“Mauvais Genres: French Cinema Takes on Gender” presents nine fiction films and documentaries that were produced or co-produced in France and have never or rarely been shown in New York. It runs from October 7th, 2021 - November 11th, 2021.
Seven of these are recent films, while the two films that open and close the series are classics. These films take questions of gender identity and sexual orientation head on, through emancipatory explorations and revolutionary projects, often intimately and politically combative, presenting collective portraits and personal biographies as well as character-driven stories.
“Mauvais Genres” is an ironic pun on a French expression that can mean “bad kind,” “bad manners,” or “bad impression,” and can also mean “wrong” or “mistaken” gender. It is also a nod to filmmaker Sébastien Lifshitz, whose work is highlighted with three selections in this festival, since he used “Mauvais Genre” in the singular as the title of an exhibition about his work. The heroines and heros of these films defy the identities or destinies of gender or sexual orientation that are assigned to them, whether they’re appearing on self-made clips live streamed on youtube or in a mythological village in the Sahel.
In Little Girl, Sébastien Lifshitz uses his camera with great sensitivity to show things from the perspective of seven-year-old Sasha and her family in their struggle to have Sasha recognized as a girl. Bambi chronicles the life of one of the first publicly known trans women in France, who never stopped reinventing herself, from her childhood in a small Algerian village to her life as a performer in Parisian cabarets, filming herself along the way with her Super8 camera. Out is a virtuoso montage of found footage gleaned from the thousands of “coming out” videos published on Youtube by young people in various countries, with filmmaker Denis Parrot elevating the courage and generosity of these self-made gestures into a shared political struggle on a cinematic scale.
Djibril Mambéty Diop’s film Hyenas, a radical masterpiece of Senegalese cinema that has taken on cult status, tells a story of vengeance by Ramatou against the society that tried to destroy her, as a woman and mother, illustrating in the form of a fable the visceral connection between patriarchy and colonialism. Adam, the first feature-length fiction film by Moroccan filmmaker Maryam Touzani, and a Moroccan and French co-production, traces the intimate trajectory of a young unmarried woman whose pregnancy is not considered acceptable in her traditionalist society. Does the birth of her child mean dispossession or empowerment?
In Delphine and Carole, Callisto McNulty uses archival footage to chronicle the subversive and empowering political struggles of Delphine Seyrig and Carole Rossoupoulos, two pioneers of feminist videography in the 1970s. Her documentary highlights a decisive moment in the history both of French feminism and of cinéma militant, the political filmmaking tradition that emerged in France during May 1968 and flourished for a decade. In the same streets of Paris, but in 1962, the protagonist of Cléo from 5 to 7 already aspires to a kind of emancipation in this masterpiece black-and-white film by Agnès Varda that earned her status as the only famous female director in the French New Wave movement that was otherwise dominated by men. The Lives of Thérèse is a documentary by Sébastien Lifshitz about a luminous feminist militant, Thérèse Clerc, retracing her story from the 1950s through the 2010s, from a life of conventional maternal domesticity and Catholic faith to one of political struggle in favor of legal access to abortion, gay liberation, and the right of older women to age with dignity. Thérèse invited Lifshitz to film her in her final months of life, and the result is also a sensitive portrayal of courage in the face of illness and mortality. Claus Drexel takes a different tactic in Ladies of the Wood, creating a collective portrait through interviews of trans women working as prostitutes (a label they claim) in the Bois de Boulogne on the western edge of Paris. Filmed at day or at night, they speak about liberty, transformation, their bodies, and exile, presenting themselves at times as crystallizing subterranean societal and sexual currents in French society.
The “Mauvais Genres” film festival reveals faceted faces of French and Francophone cinema that capture or invent singular destinies and essential messages in the history of struggles for LGBTQ+ freedom and rights and for gender equality, often linked to demands for other forms of social progress.
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