Monday 10 June 2024

Queendom (Agniia Galdanova, 2023)

Jenna Marvin, a queer artist from a small town in Russia, dresses in otherworldly costumes and protests the government on the streets of Moscow. Born and raised on the harsh streets of a frigid outpost of the Soviet gulag, Jenna stages radical and dangerous performances in public to change people's perception of beauty and queerness and bring attention to the harassment of the LGBTQ+ community. Queendom is a breathtaking portrait of creative courage. "I’m proud and excited to share this important coming-of-age story of this fearless artist Jenna Marvin who celebrates queerness and fights Putin's regime," states director Agniia Galdanova. "Her art is unique, rebellious, and hopeful, while her life story is urgently timely."

Queendom is produced by Agniia Galdanova and Igor Myakotin with executive producers Jess Search, David France, Arnaud Borges, and James Costa. It is a Galdanova Film production in association with Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program, International Documentary Association, InMaat Productions, Doc Society, and Sopka Films. Greenwich Entertainment's Andy Bohn negotiated the acquisition with Submarine's Ben Schwartz on behalf of the filmmakers. The film received its World Premiere at SXSW, followed by screenings at numerous festivals including BFI London Film Festival and International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA). Greenwich will release the award-winning film in cinemas and everywhere you rent films on June 14, 2024.

Source: DMAG PR

Images: BFI

Monday 3 June 2024

Four Daughters (Kaouther Ben Hania, 2023)

Earlier this year, acclaimed filmmaker Kaouther Ben Hania's Four Daughters (Arabic: Banāt Olfa; French: Les Filles d'Olfa) fell slightly short in its bid to win the Oscar for best documentary feature.  Ben Hania is no stranger to the Academy Awards, as her 2020 narrative film The Man Who Sold His Skin was nominated for best international feature; centring on a Syrian man who went to desperate lengths to reach Brussels, the film was based on a bizarre true story and starred Monica Bellucci and Belgian actor Koen de Bouw.  The Man Who Sold His Skin would eventually lose the Oscar race to Thomas Vinterberg's excellent Druk (AKA Another Round), and Four Daughters also faced some stiff competition in March when it came up against Maite Alberdi's The Eternal Memory, Christopher Sharp and Moses Bwayo's Bobi Wine: The People's President, Nisha Pahuja's To Kill a Tiger, and eventual winner 20 Days in Mariupol.

Four Daughters'  Dutch premiere took place in January, when it played in International Film Festival Rotterdam's Limelight strand, which also included such titles as Bertrand Bonello's The Beast, Sean Durkin's The Iron Claw and James Nunn's One More Shot.  This year, the Limelight section opened up its scope beyond Rotterdam, with audiences in Arnhem, Groningen, Maastricht and Den Bosch getting the chance to catch an advance screening of a film from the strand's eclectic selection.  Ben Hania's film focuses on a Tunisian family headed by single mum Olfa Hamrouni, who, as per the title, has four daughters.  In the wake of the First Arab Spring (which began in Tunisia, the only democracy to emerge from the uprisings), Olfa's two eldest girls—Rahma and Ghofrane—were radicalised and left home for a jihadist training camp in Syria.  Understandably, this left a huge hole in the lives of Olfa and her other two daughters, Eya and Tayssir.

In Four Daughters, actresses Nour Karoui and Ichraq Matar respectively take the roles of Rahma and Ghofrane, while Eya and Tayssir play themselves as events from the four girls' past are restaged for the camera.  While this is all quite straightforward—in essence, the sisters are joined by proxies for their absent siblings—matters get much cloudier when it comes to the mother's part in the film: even though Olfa is still very much present in the family home, she too is played by an actress (Hend Sabry), but the real Olfa is always ready to interrupt a scene when she feels it isn't playing out as she remembers.  It's suggested early on that Sabry's function is to act in those episodes which are too painful for Olfa to relive, although Eya and Tayssir are afforded no such safety net.  Given its slippery mix of fact and fiction, some may have been slightly surprised to see Four Daughters nominated for the best doc Oscar—it is certainly more of a docudrama than a strict documentary—but on balance it is fair to say that the film always has reality at its core.

As formally interesting as it is sincere, Four Daughters is sadly lacking when it comes to providing genuine insight into why these two girls decided to join Daesh; in this regard, Benedetta Argentieri's The Matchmaker—which documented the story of student Tooba Gondal, who left London to link up with ISIS in Syria—offered a more compelling look at the radicalisation of young women.  With her novel setup established, Kaouther Ben Hania appears wary of doing anything that could upset the metafictional apple cart, and the upshot is that the form eclipses the content.  But the quasi-family dynamic presented here is both moving and undeniably impressive, and there is much to like about the ways in which the performers interact with Olfa and her two remaining daughters.  Surprisingly, given its grim subject matter, Four Daughters is not without humour, and several of the reënactments elicit genuine laughter from all involved.  Yet no amount of hilarity can obscure the keen sadness at the heart of this fitfully engaging film.

Darren Arnold

Images: Jour2Fête