Category Archives: Reviews

Blachman – The Most Revealing Show on TV

I, like most people, love a good scandal, especially when it involves the media, but here is a headline I never expected to read: Is the Danish TV show Blachman the most sexist show ever? Well, I’ve had a brief look, and the answer is: No, but it certainly is revealing. Continue reading

The (Female) Artist is Present – Marina Abramovic vs. Maeve Binchy

clearly not an icon: marina abramovic for v magazine

I am not very familiar with Abramovic’s art. I came across her work a few times at art exhibitions and, most recently, in a news article which stated that she does not identify as a feminist, because she never felt she had to struggle more being a woman. Yet this afternoon, as part of the Meltdown Festival in London, she gave a lecture to a women-only audience at the Southbank Centre. Considering her previous comments, I can only assume that this decision came from artistic rather than political motivations. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but in any case, I was intrigued. Continue reading

Barcamp Frauen 2011

Last Saturday I attended the Barcamp Frauen 2011 in Berlin, and no, it is not an ERASMUS party. To be honest, I had never been to a barcamp before and no one I asked had any clue what it was. Turns out it is an overall great idea, some sort of unconference, where the participants decide what should be talked about and are actively engaging in the debates. The upside is that you get to choose which workshops you are going to attend; on the downside, however, you often have to choose between two or more great sessions that happen at the same time. That was precisely my dilemma, and I am not sure I always made the right choice.

The first workshop I participated in was presented by a woman working for the German Trade Union Federation and was titled Work and Future – Future without work? The aim was to talk about women’s desire to have “everything”: a career, a loving partnership, children etc. How can this be achieved, can it be achieved at all and, perhaps more importantly, is it necessary to have to want all these things?

I figured this could be a good session for me to attend, considering that I have almost finished my studies with no clear plan of what to do next. Turns out I wasn’t the only one. At least twenty women attended the session, aged 15-45 and none of them seemed to be entirely sure of what the future might hold for them. Hopes and fears were exchanged between the not so carefree white girls, fuelled by personal stories and examples of structural discrimination.

I guess what irked me a little bit about the discussion was the matter of course way in which we talked about having a career, when so many people these days are struggling just to have a job. Of course, we were discussing these issues because we could, and we should be very happy about that. Nevertheless, the overall mood was defined by uncertainty and worriedness.

I talked to a woman in her mid-thirties who had been successful in the career of her choice and was hoping to have children one day. However, she was well aware of her ticking biological clock and her lack of a partner to start a family with. I listened to a woman who managed to leave the Turkish village she was born in to become a well-respected academic who just had her second child at the age of 41. A success story, one might think, but she still worried about being an “old mum” and having waited too long to have children.

The one thing we could all agree on was that no life is perfect and that there are different paths in life to becoming happy. However, the one thing that almost no one could imagine was having children and a successful career at the same time. The main obstacles were easily identified as structural and systemic problems that cannot be eliminated straight away. So what’s a girl to do if she “wants it all”? Get informed, be aware, find allies and put pressure on employers, political leaders and partners.

After lunch break I only managed to go to one other session which was about feminist politics on the web. Unfortunately much of the time was wasted trying to establish the average web and tech-savviness of the group, and discussing data privacy protection for half an hour made me wish I had gone to “Radical feminist muslima” instead. Nevertheless, I truly enjoyed this event, I got to know some fantastic women, and felt inspired to contribute more to next year’s barcamp – perhaps by offering a workshop myself?

You can find pictures and more info on the respective Facebook page (which is down at the moment, I don’t know why). I am not in any of the photographs, which is a good thing considering I was suffering from a major hangover and was still wearing last night’s make-up. Thanks, sis’.

Review: Melancholia (2011)

Attention – Spoilers Ahead!

Lars von Trier, the mastermind, the provocateur and enfant terrible of art cinema, takes on the apocalypse – where can he go from there? He has already explored good and evil, right and wrong, dominance and submission – what could he possibly try to examine when he wants to do away with it all?

The threat of annihilation comes in the shape of a foreign planet, supposedly passing the Earth to never return again. But the potential imminence of extinction is delayed by the depiction of a lavish wedding ceremony. And Lars von Trier does what Scandinavian directors do best: dissecting the sensitivities and insecurities of the upper middle class family and zooming in on its decadence and self-annihilation.

We have the depressed career woman, the emasculated husband, the self-sacrificing sister, the 2nd wave feminist hippie mom turned cynical old hag, the womanizing father and the mansplaining science adherent and brother-in-law. Von Trier seems to stay true to his style: The shaky hand-held camera aesthetic is reminiscent of Dogma days, but he also kept some of the artificial tableau-like shots he did so well in Antichrist. Most importantly, he still loves his female protagonists; that is, he loves to torture them. I cannot imagine it was just a coincidence that he chose a depressed actress to play a hysterically depressed character. Von Trier may be taking his leads over the edge, but he always gets the best out of them.

