The only thing that matters: GAIFF Critics Workshop

English Daily #3
Dear Levan and Forrest,

I'm glad that my first trip to Armenia was connected with cinema, though our days at the Golden Apricot Film Festival went by in a flash. By now we all know the walk from the House of Cinema to the Moscow Cinema by heart: a fifteen-min stroll across orange buildings, souvenir shops, and kebab joints. There was never a dull moment at GAIFF: inspiring meetings with famous directors, workshop sessions with our dear Leo, illuminating conversations with film industry folks from all over the world, not to mention the many afterparties, preferably with a cognac in hand. GAIFF’s crowning glory, however, was the breadth of its programming and the many memorable films we got to see.

As a feminist researcher, I was interested in films that dealt with women's problems and the discourses around them. I’m sure Claire Simon's multi-layered documentary Our Body will be talked about in the coming months, but here I’d rather tell you about two other relatively smaller but no less fascinating films. Orit Fouks Rotem's Cinema Sabaya (2021) screened in the festival’s Regional Panorama section. The film follows eight Arab and Jewish women who take part in a video workshop run by a young director, Rona. The women are encouraged to document their daily lives; shot in handheld, their videos largely home in on their everyday problems and pains. The film tries to break down the artificial barriers that separate them from each other and from the outside world, shedding light on the challenges faced by women from diverse cultures and backgrounds in a patriarchal society where their bodies, their only means of empowerment, are all too often controlled by men.

Similarly, Michal Vinik's Valeria is Getting Married (2022) also addresses the struggle for autonomy over one’s own body. The director follows two Ukrainian sisters who decide to marry Israeli men they meet online in an effort to secure citizenship abroad. One sister has already settled in Israel, and the other is contemplating making the same move. Valeria exposes the harsh reality faced by women fleeing from war. Their only means of survival is to act as bargaining chips and enter loveless marriages with men they barely know and end up treating them as possessions, as if marriage gave them the right to dominate their spouses’ minds and bodies.

On a much brighter note, I’d be remiss not to mention another film that left an indelible impression on me. Aki Kaurismaki's Fallen Leaves, a romance between two disenchanted loners in present-day Helsinki, was precisely the kind of beautiful tale that our ruthless modern world so desperately needs, a luminous reminder that love is the only thing that truly matters.

Wishing you love, my dear film nerds,