Credit: Ladan Saidi
At Strand Film Festival Week, which closed Friday 9th December, we saw many experimental films from an array of different voices. Tuesday’s theme, ‘Body Expression on Film’ gave us explorations of the female experience, as well as visceral depictions of emotion using new and fascinating methods. With all of the above coming from perceptive and audacious new talent, let’s look at some of the films in review, and what they tell us about the styles and intents of tomorrow’s filmmakers.
With such a broad theme to explore, it isn’t a surprise that the films differed so much. A few decided to explore the connection between the female body and how it is depicted in society: Andrea Vicol’s film Catwalk vs Streetwalk went straight for the throat. Using the medium of fashion and the decadence of the industry, Catwalk glides along a side-by-side comparison of the alien perfection of catwalk models with the natural beauty of the human body. Similarly, Agathe Plenier’s film A Girl Jumping From Space challenged society’s innately uncomfortable approach to women dancing for fun, creating an audacious tone that doesn’t allow room for any misinterpretation.
The one commonality of the six films was the use of archival footage integrated into the story, however differently each achieved this. For example, Jumping manipulated footage of a ground control centre to fit it into the story, whereas Catwalk, as well as Ladan Saidi’s film From Inferno to Paradiso, chose to use archival footage to tell the story. In the latter—mirroring Dante’s epic poem—a filmic expression of emotional movement, editing and colour came to the fore in dominating its emotional reception. Fast-paced cutting and garish palettes were used for ‘Inferno’, and a pristine, angelic picture-scape of snowy mountains for ‘Paradiso’; this film beautifully pairs nature, both modern and pastoral, with our emotional responses to it.
Credit: Ladan Saidi
Another film that used archival footage as the basis for its story was Alicia Badault’s The Clean Up, in which a woman gets ready in the morning over the ominous commentary of a retro television advert promoting make-up. The archival video and sound are separated here, transcending the frame to exist solely in the head of the protagonist; a confident questioning of the capitalist malintent of the beauty industry, manipulating women into thinking to “clean up” is to spend money. Here, the ‘archival’ nature of this footage is nullified, as Badault bridges the gap between the seemingly rosy epoch of the advertisement and the modern day with the ever-pertinence of the issues at hand.
Equally poignant in this way is Olympe Martin’s film Charles. Pulling focus on a speech about the loss of direction and heightened anxiety in the digital age, Martin uses the audio from the archival media, except this time completely in lieu of video. What we see is a girl’s fast descent into madness, only relieved when she finds herself in an isolated alpine landscape. Much like Saidi’s film, nature is shown as the base point. It both influences and is influenced by our emotions, and is a reminder of our humanity—modern society can often be the antithesis to this, hence the invisible narrator’s yearning for reversion in Charles.
All the films, despite their critiques around body expression, end with a return to positivity. Each teaches us that things are forever changing, and that storms pass. Even Yijia Gong’s film Farewell, an expression of abuse trauma in the form of dance, ends with the passing of old disturbances—represented literally in strings holding back the protagonist—moving towards a better future. Much of the same can be said about Plenier and Vicol’s films, both of which start and finish with a self-aware, optimistic approach to the issues they address. All of the filmmakers represented have found the balance that is so intrinsic to the craft, of presenting the problem in such a way that is both aggravating and life-affirming.
The Strand Film Festival ran from 5th to 9th December 2022.
Edited by Lydia Leung, Film & TV Head Editor