Courtisane festival 2020
- SPHINX CINEMA, MINARD, KASKCINEMA, PADDENHOEK
“For us from the Maghreb, who have dreamt, especially on the basis of the Western imaginary, of the renaissance of the couple in the sun, for us women who have filmed in the Arabic language in a cave of heat, of memory and ancestral whispers, I would like to say how much hearing a rebellious woman’s character brazenly taking apart her revolt in the Arabic language gives us confidence.”
Writer and filmmaker Assia Djebar wrote these moving lines at the beginning of the 1980s, just after finishing her very first film, The Nouba of the Women of Mount Chenoua — one of the remarkable works which will be shown as part of the Out of the Shadows program, alongside films by Atteyat Al-Abnoudy, Jocelyne Saab and Heiny Srour.
Djebar wrote these lines about a book whose outcry continues to resonate furiously, even nearly half a century after its writing: Nawal Al Saadawi’s Woman at Point Zero. This small wonder of a book tells the story of Ferdaous, whose life is recounted in a night to Al Saadawi’s alter ego, a doctor visiting the prison where she awaits execution for killing a man. In the discursive field defined by Ferdaous’ testimony of her struggle to attain dignity in a cruel, patriarchal society, Assia Djebar finds a combat area and a take-off point for other women who continue to struggle against oppression and marginalization. Its tremendous force, Djebar wrote, resides in a gaze that amplifies bodies to resist suffocation at all costs, and in a timbre of voice that does not moan, no longer pleads, but accuses.
A decade after Djebar’s passionate advocacy of the book, another character named Ferdaous made her appearance. This time, not in a book, but in a film that is also part of this festival program: Queen of Diamonds by Nina Menkes. On the surface, the film shares little with the novel by way of setting or plot. But what links Menkes’s Ferdaous to her namesake is her experience of suffocation. Menkes’s homage to Al Saadawi’s work gives expression to this experience by framing the character as if trapped in a world that never quite becomes her own. But at the same time, she maintains an opaque stubbornness that resists her absorption in the dominant order of things. Against the grain, Ferdaous — who could almost be a sister of Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman — is not simply a “woman at point zero”: she retains the status of an enigma; an oneiric figure that refuses to be bogged down by the crushing weight of oppression.
There are many other evocations of Ferdaous to be found in the program that awaits you. From Vitalina Varela to Madame Beudet, time and again figures of dissent join in the outcry that is raised by Lis Rhodes in Light Reading:
she will not be placed in darkness
she will be present in darkness
only to be apparent
Against the offensive carried out by today’s absolutizing forces of oppression, a multitude of resisting gazes and accusing voices continue to extend the combat area that Assia Djebar found in the story of Ferdaous, inviting us to share in what we might be needing the most, here and elsewhere: confidence.