As detailed in Little White Lies’ wonderfully comprehensive list, this year’s LFF programme showcased 112 feature and short films directed by women. The Weinstein allegations and subsequent outpouring of experience, empathy and introspection cast a long shadow over the festival. The female filmmakers, their work, and the conversations surrounding the industry at large served as vital symbols of solidarity and strength.
Vivian Qu’s feature Angels Wear White follows the unravelling of a sexual assault within the resort town of Hainan — a Chinese province where a gigantic, wind-worn statue of Marilyn Monroe, shot from a low angle between the legs, towers over the boardwalk. We never see her face. Mia works as a cleaner within an expensive motel. Covering reception for a night so that her friend Lily can see her unsavoury boyfriend, a gangster offering to sell Mia’s virginity for a high price. That night, two schoolgirls are assaulted in a hotel room by a high-ranking government official: the evidence is recorded by Mia, using her mobile phone. The ensuing investigation and reverberating effect on the two victims strikes a resonant chord, made ever keener by this week’s headlines — of a patriarchy complicit in the abuse and repression of women, of protectionism, an unspoken collusion between fathers, bosses, doctors. Qu’s film is relentlessly realistic in its complexity; Mia, a runaway who cannot work without an ID card, withholds the footage until she can figure out how to use it to her advantage. The girls’ parents weigh up the consequences of prosecution over a financial bribe and a new iPhone for their daughters, while a female lawyer’s tenacity is met with indifference. The film simmers with a quiet rage, holding a mirror to the horrifically absurd handling of the case, but also to the enduring strength of young women in the face of useless, immobile men. While the final scene ends with a hopeful note, we are also left with an all-too-familiar, systemic failure of women and brutal invasion of the female body through silence both bought and sold. It is a devastating indictment of a global sickness, articulated by Qu’s profoundly engaging narrative.
Anna Cazenave Cambet’s short film Gabber Lover tenderly depicts a decisive moment in the lives of 13-year olds Laurie and Mila- bookended with the brain-frying frequencies of ‘gabber music’. Gabber, a controversial subgenre of hardcore techno, whose devotees don neon tracksuits and dance the hakken, passed down from bullish older brothers raving in souped-up cars, soundtracks this budding first love. Cambet’s film is variously reminiscent of one-take, dusk-tinged rave-romance Victoria and perhaps obliquely, an ecstasy-tinged queer reimagining of the beach scene in Moonrise Kingdom: the use of music punctures sedate lakeside scenes, while narratives of adolescence burst violently onto the screen, burning with absolute passion and cruciality. Any other overture would lack such punch.
The two girls encircle one another on the shores of a remote lake, self-consciously moving to the beat. Mila’s blushed cheeks - half hidden in her blue zip-up jacket - belie her burgeoning desires in voiceover: her desire to consume, while being consumed. A snatched kiss sends the girls spiralling off on different trajectories; Mila furiously storming through the woods, Laurie frozen- her lips stung- by the lapping water. These are young women standing on the precipice of their sexuality; impatiently waiting until they can gain access to the dingy nightclubs where Gabber devotees prostrate before neon altars. The vague threat of adulthood, of violence, hovering somewhere in the background, a distant car engine- all serve as orchestral sirens of another life. But this lingering danger never materialises, and instead there are some surprisingly sweet interactions of brotherly concern; the offer of a lift, an oversized motorcycle helmet, remind us that the camaraderie of subcultures often sustains and entertains in suburban towns, uniting the disparate youth. It is Gabber (and a schoolroom note) that finally lures the sulking Mila out of her house and under Laurie’s outstretched arm. The girls will probably ditch the tracksuits and move on, flicking between radio stations to find their future frequencies.
Pia Borg’s short Silica plays with notions of authenticity, abandonment and filmmaking via an unnamed female narrator’s (ostensibly a location scout’s) journey to the Southern Australian town of Coober Pedy, roughly translated to ‘man in a hole’. Lynchian scenes of subterranean roadside inns, desolate, wailing winds and a game of glow-in-the-dark minigolf (to avoid the daytime sun) serve as the lingering backdrop: “she felt as though she was still driving on the highway.” Borg’s meshing of 35mm landscape photography, 3D renderings and amateur footage brings to mind Hito Steyerl’s words on an ‘imperfect cinema’: captured by everyone, disseminated digitally, and recycled like the landscape itself. The town’s famous opal mines are depleted; its men in holes driven to madness by ‘opal fever’- an illness which dispels men into the desert to disappear. Two luminescent rainbow gems rotate on the screen, suspended, with an instruction that one is a fake. On a screen they hold the same value - for the miners of Coober Pedy, these digital imitations mean ruin.
The undulating alien forms and vistas have served as locations for countless science fiction films; burnt-out props litter the landscape. These films have made hundreds of millions of dollars, these landscapes have been viewed countless times, on infinite screens. An apparent car wreck is revealed to be a relic from a fictional alien invasion: the scene is littered with blank envelopes- the body inside is a dummy. Civilisations, epochs, have been built and destroyed here, packaged and delivered to cinema audiences. The left-behind town holds these imprints, a foreshadowing of an uninhabited world- of dystopias yet to come and of an aboriginal history erased. Borg’s meditation reminds us of the isolated, and oftentimes, heightened experience of travelling alone as a woman; of the temporality of film, of the wavering lines between value and image, the waste products of Hollywood and of industry. This is a beguiling short, a mystifying vignette from another world and this one.
Words by Charlotte Ashcroft