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Berlinale Bloggers 2019
Gender equality and the survival of ancestral lines

Berlinale 2019
Photo (Detail): © Pony Ma

The 69th Berlinale, the first major European film festival of the year, was held in mid-February 2019. A number of films by and about women were screened in competition at the festival.

There were 16 films in the main competition at this year’s Berlinale. 17 were initially selected, but Yi miao zhong (One Second) was withdrawn due to “technical issues”. Seven of those films were directed by women, thereby almost achieving gender parity – a first in the history of the Berlinale. Not only that, but French actress Juliette Binoche was president of the jury, made up of three men and three women. What’s more, the festival signed a “5050 x 2020” pledge to ensure gender parity in film industry employment, as well as in the selection of films, by 2020.
茱麗葉.畢諾許 Foto: © Pony Ma
This year's Berlinale opened with a picture by Danish director Lone Scherfig, The Kindness Of Strangers. It’s about a woman and her two sons who flee from her abusive husband and set off for New York, dreaming of a better life there. But they’re destitute and end up on the street. The film shows how perfect strangers help one another out and finally manage to find human warmth even in the deepest winter. But it fails to arouse our sympathy and concern, and doesn’t pack enough punch for an opener. Still, its celebration of the “feminine” does serve as a prelude to the main competition.

A mixed bag of female signatures

The other films likewise foreground female characters and “feminine” subject-matter, but based on real incidents charged with a different symbolism. God Exists, Her Name is Petrunija, by Macedonian director Teona Strugar Mitevska, is based on the true story of a sexist society scandalized by a woman in 2014. The story works on several levels, questioning gender roles in society and religion as well as fighting for justice and equality.
God Exists, Her Name is Petrunija Foto: © Pony Ma
Elisa y Marcela, produced by Netflix, was the first film by a streaming platform to make it into the Berlinale's main competition. This film is also based on a true story: that of a lesbian who cross-dresses in order to marry her lover. Despite the use of erotic stylistic devices and the retro scenery, the story isn’t really developed and amounts to little more than an ad for same-sex marriage.

A man’s view of woman

After a seven-year break, Chinese director Wang Quan'an came back with Öndög (“Egg”), which, shot on location in the vastness of the Mongolian steppe, tells a simple and yet meaningful love story. Wang Quan'an uses natural landscapes to evoke the greater themes of birth and ancestral bloodlines. He sets up an analogy between woman and dinosaur, between pregnancy and dinosaur egg, and draws connections between the continuation of ancestral lines and the culture of Mongolian nomads, and between the extinction of species and the survival of human civilization.