#FEMALE PLEASURE – movie review


Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Barbara Miller
Screenwriter: Barbara Miller
Cast: Deborah Feldman, Leyla Hussein, Rokudenashiko, Doris Wagner, Yithika Yadav
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/23/19
Opens: October 18, 2019

#Female Pleasure (2018)

During the Age of Aquarius in America, Joan Baez would sing “Hard is the fortune of all womankind/ She’s always controlled, she’s always confined/ Controlled by her parents until she’s a wife/ A slave to her husband for the rest of her life.” You might not think that in free America—as compared, for example with Saudi Arabia—that women have it so bad, but of course there’s room even in our country before we can declare the two sexes absolutely equal. Things are worse, then, in some parts of the world, and Barbara Miller, who wrote and directs “#Female Pleasure,” takes us around the globe from Brooklyn to Japan to India and to the UK and to Italy, where women activists are challenging the rules enforced upon them by religion or by culture. You come away with the impression that Karl Marx was right in saying that religion was invented by men to keep women down–though he could add repressive cultures in general.

The Swiss director hones in on five women, capturing their legitimate beefs through both the interview format and through observing them living their lives. In one case she indicts entire societies in discussing the evil practice of FGM, or female genital mutilation, in which babies, really, five-year-old girls, are held down and have their clitoris cut out so that they cannot feel sexual pleasure. Strangely, though, the women do not explain why this is done. Presumably this is to prevent women from straying from their husbands. In other cases, religion, which of course is part of a culture, is indicted, interpreted by men to pronounce themselves superior to women and to exploit them for their own satisfaction.

The woman whose story meant the most for me was Deborah Feldman, as I had read her book “Unorthodox,” there describing her view of the Hasidic religious sect in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. She was one of the few who actually left, taking off on her own, living in Greenwich Village, her book describing her dismal view of the highly Orthodox people who do not allow women to choose their mates. (I think she did a disservice on those pages in which she tells all, describing the sexual practices of her ex-husband which must have humiliated him.) Feldman is seen driving her son inside the Hasidic community, asking him whether she should return to the fold and getting the obvious answer from the young man, “Let’s get out.” And that’s a male talking! We see films of Mea Shearim, the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Jerusalem, where the residents post large signs about respecting the local culture. Women are told to dress modestly—long sleeve shirts, skirts down about her ankles, though what Feldman could have added is that tourists who walk through the community with outfits that the residents consider immodest are spat upon, the women addressed as whores.

At least nobody in the Hasidic culture favors FGM. The bizarre custom of cutting a woman’s genitals when she is but a small child occurs largely in North Africa—Egypt, Somalia, for example, but also in Kenya. We hear from Leyla Hussein, who had the procedure forced on her. Like Feldman, she ultimately escaped the repressiveness by moving to the UK. At the very least she has convinced women in the expate Somali community to the anti-FGM cause, and when she visited the Masai in Kenya, learning that these women too had been mutilated, she gets their pledge not to do the same to their own daughters. As for the view that, hey, men, too are mutilated by some cultures by having their foreskins removed, she counters that the equivalent would be to have their entire penises removed.

Rokudenashiko, the nickname of manga artist Megumi Igarashi which means “good for nothing,” put vaginas in her cartoons for which she was arrested, tried, and acquitted of that charge, but she was convicted for making 3D images of the vagina, creating necklaces, iPhone cases and even a kayak using her own vulva as the design.

Miller also gives time to Doris Wagner, a German nun who claims that she was raped more than once by a priest, though we wonder why she would remain in the convent after a single instance, particularly since her charge was not taken seriously. She had written to Pope Francis, receiving no response, and is now a free woman who loves pop songs which, unlike what she heard in the convent deals with real human emotions.

Vithika Yadav, a feminist activist in India, makes us aware that the government in India appears not to take rape seriously, thinking, perhaps, that “Boys will be boys.” A street demonstration cast with men sympathetic to her cause reenacts the humiliation that women go through.

Some might say that the film is “all over the place,” since it deals with a variety of themes from genital mutilation to arranged marriage, but all falls under the umbrella of ways that women are not valued as much as are men, looked upon—except by me and you—as nothing more than baby-making machines whose pleasure is considered unimportant by men. If you are “woke,” i.e. socially aware, you know and rejects the attitude of male supremacy unearthed by this fascinating trip around the globe. Even so, you will be attentive to the sharp visuals in Jiro Akiba, Gabriela Betschart and Anne Misselwitz’s photography.

