International Women's Film Festival,

„Things have changed, everything has changed"

Twenty-five years since Louise put the foot on the accelerator and said „I am going to Mexico."And just like Thelma and Louise, The International Women's Film Festival Dortmund|Colognehas Mexico in it's focus. Nine films showcased the work of female directors from or working in Mexico, starting with La muje di nadie (1937), the first Mexican feature by a woman, but mainly concentrating on contemporary directors. That still means dealing with the past, as most of them have made remembrance their topic, most harrowingly in Tiemposuspendido/Times Suspended by Natalia Bruschtein.

Her subject is her grandmother Laura Bonaparte, one of the original Madres de Plaza de Mayo, who met in Buenos Aires every Thursday to remember their disappeared children. An activity which led to some of them in their turn getting „disappeared". Laura Bonaparte, who had lost three of her four children and their father during the dictatorship, moved to an old peoples' home in Mexico and has in the meantime lost most of her memory. It is painful to watch the director reminding her of these people, unethical almost, but she had dedicated her life to remembering and maybe she would have chosen it that way. The film seems to also bring out an actual blind spot of the Mexican public, as producer AbrilSchmucler, who was present at the screening in Cologne told the audience, because many Mexicans commented on the disappeared in Argentina and doubted that something similar could ever happen in their own country.

Doris Dörrie went to a brighter place in her documentary Quécarambaes la vida/Dieses schöneScheißleben about the female Mariachis in the Plaza Garibaldi in Mexico City. She tracked down the first female Mariachi band and interviews their contemporary colleagues, but sadly, though the women are fascinating, her film has no unity, no pivot and hides behind local colour. That is tempting when you go to a place as vibrant as Mexico, but dangling a skeleton does not make an atmosphere. And, guess what, most of the women have problems with childcare arrangements and their partners' schedules. Who'd have thought?

Merging their lives is a problem for Delphine and Carole in Catherine Corsini'sLa belle saison/Summertime as well, with one of them living in Paris and the other one bound to her parents' farm in the Limousin, where attitudes are less open than in the metropolis. But don't be fooled, when Carole reminisces about her hometown, that place where the worker and the manager drink coffee at the bistro and are the same, just for five minutes, she forgets to mention the remaining 23 hours 55 minutes. They count, too.

Corsini shows Delphine and Carole falling in love in 70s France, the enthusiasm of the women's liberation movement and some horrible fashion. We also see a character talking about their home - the differences of the earth in the Limousin and the south of France - thereby demonstrating that sometimes in film it is better to tell, not show. Svetla Tsotsorkova treads a different path in Jajda/Thirst, about a family living on top of a hill in the Bulgarian countryside.


The landscape is beautiful but meagre, the words are as well. The characters (mother, who does laundry for hotels, father, who does repairs for the neighbours and son, who is an adolescent running around the countryside) remain nameless. Water is sorely needed. Then, a father and daughter-team of diviners arrive - will they save the family or upend the dynamic? Jajda/Thirst is a beautifully shot film (camera: VesselinHristov) with wonderful actors you surrender to completely. I take its cue and keep my words to a minimum. This is a film you want to discover for yourself.

But I use its washing lines to lead me to SufatChol/Sand Storm, Elite Zexer'sfeature, set in a Bedouin village in the Negev desert, where Jalila hangs up the laundry after her husbands wedding to his second, younger wife. In a way it reworks a theme of La belle saison/Summertime in asking who you can really trust - Jalila's daughter Layla finds out how quickly the walls close in on you if you count on the wrong person. The director established contact with Bedouin women years before she shot her film and her privileged access is surely one of the reasons her characters are so nuanced. It makes it all the more painful to get shut out in the end.

Another closed community offers a glimpse inside in Chloé Zhao's Songs my brothers taught me. Set in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, it centers around 11 year old Jashaun, whose father has recently died. And you need her as a center, as Zhao takes the associative aspect very far. Going from half-sister to half brothers and their various dreams and problems on those plains with a stoic voice-over puts you in a kind of trance. There might even have been another washing-line in the picture, but I find it difficult to retain those dreamlike images, so I close with a maybe.

Maybe Thelma and Louise never reached Mexico, but the female directors of our time seem determined not to be stopped.

Alexandra Puetter

Alexandra Pütter has studied English, History, Psychology, and Film in Austria, Germany, and England. She has worked as cinema projectionist, production assistant, floor manager, teacher, and translator. Her reviews have appeared in The Outfit and Filmecho/Filmwoche and she has been a jury member on several international juries. She is currently researching her dissertation on The Count of Monte Cristo, blogging on http://schwanmitbrille.wordpress.com/ and can be found on twitter as @schwanmitbrille.


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