This is the third of three dispatches from the 2016 Gothenburg International Film Festival.
As the largest film festival in Scandinavia, the world’s leader in gender equality, the Gothenburg International Film Festival would be expected to showcase a multitude and a variety of works by female filmmakers.
The 2016 iteration of GIFF definitely delivered on that front, but we wanted to spotlight four features — two narrative films and two documentaries, all about women — that you should definitely keep on your radar.
In this often painfully intimate film diary, director Ahang Bashi chronicles her depression and chronic panic attacks, which sometimes debilitate her for weeks at a time. We see Bashi crying in bed, pleading with a doctor not to be hospitalized, in individual and group therapy and talking with her sisters and parents. (Her mom understands what she’s going through, but her cheerfully unhelpful father just tells her to keep thinking positive thoughts.) What gives "Fragility" its strength is Bashi’s explorations of where her mental illness might have come from — her brain chemistry, sure, but also her unstable early childhood, when her family fled Iran soon after the 1979 Revolution, ending up for two years in a refugee camp, and later, Sweden, where they currently live. By searching her family history and reckoning with the unacknowledged trauma therein, Bashi finally gains a measure of peace — if not a cure — in this extraordinarily moving autobiography.
Flocking – Directed by Beata Gardeler (Sweden)
The grim, deceptively placid "Flocking" centers on a scenario now all-too-tragically familiar: a high-school girl accuses a classmate of rape, and her small town turns violently against her and her family. No one will believe that the popular kid would have anything to do with Jennifer, the tomboy from the wrong side of the tracks — even if they were secret make-out buddies — and bullying online lead to nasty graffiti, a beating and the killing of a pet. Though occasionally heavy-handed, "Flocking" never quite goes where you expect it to. Instead, it derives its power from honing in on what’s really at stake when girls and women are assumed to be lying about sexual assault — and the consequences are shattering.
Mammal – Directed by Rebecca Daly (Ireland/Netherlands/Luxembourg)
Rachel Griffiths delivers a masterful lead performance in this aching, sensual drama about conflicting desires. A few days after being notified that the teenage son she’d abandoned long ago has died, Margaret (Griffiths) invites an adolescent boy with a passing resemblance to her deceased child into her cramped home. Baby-faced Joe (Barry Keoghan) is a troubled runaway, but Margaret can’t help clinging to him — both maternally and sexually. In some ways, "Mammal" is a film we’ve seen before, but too often from a male POV. Margaret’s needy, flailing grief and Griffiths’ barely controlled desperation transport a potentially affected conceit to thrilling emotional depths.
Call Me Marianna – Directed by Karolina Bielawska (Poland)
In Poland, transgender individuals who want to be legally recognized as such need to sue their parents to change their sex on paper. That’s just the beginning of the journey for 40-year-old Marianna, a woman rejected by her entire family — including her wife and young children — for finally embracing who she is. "Call Me Marianna" begins with its subject in limbo and details her multi-front battles to assert her identity — legally, medically, familially, romantically and educationally — until a devastating medical crisis throws about a hundred wrenches into her plans. Just as compelling is first-time director Karolina Bielawska’s storytelling: the documentary is shot and edited like a narrative feature, with a brilliant framing device that finds Marianna directing two actors who play scenes from her marriage, so that we get a fuller sense of her backstory. It’s heady, invigorating and unbelievably touching — just like the rest of this must-see film.