Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Karen, actually preferring to be single on a bus.

If it's been a while since I've posted, it was probably sometime in the late Cretaceous period that I last posted about movies.  I used to consider myself a movie buff and would watch movies multiple times a week; now I rarely watch them.  I'm not entirely sure why this is.  While most of my all-time favorite movies revolve around straight white men, part of me was getting tired of this narrow range of stories.  Even when I attempted to watch films that centered on women, too often they involved the woman in question giving up everything for a man.  When I was challenged to come up with "feminist films" for a recent screening, I couldn't think of any at all.

However.  Of the movies I do watch, many of them are Spanish-language.  Since I'm always trying to improve my Spanish, I will watch any Spanish film that seems remotely interesting.  This led to me watching Karen Cries on the Bus, which is Colombian, and compared to other movies I've seen lately, refreshingly feminist.  I say this because it diverges from the narratives of "woman seeking man" and "woman doesn't think she needs a man, but she really does".  While it's not anti-feminist to seek men, I think the near-total ubiquity of these tropes means that showing other woman-centered stories can be a feminist act.

Karen Cries on the Bus lacks plot (it's like they know me), but shows the day-to-day life of Karen as she tries to cultivate an identity for herself after leaving a loveless marriage. At first, she doesn't really know how to do anything independently, and the film charts her successes and failures in building a new life.  There have been other movies on the same topic, but the ending was a total departure from anything Hollywood would have done.  **Major spoilers**  Instead of moving to Argentina with a new man she starts dating, Karen decides to stay in Colombia by herself.  While I can see how this might seem depressing to some viewers, personally I was thinking, "you go, Karen".  She had learned enough about herself to know that she was still susceptible to getting lost in her relationships with men, and she didn't want to go down that road again.  I don't know any other films where someone chooses to be single in a situation like Karen's.  **End spoilers for "Karen"**

I recommend it.  

[Haircuts always represent new beginnings--we get it!]

The other movie I've seen most recently was Albert Nobbs, which garnered some discussion on AVEN.  **Minor spoilers will follow**  Albert is a woman (or perhaps a genderqueer or trans person) who began presenting as male in order to get employment in 19th century Ireland.  What I found somewhat unique about the film was that there was another character, Hubert, who was also a woman presenting as male.  She "finds out" Albert, and then confides to him that she is also female (pronouns are tough here).  Albert seems to really admire Hubert, because he has a wife and just generally seems a lot happier and freer than Albert does.  While Albert's gender status seems to get in the way of relationships, Hubert doesn't seem to have a problem with his.  Albert does seem asexual in some ways, but I am not convinced that he is.  I think he just feels a much greater anxiety over his "secret" than Hubert does.  It also seems like years of isolation have greatly impaired his social functioning.

**Major spoilers will follow**

What's cliche about the movie is that Albert dies in the end.  This always seems to be a statement that gender-nonconforming people have no future and no place in this world (which, of course, makes me cringe).  However, Hubert lives, and seems to be thriving even after the death of his wife.  It seems like he'll be successful at wooing the woman who rejected Albert for being too stiff and unemotional.  Are we supposed to think that Hubert is somehow ambushing heterosexual women?  I don't know.  I wouldn't blame him, given his social climate, for staying in the closet.

**End spoilers**

To finally conclude, I think that Albert Nobbs, while it got mixed reviews, is a great film to discuss with folks who are interested in gender issues.  Make it a double-feature with Tomboy, which would also have some good discussion fodder.  Someone's going to fall asleep, though.