On the seventeenth anniversary of the Montréal Massacre (December 6, 1989 – Marc Lepine murders fourteen women at L’École Polytechnique then fatally shoots himself) we gather at the John Street Médiathèque—the National Film Board’s intimate screening room—for a one-theme program of films. This commemoration is produced by the Female Eye Festival. The atmosphere is reverent and charged with all manner of emotion as the filmmakers share their stories on the screen. Just once during the initial five offerings to the memory of wanton abuse, violence and death do we hear the hesitant sound of two hands clapping.
A Solitary Silence
Canada 1999, 4 minutes
Canada 2000, 8 minutes
Gloria Kim paints a bleak picture in A Solitary Silence. “I couldn’t escape,” “Just shut up” come across like verbal volleys. The notion of the body’s betrayals and a literal/metaphorical face mask add power. Power over men is at the centre of Kim’s second film, Partial Selves. This hands-on confessional of dominatrix/poet, Louise Bak is awash in captivating imagery: securing nipple and cock clamps on her devoted subject (later he’s rewarded when permitted to lick gleaming boots and the interior of mesh panties), legions of candles, ever-patient Madonna, and psychoanalysis 101 ink blots framing the piece. As one who now excels in the art of “touch,” all the more chilling Bak declaims of her troubled childhood “I was sexually interfered with … (not molestation).” Now she heals those who crave her professional superiority as a tonic to their thirsting inner being.
Canada 2004, 3 minutes
Like the urban terrain it describes, much of Wendy Nahanee’s Dress Up is shot in grainy sepia. Two women prepare to prowl for paying customers. “Thin” is soon hustled into a car; “Large” gives her colleague an encouraging nod. The Pan pipes signal something at odds with the action. The missing person is still just that. Is anybody out there (for “them”)?
Canada 2006, 6 minutes
The poetry in Purple Lipstick is more effective than the tableau. The “hush puppy” simile baffles; the “eyes” in a dangerous bed work briefly; she “tried to get away” then the young girls are sore afraid behind the sturdy tree …
Let’s Talk About It
Canada 2005, 47 minutes
In Let’s Talk About It, Deepa Mehta wisely and courageously lets the secondary victims of domestic violence lead the fray as the children of broken families ask questions of their estranged parents. Most effectively, the “case studies” (with Canadian families hailing from El Salvador to India to the U.K.) wordlessly demonstrate that, like nearly everything else these days, husband/wife abuse is as global as a Big Mac.
Literally stunning are the cartoon-frame segment dividers whose one-frame “Pows” are no laughing manner when they are landed on real human beings and confined to jagged balloon “action” description. Hard-hitting reporters interviewing perpetrators and victims would set a reality show tone. When questions or comments such as “Did Daddy ever hit you in the stomach when you were pregnant [with me]?” or “I’m disappointed … you did nothing about it?” come from the sons and daughters of the desperate parents, the horror, shame and permanent scars of each terrible situation takes on a surreal quality that adult interrogation could never achieve.
More incongruous still are the family moments (a middle-class backyard BBQ complete with a sculpted watermelon fruit salad) and happy confessions of love from a man whose child’s intervention prevented murder, give this truly pathetic chronicle weight and depth that sadly, make the point brilliantly but, like wars based on greed and power, will do little to prevent the next atrocity. Human nature cannot be prevented. JWR