Showcasing films by and about women, the festival was five days of indie heaven, a refreshing break from the typical Hollywood blockbusters. Instead of crashing asteroids and Keanu's grunts, the films provided more insights and brain exercises. Fortunately for the people scared of strange independent flicks, there were no incomprehensible stories that some movie snobs claim to have special meaning, nor was there any of that militant male-bashing. More important, though, was the voyeuristic experience, as the viewer peeked into the lives and relationships of women in settings ranging from bloodshed in 1947 India (Earth, directed by Deepa Mehta) to the music scene of Los Angeles (Sugar Town, directed by Allison Anders).
Among the highlights of the festival was the U.S. premiere of Rosie: The Devil in My Head, a film from Belgium directed by Patrice Toye. We witness the story of Rosie, a 13-year-old determined to make her mother Irene happy. Irene, however, is insecure about her status as a 27-year-old mother of a teen and insists on masquerading as Rosie's older sister in public. Rosie is fully aware of the lovers who traipse in and out of her mother's life, and to make sense of the confusion at home, she turns to a devoted boyfriend named Jimi who promises he'll always be there for her. She has fun with Jimi, going on joyrides, on delinquent shoplifting trips, and even kidnapping a baby to call her own. The disturbing element is that Jimi is imaginary. The pace of the film is slow but intriguing, as we struggle to make sense of how Rosie landed in a correctional institution despite a wholesome, loving relationship with her mother. For now, Rosie lacks a U.S. distributor and will probably not be coming to a theater near you, but it is the kind of film that deserves a cult audience for its dark, understated vertigo.
Another gem was a screening of Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl, a film that has enjoyed more publicity than others at the festival. Xiu Xiu has already had a screening in Boston, but its provocative themes justify its showing in this festival.
Xiu Xiu, a girl of rosy-cheeked innocence, is among the millions of "Educated Youth" sent to the countryside of China for manual labor during the Cultural Revolution. After inspecting her good behavior, the unit authorities assign her to learn horse-herding in the Tibetan plains with Lao Jin, a former soldier who lost his manhood by a knife. Despite a warm fuzzy friendship with his apprentice, Lao Jin can only watch helplessly as Xiu Xiu falls victim to a waning revolution and its callous participants. Director Joan Chen proves her stuff in depicting the transformation of a young girl into a desperate manipulator trying to sleep her way out of Tibet. This is not a trite teen angst movie from Hollywood, but an examination of walking the fine line of womanhood to survive. We do not feel pity, but rather, we experience a slice of the disillusionment felt by the youth of the Cultural Revolution (such as Joan Chen herself).
While Rosie and Xiu Xiu present complex themes that abounded at the festival, they cannot possibly represent the diverse range of films. Maggie Hadleigh-West's documentary War Zone explores street harassment and sexist catcalls across America. In Apple, young Iranian director Samira Makhmalbaf captures twin girls viewing the outside world for the first time. Some films were less enlightening and simply plodding, such as Maria Ripoll's romantic comedy Once Upon a Yesterday, which features second chances and fate.
Nevertheless, we expect there will be winners and losers at any film festival. Some may find the festival to be stereotypically feminine--its films focused more on personal relationships than anything else. The ultra-impatient and testosteronal would die, given this smorgasbord of subdued, thoughtful films. For those of you with a longer attention span and a stalker's instinct to observe and analyze women's lives and relate them to your own experiences, this film festival is for you--tune in next year.
FILM FESTIVALBEYOND THE HOLOCAUST The Boston Jewish Film Festival November 5-15, 1998 The Museum of Fine Arts, Coolidge Corner Theater, Institute
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