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Howdy. We've moved from Cayce, but St. Elizabeth of South Rose Hill or Lizette de Waccamaw de Sud just don't do it for me.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Chick Flicks

Izzy & I have been to two pretty good movies together recently, Water and Beauty Academy of Kabul. Both are all about women's issues in exotic (at least foreign) locales; both are also mainly about hope and joy.

In Water, the 1938-era story focuses on a child-bride now widow, who has no memory of being married to a man whose death now condemns her to secluded life in an Ashram with other outcast widows. And this is for Brahmin widows--one wonders how harsh the lives of lower caste widows must have been. As the India changes, suttee has been abolished (officially), but Hindu widows are still expected to put themselves away from society--society that fears even crossing their shadows. Life is hard and the older women enforce the social code that the younger women must learn to accept or defy at their peril, as do any who question the conventions of the time.

In the Beauty Academy of Kabul, Afghani women gather behind their walls and curtains (despite one character's attempts to unveil the goings on inside.) They refine the trade that many of them have been plying in secret during the Taliban reign of terror--making themselves and other women feel beautiful. When they venture beyond the walls of their homes, their elaborate hairstyles and lovely jewelry are hidden inside the burkhas that render them all the same, all less dangerous to the culture. The curlers and perming rods in home salons were all the "construction" happening in the bombed-out ruins of the once-prosperous civilization.

There are lots of feminist themes that could be explored, plus clashes of cultures, traditional roles in religious societies, etc. What left Izzy and me amazed was the cluelessness of the two American women in Beauty Academy. One, coiffed a la Liza Minelli, kept trying to tell women that they had a duty to be avant garde in their dress and hairstyles and took off driving ("This place is just like Indiana") to flaunt convention. She tells the students: "It's your job to set the trends. If you guys don't do it, how will Afghanistan change?" (Did she see no coverage of what the Taliban did to women with exposed ankles? Does she think that the defeat of the Taliban means that no more of their attitudes persist?)

Another tried to teach 2-mnute meditative centering techniques that the women could use to decrease the stress of caring for their families, cooking, going to school, dealing with familial disapproval/ stress/ crises / continuing warfare, etc. Their faces giggling during the exercisse was probably a better stress reducer.

One of the Americans (with a Brit) is brought back to earth when she asks an Afghani woman what she thinks the world would be like if it were run by women. The answer wastes no time imagining a different set of circumstances: Where is such a place with such rules? What families would allow this? There can never be such a place because families would not allow such a thing. Her answer isn't hopeless; it's pragmatic. Just like the pragmatism of Didi in Water as she questions her life circumstances, but respects her Hindu tradition. There aren't easy answers, but there can be serenity, and these women can teach us much about living under stress.

My lasting memories of both films, I think, though, will be the joy. Even in the worst conditions, there is beauty and love, and these bring hope.


Gashwin said...

Neat review, St. Lizzy! I haven't seen Water yet ... you really should check out Earth (which is an adaptation of a great book by Pakistan author Bapsi Sidwa, "Ice-Candy Man Cometh"). I loved the book ... the first time I watched Earth I had to stop because it got me really homesick ... mainly the big bungalow and the Gujarati ... :)

Part of the series is Fire, a lot more controversial, with a lesbian love-affair between two sisters-in-law ... I found it a little ho-hum really.

UltraCrepidarian said...

Water is a great film, although I didn't like the ending.

May I recommend Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gam. One of the best of Bollywood films, with most of my favourite actors; and it explores some of these issues, but with an authentically Indian perspective, not the perspective of a westerner imposing their views on the east, which is what I find annoying about Water, and any other director with a western mentality, approaching an eastern culture. This might sound weird, since this means that I, a white man, dare criticize an Indian woman for her portrayal of a real Indian dilemma. I just felt that the movie was emotionally heavy handed and kind of told you what to think too much, by how it was told.