And so Charlotte Gainsbourg and Kirsten Dunst get to play immensely dynamic and complex roles, and play it well, and the atmosphere is really gripping and everything is beautifully shot, and I keep thinking to myself: I would totally love this movie… – if it hadn’t been directed by Lars von Trier.

Because in the end the planets go BOOM! and I am left with… indifference? After watching a Lars von Trier movie? After all, he is the guy who did Dogville and Manderley and Antichrist, for heaven’s sake! Movies you could either love or hate, but they sure made you think for a very long time after the credits rolled. I remember leaving the theater after watching Antichrist for the first time, and I was angry and overwhelmed and I needed to talk to other people about it to find out why I was so enraged by all of it.

After Melancholia I felt strangely relaxed. It ended just like it was supposed to end. I felt good about it, which is not the reaction I expected, especially since the film is anything but life-affirming and optimistic. Which, I guess, says a lot about my character and world view.

Perhaps that is what it’s all about in the end: You are either Dunst’s character or Gainbourg’s. You identify with Justine or with Claire, and that is going to define your whole approach to the film. Towards the end Claire says to Justine something like this (and I am paraphrasing because I saw it in German, which certainly didn’t improve it for me): “Perhaps you are better off, because you always expect the worst.” And Justine says: “You’re right. Perhaps I am better off.”

Maybe all the Claires out there in the world are going to be really overwhelmed and moved after watching Melancholia, and all the Justines will be calm and slightly unfazed, because they have been ready for it all along and it doesn’t erode their world view. I am a Justine. Who are you?

Slutwalk Paris – 1 October 2011

They couldn’t have picked a better day: sunshine, 28 degrees, a gentle breeze. Everyone would be outside on this last weekend of summer, so why not walk through the city and make a statement?

Having missed out on this summer’s Slutwalk in Berlin, which drew a large amount of people and even more media attention, I was excited to find out that Paris would have its own Slutwalk and that I would be able to participate. I was curious to see how it would turn out, what impact it would have in the city where Second Wave feminism originated in Europe.

all photographs taken by clemens porikys

Unfortunately, my first impression was disappointing. Not many people had shown up (sixty to eighty perhaps, not counting the press(wo)men) and the gathering of young women in short skirts wearing heart-shaped balloons resembled more a birthday party than a group of militant activists. It stood very much in contrast to my memory of the protest against the media response to the DSK affair, which had been a lot more energetic, unifying and angry, though not aggressive. The cause had been quite similar: fighting sexism and violence towards women, stop blaming victims and trivializing rape. So what went wrong?

I certainly appreciate and applaud everyone taking on the responsibility of organizing such an event, but in the case of Slutwalk Paris it could have been executed a bit more cleverly. What struck me as particularly odd was that hardly any of the well-known and well-organized feminist associations in Paris seemed to be present. Ni Putes Ni Soumises had sent some delegates; others such as Osez le Feminisme and La Barbe did either not know about it or ignored it deliberately…(?) The inclusion of these as well as other activist groups would certainly have been beneficial, not just regarding the number of participants but also to their diversity. The homogeneity of the protesters (most of them young, white, slim and able-bodied, myself included) does not represent the vast majority of victims of sexual violence, which subtracted from its potential significance.

But there we walked, down Boulevard Montparnasse and Boulevard St. Michel, where we did get some attention from pedestrians, including spontaneous participation. When a middle-aged woman asked about the motive for this demonstration and it was explained to her, she immediately expressed her support. Those were the highlights of a protest, that could have benefited from a couple of inspiring speeches to create the passion and energy needed to really get the movement started here in France.

Overall, the atmosphere was good and everyone seemed to have good time, even though I am not sure that that is the desired effect of a protest. In the end, everyone let go of their balloons in an attempt of symbolism, satisfying both the photographers and curious tourists. In any case, there is room for improvement and I hope that next time I can contribute more than just post-event criticism.

Movie Review: The Whistleblower (2010)

Make no mistake: The Whistleblower is a cookie-cutter Hollywood political drama/thriller with little originality. Sure, the film may be based on a true story, and a very sensational one at that, but unfortunately the director uses all the well-known tools of the trade to tell it. However, something struck me as extraordinary, otherwise I wouldn’t be mentioning it here, considering I watch movies all the time.

It’s the lead character I found the most exciting thing about the entire movie. Not the lead actress, mind you. Rachel Weisz is gorgeous, no doubt about it, and she does a great job, but it takes more than the performance to create a character; it takes a concept. In my opinion, the cinematic representation of Kathryn Bolkovac is one of the best attempts at depicting a truly feminist heroine.

Here are some things I liked about her:

1. She doesn’t go to Bosnia because she is naive or thinks it is a great career move; she goes there for her family. Yet, at the same time, she doesn’t always prioritize her family but remains loyal to what she is passionate about.

