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2019 Women Make Waves Film Festival Taiwan

‘Queering Voices’ Shorts Highlight Variety in Gender Experience

2019/10/16 , Opinion
CJ Sheu
Photo Credit: Switch / 2019 WMMFF
CJ Sheu
CJ Sheu is a Taipei-based film critic at Critics at Large and elsewhere; he has been published by Bright Wall/Dark Room, Funscreen (Taiwan), and LeonardMaltin.com. He's also doing a PhD in 21st-century American fiction. Hit him up on Twitter @cjthereviewer.

The four shorts selected as part of the “Queering Voices” section at the 2019 Women Make Waves Film Festival offer an eclectic array of sexual and gender experiences. From a classic character study to an off-the-rails allegorical comedy, this combination of short films is far from predictable.

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Photo Credit: Mathias / 2019 WMMFF
Mathias (Austria, 2017, 30 mins.)

Mathias follows the transgender title character (Gregor Kohlhofer) as he takes his first post-op job at a logistics warehouse with a group of bros. Co-written by director Clara Stern and cinematographer Johannes Höß, the plot contrasts the attitudes of the people in Mathias’s life: Marie (Magdalena Wabitsch), his girlfriend before and after the transition; friendly coworker Emir (Ahmet Simsek), and “I’m a tolerant guy, but” coworker Andi (Michael Edlinger). Without being didactic about it, the film explores how changing our entire identity can turn willing companionship into bonds of obligation, and how even supportive gestures come with unsaid pressures.

The script emphasizes Mathias’s masculine work environment and how he struggles to pick up the bro code, so it’s ironic that he’s so good at manfully refusing to communicate with Marie. Kohlhofer’s shy, alienated performance grounds the film in Mathias’s subjective viewpoint, and we palpably feel his relief when someone finally treats him like just another person. By the end Mathias has less in his life, but what he keeps is more meaningful.

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Photo Credit: Switch / 2019 WMMFF
Switch (Belgium, 2018, 18 mins.)

Written and directed by Marion Renard, Switch has so much going on that it could easily be expanded from an 18-minute allegory into a 90-minute fantasy, and could probably support a franchise, too. Riffing off of the book Esmera by Zep and Vince, the film is a sensual beast, voraciously consuming all our attention and awe with its audacious premise, explicit sex, frontal male nudity, and body horror. It even boasts a pop rock soundtrack.

There’s a glaring continuity error near the beginning, but pales in comparison to what comes next. Concluding the first third of the film is a nightmare sequence shot in bold red and black by cinematographer Lisa Willame and edited like a Darren Aronofsky climax by Mailys Degraeve.

I can’t say a thing more about its plot without giving it away. I can’t even tell you how many actors there are, aside from the protagonist (Nora Dolmans) and her love interest in the festival program photo (Manon Delauvaux). Rest assured, every performance passes muster. The moral, if you’re looking for one: Accept yourself as you are, and life will surprise you.

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Photo Credit: A Great Ride / 2019 WMMFF

A Great Ride (USA, 2018, 33 mins.)

A three-pronged documentary about two aging lesbian communities and another lesbian still seeking hers, all in California. Apparently in the heyday of the ‘70s, California boasted numerous lesbian communities, men-less places outside the patriarchy, one of which is “Woman’s Land,” Willits County, whose population is aging out. Sally Gearhart and Susan Leo, the oldest and the youngest respectively, guide the film through the history of the place, and its uncertain future. Sue Lebow and Patty Rhodes recount how they moved to the retirement community of Oakmond and started the Rainbow Women lesbian group, now with about a dozen women. And Brenda Crawford was priced out of Oakland to the small town of Vallejo, where she gradually accepts that this is where she’ll spend her last years and starts to engage with the community.

Directors Deborah Craig and Véronica Duport Déliz know how to keep things lively. The technique for each prong of the film is the same: witty and thoughtful talking-head interviews intercut with archival and B-roll footage (energetic editing by Ondine Rarey). When the pace starts to slow, that’s when Bradley Dujmovic’s quirky soundtrack comes into play; there’s also frequent and always justified use of the Sue Fink song “Leaping Lesbians,” which just gets funnier each time you hear it. Even when the film’s subjects are contemplating death, the joy of their lives is still radiant.

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Photo Credit: Hotel Oswald / 2019 WMMFF
Hotel Oswald (Netherlands, 2017, 22 mins.)

Finally there’s writer-director Kim Hotterbeekx’s Hotel Oswald, a style-over-substance horror showcase with beautiful art direction (by Lukas Bruns) and a slightly problematic script. Helen (Sophie Höppener) arrives at the titular hotel to await her girlfriend, Naomi (Rozanne de Bont). The creepy concierge (Toon Konings) stares at her without blinking as she signs in. Naomi arrives, and the two women share a romantic evening. In a dream, Helen sees Naomi walking away from her, but she’s still there beside her in the morning. Helen goes to buy a smoke. Then weird things start to happen.

Like Get Out (2017), the film plays on the ambiguity between garden-variety hatred and actual freaky shit. There’s a slate of standard horror tropes — like the transformed room, the empty town, and the unsettling score (by Rico Derks) — but there’s also more psychedelic-horror stuff, such as a perpetually burning tree (VFX also by Derks). All of this madness is kept in coherent shape thanks to the collaborative editing by Hotterbeekx, Derks, and cinematographer Jasper van Gheluwe. It’s ambitious, maybe too much so. In its allusion to a major 20th-century historical event, the ending offers a somewhat logical explanation that struck as a bit overwrought.

This review is based on complimentary media screeners provided by the 2019 Women Make Waves Film Festival.

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2019 Women Make Waves Film Festival Taiwan:

The 26th Women Make Waves Film Festival (WMWFF) takes place in Taipei's SPOT Huanshan Cinema from 10/4 - 10/14 this year. Founded in 1993, WMWFF has emerged as one of the major film festivals in Taiwan, and has established itself as the biggest one dedicated to the promotion of female talents. By covering a wide range of genres, issues, and representations of women, WMWFF seeks to promote great cinematic art by female directors, and to advocate gender equality through films with a feminist consciousness from a variety of subjects.

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