Double bills can be revealing
Travelling to the movies can be expensive, so any opportunity to maximise viewing and minimise cost is to be encouraged. When I first started going to the cinema there were always two films in the programme; starting with the ubiquitous ‘B Feature’ – a remarkable genre in its own right and worthy of further study – as well as news-reels and short documentaries sponsored by big brands like Shell. One such was Look At Life – a populist series of portraits of life in Britain that flourished through the fifties and sixties. It was only in the seventies that our viewing habits changed with the demise of the B-Feature and other ancillary content that had made going to the movies a three-hour proper afternoon or evening out.
Today, with most cinemas being multi-plex it is often possible to watch two films one after the other at the same venue. This I did last night when I went to our local art-house complex, The Watershed in Bristol to see two very different works, which in a strange and oblique way, shared some themes – principally that of female empowerment.
The Film Culture module addresses both the role of women as characters in cinema and also their contribution behind the camera. Mustang, the Oscar nominated first-movie by the Turkish director Deniz Gamze Ergüven was met at the end by spontaneous applause – a rare thing in a British cinema. Already the movie has attracted comparisons with Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides made in 1999 but, for me it is far removed. Mustang is a beautifully observed rite of passage and homage to female empowerment. It is a profound feminist work, which, despite its dark narrative is a celebration of the wonders of youth and femininity, beautifully filmed in a free and flowing style that further empowered the carefree innocence of five teenage sisters. All this set within the stultifying, constricted and male-dominated world of a conservative small community on the Turkish Black sea, where their uncle is ably assisted in his determination to tame his nieces as are the women in their lives – with one notable exception – to be turned into wedding-fodder.
The sensitivity and lightness of touch with which the film is directed allows us to know what is happening without seeing – from suicide to sexual abuse – yet rich with humour too, the hopelessness of the reality for these Turkish young teenage women is matched with determination and with it hope. The film left me in tears. Don’t miss it. But what of the double bill.
Overwhelmed, I stumbled into another screening, this time, by comedy supremo, Whit Stillman, who before this latest foray into Jane Austen had made two female-empowerment romps, most recently Damsels in Distress in 2011 and earlier, The Last Days of Disco in 1998. Love and Friendship is based on Austen’s long-unpublished and early novella about a scheming widow, Lady Susan, well played by Kate Beckinsale. A story of class, prejudice, ambition and marriage-planning, it is fabulously enjoyable populated by ruthless, ambitious and determined smart women in the company of a signally unimpressive bunch of useless but occasionally usable men – the star of the film being, in my opinion, Tom Bennett with as fine a comic performance as you will see in a very long time. Set at the end of the 18th century it is equally, a reminder that then in the UK, as now in Turkey, the default assumption is that what families must do is find the right match for their kids. Love really has nothing to do with it. It’s all about money, security and status and women are no more than a trade-able commodity good only to keep house, have babies and do as they are told. Although, in the case of Lady Susan she is the one character who is able to get her cake and eat it!