2. Early on in the film she starts a casual affair with a man she meets at a bar – not your typical morally flawless Hollywood heroine. She has that in common with Erin Brockovich, and I have to say, I prefer a woman with desires to the picture-perfect super wife or Jodie Foster’s weird asexuality in most of her roles.

3. Most importantly: she is emotional. It’s just so much easier to depict a kick-ass heroine the same way as one would depict a kick-ass hero: cool and detached, always having a witty response to every situation and solving problems with violence, if need be. Kathryn Bolkovac is not like that. She is often close to tears (understandably, considering what she is confronted with), she is aware that she’s just a small cog in the wheel, and while she keeps on fighting, she often is at a loss and doesn’t know what she’s doing. Thus, she makes many mistakes and has to face more than one ethical dilemma. Doesn’t sound so great, does it? But at least it sounds authentic. It makes her a real person, instead of just a flawless fantasy figure. And this is the kind of woman I want to see in a movie: a real person with everything that entails, with emotions, flaws, strengths and weaknesses.

Anita Sarkeesian has summed it up beautifully in one of her Feminist Frequency videos on the lead character of True Grit:

“The feminism I subscribe to and work for involves more than women and their fictional representations simply acting like men. Or unquestioningly replicating archetypal male values, such as being emotionally inexpressive, the need for domination and competition, and using violence as a form of conflict resolution. In my feminist vision, part of what makes a character feminist is watching her struggle with prioritizing values, such as cooperation, empathy, compassion, and non-violent conflict resolution in a world largely hostile to those values. […] I want characters who are subtle, who make mistakes, and who don’t always do everything right.” (Watch it here.)

And here is the trailer for The Whistleblower. As you can see, it doesn’t reveal anything about the main character’s vulnerability. I guess emotional heroines don’t make for good advertising:

And The Oscar Goes To…

First of all, I must admit that I stopped watching the Oscars a while ago, as I lost interest in mainstream cinema and most of the nominations left me cold. However, while the Oscars may not represent the best movies of the year, they do give an account of what popular directors and producers are creating these days, which audience they reach and what gets talked about.
The nominations for February 2011 surprise with a comparably high number of movies that feature female leading roles. This is a good-enough reason for me to have a closer look at some of the nominations and to determine the winner of my own personal feminist Academy Award. Perhaps not surprising,  a film’s quality often (not always) corresponds to its feminist message for me. The following ratings of one to three stars refer to the film’s feminist qualities only.

Warning, spoilers ahead!

1. Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky)

This is a tricky one for me, since I loved Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream and I’ve been a fan of Natalie Portman ever since Léon: The Professional. In theory, Black Swan has everything I could possibly ask for: great actors, drama, horror, beautiful costumes and dance! But somehow the message this movie conveys seems to go little further than this: in order to become a genius you must sacrifice your sanity. Not that there is anything wrong with that and I appreciate the attempt to depict a female genius for once; there can never be enough. And in fact, many feminist critics have read the film as going beyond the classical stereotype of beautiful young girls whose perfection, artistic or otherwise, lies in their virginal innocence, for Portman’s character has to get in touch with her darker, more sexual self to be able to dance both swan characters. However, it feels a little odd that she needs to be made aware of this by her manipulative and quite predatory ballet teacher (Vincent Cassel has had more appreciative roles) instead of developing this desire herself. This is partly the reason for why her (imaginary) lesbian encounter doesn’t quite feel like genuine homosexual desire or curiosity, but more like a not so original attempt at attracting a young male audience as well. Black Swan could have been an amazing portrait of a tormented artist; unfortunately the actual dancing scenes lack the brilliance they are trying to convey. For a truly surprising or shocking horror drama, the narrative lacks the originality and depth, hence my hesitation to read a more progressive message into it.

Rating: *

2. The Social Network (David Fincher)

This is the boy version of Black Swan. No, seriously. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is presented as the tormented genius of our generation, and even though it didn’t drive him insane (yet), it did turn him into an asshole, according to this film. David Fincher is known for dealing with rather ‘masculine’ subjects and The Social Network is no different. Technology, formulas, hot groupies, what could be more masculine than that? Sounds like a cliché? Well, it’s not a cliché if it’s true, the makers of this movie claim.
The Social Network has been criticized for presenting a world that’s made up entirely of white priviliged men, where women are only allowed to be beautiful, intoxicated and sexually available accessories. But is this a true representation of the actual circumstances? I don’t know but I can imagine it to be a slightly exaggerated version, just like the cinematic interpretation of Zuckerberg’s initial motives for inventing the first social network: taking revenge for his ex-girlfriend’s rejection. Now I can take away from this movie that Harvard tech geeks who want to join a fraternity are all misogynistic assholes, or I can accept that this environment breeds sexism just as much as any other male-dominated society. In that regard, the film may be very accurate even though it doesn’t exactly inspire resistance.
In the end, Zuckerberg has achieved everything he wanted, but the only thing he ever really craved for was the recognition of this particular ex-girlfriend. Do I honestly believe this is how the real Zuckerberg feels? Not really, but it’s nice to think that he might.

