By Moira Sullivan.
The Créteil Films de Femmes festival is a high quality panorama of the images of international women in cinema. A question for some may be: is a women’s film festival outdated today? If you attend the festival you will know that it exists for the same reason that women’s film festivals were started in the 70s: to see the work of women filmmakers that is just not screened elsewhere and to meet the directors and actors to discuss their work. Several juries appraise the films: a youth jury, the Créteil University jury, and the jury of the Official Selection. Festival director Jackie Buet has been with the festival since 1979, and which has a dedicated following in France and all over the world.
The 33rd festival (March 23 – April 2) focused on the work of director who have explored the theme of fascism in Europe. A special highlight was the screening of films by Italian director Cecilia Mangini who is now 84 and who came to present her work and conduct a master class. Several short films set to the texts of the late filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini were shown in one program. One particularly memorable short was entitled Stendali (1960), about a funeral for a young man where the lamentations are sung in “Griko”, the dialect the people of Greek origin in southern Italy.
Mangini was co-director with Lino Del Fra and Lino Miccichè of the 1962 documentary All’Armi Saim Fascista (To arms, we are fascists) assembled from Italian archives. The film was blocked by Italian censors for a year and presented out of competition at the Venice Film Festival in 1961. It was not until the 1970s that the film was widely shown in Italy.
Present at the screening was the Portuguese actress Maria de Medeiros, director of April Captains (Portugal 2000), a film about the military coup in Portugal in 1974 and the Portuguese revolution.
Parallel events at Créteil were exhibitions of the photography of Cecilia Mangini and Karine Saporta, Saporta has designed the covers for the Créteil Film de Femmes Festival catalogues for many years. Her photography of Ludwig of Bavaria commissioned by the “Institut Français de Munich” was on display. Mangini’s Italian portraits were taken between 1952 and 1965.
The Spanish actress Carmen Maura who has acted in films for directors such as Carlos Saura and Pedro Almodóvar was the guest of honor this year at Créteil. Ay Carmela! (1990) starring Maura was screened about a group of traveling artists who happen by accident upon the soldiers of Franco. The married couple — Paulino (Andrés Pajares) and Carmela (played by Carmen Maura) and the young mute Gustavete Gabino Diego — are captured and asked to put on a pro Franco cabaret or be executed. Although Pedro Almodóvar is credited with renewing Spanish cinema after Franco, Carlos Saura often points out the atrocities of the Spanish dictator and his supporters.
Another special guest of the festival was the Portuguese director Teresa Villaverde who began making films in her 20s and did not enroll in a film school. She explores the themes of trafficking in Transe (2006) and young people who live on the streets in Os Mutantes (1998). Villaverde’s creative use of the camera and editing is brilliant and her stories create empathy without forced manipulation. She is currently doing postproduction on her new film, Cisne.
The daughters of Italian film editor Suso D’Amico were present at a special screening of La Notti Bianche, the White Nights, by Luchino Visconti made in 1957, written and edited by D’Amico.
The festival closing film was Mutantes (2009) by Virginie Despentes on the lesbian porno punk art culture. The film sparked off one of the most well attended discussions of the festival. Present was queer performance artist Catherine Corringer. In the film, interviews are made with “queer” academics such as Beatriz Preciado , lesbian and transgender artists and porn directors and performers such as Maria Beatty and Annie Sprinkle.
The late actress Maria Schneider, a regular guest and jury member at Créteil, was honored on March 29th at the festival. A short film made in 2005 in which Maria plays a psychic lion tamer was shown as well as clips from her Master class that she gave in 2001 at the festival.
On the closing night of the festival, a rare screening of Merry Go Round with Maria Schneider and Joe Dallesandro was screened directed by Jacques Rivette (France 1979). Schneider plays Leo and Dallesandro plays Ben who meet at a hotel arranged by Leo’s sister. Then a mystery must be solved that is created by the instrument of the camera and editing. It’s hard to believe that Maria Schneider is the same actress from
Last Tango in Paris when looking at this film. She’s powerful, kicks down doors, doesn’t sleep with Joe Dallesandro, helps to solve the crime and shoots the bad guys.
For the Palmàres, the jury prize of the festival went to Missing Man by Anna Fenchenko (Russia 2010) about a loner who loses hisapartment and is swept away on a road trip with other lost souls. Best documentary went to Agnes Dei by Alejandra Sánchez (Mexico 2010) about a priest who molests his altar boys and is confronted by one of them years later; the public and youth jury prize went to Lou by Belinda Chayko (Austraila 2010) about an 11 year old girl whose father has deserted his family.
The 34th Créteil Festival de Films de Femmes will be held 23 March to April 1, 2012.
Moira Sullivan has a PhD in Cinema Studies from Stockholm University. She is a freelance film critic based in San Francisco and a member of FIPRESCI (International Critics Association) and the European Critics Association.
Photos © Moira Sullivan