Film Scratches: Structures to Contain Women – Noe Kidder’s Zone Four (2015)
Film Scratches focuses on the world of experimental and avant-garde film, especially as practiced by individual artists. It features a mixture of reviews, interviews, and essays.
A Review by David Finkelstein.
“The Women of Zone Four did not belong to themselves,” begins the first voice-over narration of Zone Four, a dense and powerful 7-minute short by Noe Kidder with a deceptively simple structure. The beautifully shot and edited 16mm black and white footage is of the Alhambra, the Moorish pleasure palace in Granada, Spain, with occasional crowds of tourists pouring through. The soundtrack blends simple, plaintive music with two different narratives, read by two different women, painting oblique portraits of women living under the control of male power structures. The first story uses science fictional language to describe a migration of women from Zone Three to Zone Four in a dystopian future, where all aspects of their lives are controlled by a (male dominated) state. The elaborate instructions for the migration forbid music but mandate dancing, as if in a deliberate plan to take the pleasure out of everything. As a final insult, the women are commanded to “enjoy your journey.”
The second narrative is a first person account of a woman who formerly idolized a man, only to realize that he considers her little more than a slave who produces children. “When you found me I was hopeless. I had no way to sustain my family.” Her powerlessness seems designed to make her fall under the man’s control.
The effect of this simple juxtaposition of travelogue footage with fictional narration is complex and rich. The images and the narration both comment on each other in multiple, indirect ways. The images of tourists might refer to the migration of the women in the first story. They might refer to the feeling a Western woman might have that she has entered an alien zone, when she travels in countries like Saudi Arabia or Iran where women are more tightly controlled. The kind of patrolling of women’s behavior in current day Iran is a rather new phenomenon in the Muslim world, so it may feel alien to Iranian women as well.
The spaces of the gorgeous palaces and courtyard gardens create a contrast between a protected, guarded interior and the city outside, which has clear echoes in the text as well. The intricate architectural structures, with many hidden passages and levels, could refer to the intricate social structures which are needed to keep women under men’s control.
Neither of the two stories is more than a fragment, only hinting at a larger story behind the words. The connection between the stories and the images in the film is highly suggestive but yields no single, definitive interpretation. By poetically juxtaposing a story told by architecture with two stories told in words, Kidder awakens in the viewer a complex set of associated ideas about social structures and the oppression of women. As the second woman observes in her final line: “Now I know that there was never an option to say ‘no.’”