Rating: *

3. True Grit (Joel and Ethan Coen)

I want to start off by saying that I love neo-Westerns. I really do. I enjoyed The Assassination of Jesse James immensely, even though I would not consider it a great film, and There Will Be Blood is among my absolute favorites of all times. So when I discovered that the Coen brothers made one and that it was considered Oscar-worthy, I was very excited. The disenchantment followed quickly when I read that the directors were aiming at a larger audience and therefore a softer rating. Is that why they decided for a teenage heroine instead of tough cops and outlaws? Not to give a false idea; the movie is still fairly brutal, but the use of violence feels forced  and the ending is almost anticlimactic and rather tame. Moreover, I personally dislike films that present children and teens as snotty-nosed know-it-alls, but I was willing to give it a try. Huge mistake. Hailee Steinfeld’s character Mattie Ross is even more annoying than expected. I didn’t believe Juno’s depiction of teenagers either, but at least they were witty and didn’t go around showing off their legislative expert knowledge and negotiation skills, at a time when women were barely allowed to learn how to read. I guess I’m supposed to get excited about young female characters that are presented as super-smart and tough, but to me it just seems so contrived. Perhaps Mattie has grit, but it doesn’t feel true.

Then again, i feel like a very harsh critic in this case. I should be thankful to the Coens for injecting some girl power into the male-dominated genre. So I’m willing to hand out an extra star for viewers who don’t have to cringe every time Mattie opens her mouth.

Rating: **

4. The Kids Are All Right (Lisa Cholodenko)

Finally, a comedy, I thought to myself. Except that this movie is actually not very funny. It is awkward. The situations, the characters, the dialogue, it all feels quite uncomfortable. But then again, life is awkward. And surely, when two overbearing, lesbian mothers meet their sperm donor for the first time, it must be even more awkward. So far, so good. One of the mothers feels neglected and ends up having an affair with the sperm donor, which is soon discovered. Perhaps the strongest scene of the movie is when Julianne Moore stands in front of the TV and lets her family know – lets us all know – that her mistake did not change her feelings, that you hurt the people you love the most and that marriage is hard. None of this is new, none of it is controversial but perhaps therein lies the strength of this movie. Why should this gay family be any different from any other white middle-class American family? The set-up may vary but the problems are the same. If only the director hadn’t gotten cold feet when it came to the sex scenes. Okay, married sex may generally be more boring and awkward, but this film seems to suggest that in order to have truly satisfying sex you need a penis. A bit more courage would have been great. If the viewers can accept homosexual parents, they sure as hell can deal with a passionate love scene between two adult women, no?

Rating: **

5. Winter’s Bone (Debra Granik)

Clearly the dark horse in this competition, Winter’s Bone offers unknown actors and an insight into the other America, the America that Hollywood would like to make us believe doesn’t exist. This downbeat version of the American heartland is inhabited by people who would never vote for the Tea Party, because they have long ceased to believe in political agency, and they don’t care about the 2nd Amendment, because for them owning a gun is not a constitutional right but a means for survival. Have you ever wondered why so many young Americans join the army and the National guard? This movie gives you the answer: they often don’t do it out of national pride or because they like to shoot people, but out of mere desperation.
The 17-year-old female protagonist of Winter’s Bone has no desire to become an admired artist (Black Swan) or go on a revenge spree (True Grit). She merely wants to find her father, so that she can keep her house and provide for her two siblings and her catatonic mother. But doing so becomes an ordeal, as she is met by her neighbors with suspicion, antagonism and brutality. Poverty has driven these people into crime and violence; hidden in the woods of  Missouri they have set up their own Wild West for America’s “White Trash”. Needless to say, this hopelessness has generated a vacuum for humanity, which makes both men and women susceptible to preserving the little power they have left through brute force. While the men are still running the show, the movie reveals how easily women become complicit when they have no one else to rely on. In all this moral corruption, the main character Ree feels like a breath of fresh air, and thank God, she doesn’t talk like a fifty-year-old script writer but like a courageous young woman, who goes to great lengths to preserve that little bit of happiness she has left.

Rating: ***

And the winner is... Winter’s Bone, for its authenticity and its believable heroine. Runner-up is The Kids Are All Right for a mainstream take on a controversial subject matter. True Grit could have been a good movie with a better screenplay. The Social Network is really good in many respects, but it certainly doesn’t further a more positive representation of women in mainstream Hollywood. Black Swan is a beautiful package with little content.

See you next year!