Postcard from Cannes #6: I am woman, hear me roar

·5 min read

"The revolution will be feminist or it will be nothing," was the rallying cry heard at the Cannes Film Festival this week. The film "Riposte Féministe" documents the power of collective activism in France, while "Return to Seoul" is about one woman’s quest for identity in a world of stereotypes.

“My body, my choice”. “Sexism is everywhere, so are we”.

These are just a couple of the slogans from the French documentary “Riposte Féministe” (Feminist Ripost), shown as part of the special screenings at the Cannes Film Festival.

Directors Marie Perennès and Simon Depardon travelled to cities across France to document the activities of women who take part in nighttime missions pasting homemade posters on the walls of their cities in protest against sexism, gender-based harassment and femicide.

They are known as the “les colleuses” (those who glue things), but the word in French is very close to the word “colère” meaning angry.

And these women are angry. There are tired of feeling scared or ashamed, fed up with not being taken seriously and being asked what were they wearing when they were attacked.

“It’s time the shame changed sides” they said, many admitting that the act of civil disobedience alongside other women has allowed them to overcome their fears.

Pasting words up for everyone to see is their way of “reclaiming the street” as a public space for everyone.

“We shouldn’t have to feel afraid of going out at night, we have just as much right as men. After all we represent 51 percent of the population,” one participant points out.

Marie Perennès said the idea for the documentary came to her when she witnessed some of the women pasting up the now recognisable black letters on white A4 sheets.

The slogans range from funny to provocative, such as “Even my dog understands when I tell him no”, or “Your hand on my arse, my fist in your face”. But many of them contain chilling statistics about femicides, and lists of names of victims.

“I wanted to record this before the posters got torn down and forgotten,” Perennès says. Her research uncovered dozens of branches of this grassroots movement all across France.

Although the subject is grave, there are some hilarious scenes in the film. In Paris, a police car slows down but just as soon drives away. The audience is expecting the women to get a fine (135 euros for defacing public property), but nothing happens.

Then later, riot police are brought in to separate the feminists when they are faced with the religious zealots praying to save aborted fetuses. Things get a little bit wild.

Nobody can ignore this

The main point of putting words on walls is “nobody can ignore them, they have to see them, they have to confront them”, one woman says in the film, shrugging when it’s clear their efforts will be scrubbed out within a few hours.

From Brest, to Compiègne, Paris or Marseille, women of all ages and social backgrounds speak openly about the abuse they have faced, and everyday forms of machism. In their groups, they refer not only to defending women, but also LGBT minorities.

Speaking up is what drives them, and their message is urgent. Femicide, they insist isn’t “a crime of passion” it’s a crime full stop and should be taken seriously.

“Speaking up is often what gets women into more trouble,” one of the women said at the press conference in Cannes after the premiere on Sunday. She was wearing scotch tape on her midriff with the words “justice for Amber”, in reference to American actress Amber Heard and her court battle against ex partner Johnny Depp, accused of domestic violence.

These women know that what they are doing may take time to sink in, but they are willing to invest now for future generations. Their acts of defiance and solidarity sends a signal to other women who fear speaking out: “We believe you, you are not alone”.

Heart and Seoul

“Retour à Seoul” (Return to Seoul) also premiered on Sunday as part of Un Certain Regard category. French-Cambodian director Davy Chou appeared on stage with his team, and explained that the film was based on a true story and he hoped the family would appreciate how it had been adapted to the big screen.

Twenty-five-year-old Freddie, (short for Frédérique), played by Ji-Min Park, was born in South Korea but was adopted as a baby and raised by a French family.

On a whim, she decides to return to Seoul for a holiday. It morphs into a quest to find her birth parents, an act that will have an unexpected effect on her.

Freddie is gutsy and bold – constantly pushing her own limits and those around her. She doesn’t speak Korean, so she has to rely on newly made friends to translate. This cultural divide provides fertile terrain for misunderstandings both humorous and painful.

From the outset, we are up close and personal with Freddie, the camera never leaving her face for long. She is formidable throughout. Her cold, hard expression is unfathomable, her actions unpredictable and sometimes ruthless.

She’s looking for something, the missing piece of a puzzle, a connection, a sign. But what she finds within herself is a patchwork of people (the original title of the film in English was in fact “All the people I’ll never be”).

When she meets her father, from a humble fishing village outside the capital, she is disgusted with his need to “transform” her into a “good little Korean” by finding her a husband.

Like a snake, or a caterpillar, Freddie sheds her skin, going from a sheltered girl of classical piano lessons, to seductive international arms trader.

But the audience can’t help rooting for Freddie, she is magnetic. She doesn’t always know what she wants, but she definitely knows what she doesn’t want, leaving us with a refreshing sense of liberation.

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