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"One in a Thousand": the queer gaze at the Berlinale

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Translation by:

Morgane Vannier

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Gradually, a change is taking place in cinema: moving away from the dominant "male gaze", an increasing amount of films are being directed by women, and are challenging gender norms. Some of the films featured at the Berlin International Film Festival represent a part of this shift.

The "Panorama" section of the Berlinale explicitly highlights feminist, queer and political movements. Choosing Argentinian Clarisa Navas's "Las Mil Y Una" ("One in a Thousand") as the opening film of its new edition proves the "Panorama" section faithful to its principles.

Clarissa Navas was born in 1989 and belongs to that new generation of women directors for whom it is crucial to go beyond preconceived assumptions and stereotypes, in order to provide a new perspective on the world. Her movie shows the daily life of seventeen-year-old girl Iris, who lives in a social housing community in Argentina, and is part of the group of LGBTQ+ teenagers. Right from the opening scenes, standard social roles are reversed: the young men loitering at night around the estate do not leer at pretty girls, but rather seek the other men, who lurk in the shadowy concrete corners; and while playing hide-and-seek, they give in to their impulsive desires.

The film rejects stereotypes and reverses one's expectations: those who dance in an extremely provocative and sexualized way are the men; they are the ones who practice in front of a mirror and gaze at their reflection, they strip off for strangers in front of their webcam. They wear make up and colorful clothes, put on necklaces, stay at home to play with stuffed toys, hint at anal sex in front of their mother, and write in their diaries. Meanwhile, the girls play basketball, hang out day and night in the estate and neighborhood, discussing drugs, infectious diseases and cunnilingus. The film also deals with prostitution, sexual abuse and cyber-bullying, without ever indulging in pathos. All these topics depict a very substantial and subtle portrayal of definitely contemporary youth.

See also: Gender equality in the film industry: the Berlinale does believe in gender equality

With masterful and innovative cinematography, Clarisa Navas creates a universe that mingles light and shadow, indoor and outdoor, and allows the different worlds to permeate into each other – just like her characters linger between childhood and adulthood. It seems as if there could not exist such a thing as a private space. Both the characters and the audience keep being disturbed, surprised, overwhelmed by the noise, by the others – being perpetually subjected to a form of intrusion. Young actress Sofia Cabrera is the living image of the teenage girl: her character, Iris, runs like a child, hides beneath her sweatshirt, cracks a smile to herself when she looks down because she feels uncomfortable, and avoids inquisitive looks.

Sometimes, the camera is set in a bedroom the way a cellphone would be left there, recording the scene without the persons involved knowing about it. The protagonist and her friends snuggle together on a mattress, while the audience catches a glimpse of the computer screen which fails to hide a chat room in which a man is masturbating. Though graphic, realistic and searching for a truth which makes it akin to a documentary, the film tackles tough subjects and taboos without ever getting into a sordid pessimism. On the contrary, it underlines its characters' dignity and courage, reveals their tenderness and humor, too.

In a different setting, country and form of narration, “Nackte Tiere”, by German director Melanie Waelde, features teenagers who also debunk norms related with gender. Waelde is in her thirties, comes from the German Film and Television Academy (DFFB), and portrays a certain youth of nowadays, with a bare, plain style that refuses to be aesthetic. Just like Iris, Katja (Marie Tragousti) is far from being a stereotyped, oversexualized princess. She is passionate about martial arts, and communicates through punches. Like Iris, she sleeps in a large bed sandwiched between her best friends. Like Iris, Katja only accepts physical touch when it is friendly or brutal, and she rejects sexuality.

Whether she comes from Argentina, Germany or from United-States (like in the HBO TV-show “Euphoria”), a new young woman is emerging on our screens. She is a feminist, she is determined, queer, committed, aware, brave, and sometimes asexual. To that extent, she participates in a movement which echoes Carlo Chatrian's (the new Artistic Director of the Berlinale) words when he defined the new section, “Encounter” – the very section in which “Nackte Tiere” was presented:

With 'Ecounter,' we are looking for the unconditional freedom. For films that are perfectly free and dedicated to their vision, their story, their style and a voice of their own... Films that are looking towards the future, where the film industry will stand within twenty or ten years. Or perhaps simply tomorrow.

You can also find the interviews of the European Shooting Stars from the current Berlinale edition here.

See also : Elliot Crosset Hove: the wonder child.

Translated from « Las Mil y Una » : regard queer à la Berlinale