bier make films as women, addressing everyone and contributing a female gaze on both men and women – now that I think about it, they’re particularly good at dealing with men. Why has one elicited so much controversy but not the other? It’s not just that Bigelow was attacked but that Bier’s triumph has not really been celebrated as a triumph for women directors all over the world… no idea why not.

Could it be that, almost 25 years after De Lauretis’s book, we’re still confused about the obligation for feminist cinema of being experimental or avant-garde? See a list of 50 best female film directors at IMDB (http://www.imdb.com/list/7YULN6kSrTo/) and judge for yourself.

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