Watch It! Lessons I learned from phenomenal women in cinema at this year’s IFFR

Sometimes, the courage of being a woman lies in admitting that you need some inspiration to continue your journey. And that it won't come from binge-watching endless series on streaming services, or viewing only Hollywood blockbusters. For me, it's the lessons learned from intimate indie cinema that offer the way to a more serene life.

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Kim Snauwaert in a still from 'The Best of Dorien B.' by Anke Blondé
Kim Snauwaert in a still from 'The Best of Dorien B.' by Anke Blondé

The International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR for short) is well known for offering, year after year, the best in independent movies, artistic auteurs and, this one nearest and dearest to my own heart, cinema with a conscience. This year within their lineup I found four heroines — two cinematic ones and two behind the camera, who transformed the way I look at my own womanhood.

‘The Best of Dorien B.’ by Anke Blondé

Belgian filmmaker Anke Blondé’s feature film debut finds at its center the wondrous, calm and collected Dorien, played to pragmatic perfection by Kim Snauwaert. From the outside, Dorien seems to have it all, a wonderful husband, two beautiful children, a loving family and a successful veterinary practice. We see her in fact, at the very start of the film, juggling it all like it is a magnificent video game of work, sex and family.

It’s not long until we learn that most of that perfection really has to do with Dorien’s courage and strength, who keeps it together despite the fact that those around her seem to be behaving like spoiled little kids. Her husband has been carrying on an affair, her mother has been leading a double life, and she just discovered she has a lump in her breast. The left breast. In this terrifying moment, she has no one to talk to because everyone around her is so damn preoccupied with their own selfishness.

Blondé’s ‘The Best of Dorien B.’ could easily have been written as a tragedy, or least a drama as many of us know that being a strong woman in today’s world is often more sad than funny. Yet she found within Dorien’s struggle an inspiring streak of how setbacks in life can often lead to a revolutionary change. This is a film with a happy ending, for all women and those who love them.

Because a personal revolution is always exactly what we need to bring us that elusive, yet attainable if we let go of the rules, sense of “happiness”.

‘Take Me Somewhere Nice’ by Ena Sendijarević

Sara Luna Zorić in ‘Take Me Somewhere Nice’, photo by Emo Weemhoff

Bosnian-born filmmaker Ena Sendijarević is another cinematic sister who has gifted us with an unconventional heroine, one filled with courage and strength, in her debut feature supported by the Netherlands Film Fund. In her director’s statement Sendijarević calls the protagonist Alma, played by the charismatic Sara Luna Zorić “an Alice in Wonderland like character who goes on a Kafkaesque journey…” She also admits that Alma is “highly personal and semi-autobiographical” and this road movie of sorts, undertaken by a young woman who is torn between the Yugoslavia of her roots and the Netherlands of her upbringing, reminded me a lot of Jim Jarmusch’s multi-award winning ‘Stranger Than Paradise’. Of course, the filmmaker here is a woman and the whole journey is therefore seen from the female protagonist’s POV. Oh, and this film is in color, not B & W.

‘Take Me Somewhere Nice’ taught me about a different kind of courage from that of Dorien B.’s. Alma is younger and more reckless, but there is a wonderful “who cares” attitude about her that we could all adopt to some extent in our own lives. Nothing seems to faze her, from missing her bus on a road to nowhere, to losing her suitcase and even not having any money in a land that feels familiar to her deep inside but utterly strange on the outside.

I loved looking at my own struggles with a bit of Alma’s outlook and discovered that not everything needs to be perfectly aligned for my world to feel just right. As it is.

Indemnes’ (‘Unharmed’) by Anaïs Volpé

Out of these three films I’ve wanted to highlight, Anaïs Volpé’s ‘Indemnes’ is the only short narrative. But it belongs on this list as perfectly as any feature film because its message is simply grand.

Produced by the striking Emilia Derou Bernal who also stars in the film as Mandy, ‘Indemnes’ was born out of the filmmaker’s need to process the global tragedies of terrorism that had been happening around her. When the final straw, a person in her close circle lost a loved one in that horrible Parisian night of Friday, the 13th November 2015, Volpé decided it was time to make her film.

In it, she replaces blood with glitter and allows victims of these attacks to be transported to “the Kingdom” — a mystical, dream-like setting where everyone wears a golden jacket. I loved Volpé’s sense of style, as well as Derou Bernal’s perfect presence in the film. And somehow, even the recent death of my best friend, in a situation much more “normal” than those depicted in the film, started to feel more acceptable after watching ‘Indemnes’. That’s why both the filmmaker and her producer/star are now part of my cinematic heroines lineup, to refer back to whenever I need to feel some strength and courage to keep going.

Ultimately, I believe what I watch, listen to and read is as important to my personal wellbeing as what I eat and the amount of sleep I get. In fact, it colors my dreams and I’d rather that my dreams be tinted with glitter and gold, and human heroines, than incomprehensible comic book like characters who need to blow up buildings and go on endless car chases to prove their worth. But that could just be me…

The International Film Festival Rotterdam runs through the 3rd of February, 2019.

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