The film garnered awards and nominations at film festivals in Locarno, Leipzig, Austria and Thessalonika.

101 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – A-
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – A-

A SUITABLE GIRL – movie review


Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Directors: Sarita Khurana, Smriti Mundhra
Screenwriters:  Sarita Khurana, Smriti Mundhra
Cast:  Ritu, Amrita, Dipti
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/12/18
Opens: March 30, 2018

I’m not going to ask you, dear reader, for your opinion on the upcoming president’s meeting with Kim or what you think of protective tariffs, but rather on a surprisingly controversial issue: should marriages be arranged, whether by parents or professional matchmakers, or should you be free to choose your own partners?  Remember that the Western way is fraught with problems.  Fifty percent of marriages here wind up in divorce courts, and the other half are having affairs.  And we’re not even that free.  Could you date and marry Jennifer Aniston?  Jennifer Lawrence?  No.  We consciously or not limit ourselves to people whose looks are as good or bad as ours and whose positions in society (occupation and wealth) are similar.  On the other hand Hasidic Jews, whose marriages are arranged, have a miniscule divorce rate and stay together enough to have five, seven, ten kids (they don’t watch TV), and then some.

Marriage for love is a recent cultural invention, and it has not been tried long enough to come to a firm conclusion as to its efficacy. Arranged marriages, historically the choice of monarchs and peasants (though not to each other) in much of the world and most of its centuries, have endured to this very day.

In India, the women look at the men’s bank accounts and the men go gung-ho for looks, which, going by the above formula, means that money marries money and the handsome marry pretty.  The intriguing documentary, “A Suitable Girl,” happily avoids the deadening template for documentaries, meaning that there are no talking heads interviews.  We who are viewing are likes flies on the wall, listening in to the tears and laughs, frustrations and fruitions, of families of three marriageable women, one of whom would never tolerate being a servant, cook and cleaner for her husband, nor would she ask permission of the guy if she wants to work.

Writer-directors Sarita Khurana and Smriti Mundhra, in their first full-length film, hone in on three families, leaving it up to us to decide whether Indian women like the traditional way of finding mates or whether they thirst to break through for more freedom.  Khurana and Mundhra spend most of their time on Dipti and her family, perhaps because she is the least demanding of the trio (perhaps because she is the most desperate), or maybe because she laughs easily and is greatly attached to her parents.  She is, how-shall-we-say. a plus-size.  The matchmaker tells her that her weight is the principal reason her picture is rejected by prospective husbands, and this concerns her—but she does not succeed in cutting back on the ghee and samosas. While she combs through the ads in the newspaper, rejecting one fellow because he is vegetarian, she must also put up with face-to-face meetings with prospective men and listen to her parents’ questioning them as though they are brokers at a slave auction.

Amrita is the party-girl.  Though interested enough in marriage—largely because her society shuns those who are not—she will ultimately give up her life in the fiesta track to go along with society’s mandates.  She will get married but must look forward to a life of cooking and cleaning for her husband, even taking care of his parents as she is living with them.  (I’m familiar with a case close to home in which a Hispanic man is asked by his intended to join her in selecting a bed for their prospective home.  He insists that she will live with his parents.  She relents, they have a baby, and she in few months she’s fed up and moves out. There are subcultures within our own land of the free that have the same mores as those in India.)

There’s one hip woman in this doc.  Ritu, who lives in Mumbai—presumably with its big-city ideas of freedom—works for Ernst & Young. At age 25 she is more concerned about her career than marriage. She’ll be damned if she has to ask her new husband for permission to continue working, but things work out best for her as she and her man move to Dubai and will spend time there on the fast track.  Seema, her mother, does not see eye to eye with Ritu, and will miss her daughter even more than the other moms, but Ritu will have the kind of life she seeks even though the guy she met is through third-party arrangements. Yet, even she must deal with a self-hating Indian who wishes he were born in Europe where he could delay marriage and could select a bride freely, perhaps through his job.

By now we are aware that the feminist movement, now in its #MeToo phase, is active in the countries where women already have the most freedoms.  Women here do not have to wear tight-fitting saris unless they so choose, and as the old gag states, what they make for dinner is…reservations.

Unrated.  97 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B
Technical – B+
Overall – B+