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Stirring the feminist in me

Charulata's woes ©Teknica

Charulata’s woes ©Teknica

“Who spends 300 dollars on a girder belt?”

“A woman who is in charge of her sexuality and not afraid of change.”

If you, too, agree with this, you will definitely like Appropriate Behavior, one of the many remarkable women-centric films screened at the Sydney Film Festival this month. After over a week of great food, an energetic audience and chilly weather, I took out some time to make you my partners-in-fun by sharing some of my personal favorites.  I’ve made a  list which is a combination of creatively simple, captivatingly queer and dramatically original films for every woman, every feminist and every film student to watch, because if you haven’t watched these, you haven’t watched anything. Trust me, you’ll thank me for this later.

1. Appropriate Behavior

The film made its way directly from the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. Described as a queer Iranian-American Annie Hall or Girls, the 86-minute bilingual film is a directorial debut by Desiree Akhavan, known for the web series The Slope. Akhavan plays Shirin, whose bisexuality is unknown to her Iranian family, much to the ire of her ex-girlfriend Maxine, who doesn’t understand why Shirin would keep this clandestine. The film is based on Shirin’s interpersonal journey comprising her dealings with family pressure, unsuccessful dates and a series of pan-sexual escapades to clear self-doubts and seek answers to questions like why Maxine abandoned her.

A scene from The Other Woman © SFF

A scene from The Other Woman © SFF


Have you ever had a dream where it’s mostly dark and lonely and you are constantly running, as if escaping someone? Touch is a representation of one such dream. A compelling yet cryptic film, it is a must watch if you are a fan of enigmatic thrillers. The story revolves around a woman named Dawn, played by Leeanna Walsman, who takes to the road with her daughter, running from a mysterious pursuer. As the story unfolds and the truth is finally revealed, you realize that Dawn had actually been running away from her past. Written and directed by Christopher Houghton, the 91-minute drama thriller is indubitably going to keep you mesmerized.

3. Charulata

World cinema is incomplete without our very own Charulata (the lonely wife). It goes without saying that nobody, seriously nobody, but Satyajit Ray, could have ever made a film so meticulously simple yet so convoluted. It is this oxymoronic romance that landed this 1964 adaptation of Rabindranath Tagore’s novel at an event 50 years later. The story is about a love triangle centering around a lonely housewife in Victorian Calcutta. Charulata, who is adored by her very busy aristocrat husband running a radical English newspaper in Calcutta, is left to confide her creative passions with her artistic and poetic brother-in-law. Beautifully shot and innovatively directed, any reasonable film school’s syllabus is incomplete without Charulata on the list.

4. The Day She Commits Suicide

Is there ever a good day to do something bad, for instance commit suicide? Apparently, yes. Yuichi Suita’s eight-minute short film The Day She Commits Suicide reminded me of Paulo Coelho’s Veronica Decides to Die, a novel I had read as a college student. A young woman brushes her teeth, washes her clothes, eats some ice cream and tapes the windows to get ready. Because today might just be the right day to commit suicide. Does she, anyway? You’ll have to watch it.

5. Difret

This subject is quite close to my heart and one that has regrettably been ignored in my country: girls’ education. This 99-minute Amharic film has been directed by Zeresenay Berhane Mehari and executive-produced by Angelina Jolie. A Sundance Audience Award winner, Difret is a powerful true-life tale of a group of brave Ethiopian women who defend a girl caught between the justice system and customary law.

6.  Hiroshima, mon amour

If you are a fan of period films like me, this one is just for you. In his 1959 masterpiece, Alain Resnais explores the meanings of war, the woman’s first love, possibilities of love in impossible times and the interchange of thoughts as they emerge during the brief but supercharged romantic interlude. Hiroshima, mon amour is a wrought drama about a Hiroshima architect’s love affair with a French actress and the nuances of love, both physical and ephemeral, marked by the trauma of war.

Isn’t this so apt for the time we are living in? This film made me realize how over-half-a-century later, the world still continues to find answers for the same questions.

7. The Lunchbox

Until the time of my life that my mother packed my lunchbox, every lunch break was full of “surprise in a box.” Luckily for Irrfan Khan of the Life of Pi and Road to Laddakh fame, the lunchbox continues to bring surprises, except his are different from those I would get. He finds love in them.

In Love Marriage in Kabul, Abdul seeks to marry a young Afghan girl despite resistance from her father. Photo by Amin Palangi

In Love Marriage in Kabul, Abdul seeks to marry a young Afghan girl despite resistance from her father. Photo by Amin Palangi.

Ritesh Batra’s 2013 flick is a story of a housewife, who connects with an office worker in the dusk of his life through a lunchbox that gets misdelivered. Makes me think about putting a more prominent label on my husband’s lunchbox lest it ends up misdelivered. Aha!

8. Love marriage in Kabul

Amin Palangi takes just 84 minutes to entrancingly explain one problem that men and women in Afghanistan have been facing for thousands of years: the lack of freedom to choose their partners. The documentary focuses on the story on a young boy, Abdul, who falls in love with a girl, whose father either wants 20,000 dollars or a wife for his son in exchange of his daughter. Abdul can arrange none. That is when Mahboba Rawi, a strong-willed Afghan-Australian woman, who has dedicated her life to help orphans in Afghanistan, comes into light. She is determined to help Abdul. But can she?

9. Ukraine Is Not a Brothel

“Ninety-nine percent of the women in Ukraine don’t know what feminism is.” And the story begins. Australian filmmaker Kitty Green’s fascinating 80-minute documentary is based on the infamous 2010 movement by the topless female protestors of Ukraine FEMEN, protesting against patriarchy in all its forms. Green earns an opportunity to spend time with them and talk about life in their country, the protests and the movement to create an epic that speaks volume of courage and vulnerability. She is told that the main bone of contention is the treatment of Ukrainian women, who they claim are more often viewed as whores than humans. They share their horrific treatment by the authorities and outlandish facts. Driven by a need for empowerment, the FEMEN women find strength in going topless and walking down the street in G-strings. But they have to pay a price.

10. The Other Woman

Coming from a culture, where multiple-spouse household is not a shocker, to see what it tends to bring with itself certainly was. Marie Ka’s 13-minute French film is a rather brave attempt to permeate into the secret world of multiple-spouse households. Set in Dakar, Senegal, The Other Woman is a story of Madeleine and her husband’s new, young second wife, who develop a relationship far beyond conventional norms. The intimacy has the potential to blow apart a stable domestic situation, but it also has the potential to rewrite the story of both women’s lives.

Author: Ayesha Hasan

Editor: Manasi Gopalakrishnan

Ayesha Hasan is a Pakistani journalist, who is currently based in Australia, where she is pursuing a PhD in Media at the University of Wollongong.  You can follow her on Twitter @yeshahasan08.


25.06.2014 | 12:24