Female melancholia in European cinema relates to the expression of women suffering or subjugation in the society through the use of art. A number of filmmakers in Europe employ the melancholic style in order to capture the state of life considering the state of women, which was often degrading. Although men occupy a dominant position, they seem to have either disappeared or failed to play their roles. In addition, through cinema, the filmmakers highlight how the society reduced the significance of women to mere sex objects and instruments of reproduction. The present paper explores melancholy in European cinema and relies on the examples of French film Cleo, Spanish film Volver and Italian film Mia Madre.
Understanding melancholy is critical towards the comprehension of its perpetuation. Melancholic acting entails the display of emotional sensitivity, perfectionism and timidity (Beauvoir 15). Further, one may characterize a melancholic attitude due to perfectionism, which is an attribute that refers to idealism. However, idealism is an attitude espoused by the individuals who try to perceive the things in a specific way (Beauvoir 16). Such persons become distressed if the related situations do not occur as expected. In other words, they demand high standards that are not easy to scale or match. Due to the inability to match the expectations, frustrations often ensue.
Many films have focused on melancholic expressions of life. Referring to Melancholia, Elsaesser (1-23), the European sense of ending certain ways of life appeared with reference to the cinematic issues. For example, the movie melancholia is a stark reminder that humanity is not sustainable. The film aligns with the position that has been perpetuated by other movies such as Armageddon, Independence Day, Day After Tomorrow, Prometheus, War of the Worlds, and Interstellar. Unlike the past films, which logically arrive to the end, in the present day movies by Hollywood, total extinction is often averted close to the end (Elsaesser 12). Such artistic expressions capture some aspects of life that are traumatic or threatening hence melancholic.
The melancholia film also demonstrates that incessant human conflicts are likely to play a role to the demise of the universe. In the present day, the wars occur due to the differences in religion, fights over resources, racial-based confrontations, and natural disasters such as global warming (Elsaesser 12). In this regard, the melancholy exhibited in European cinema is the one, which reflects the possible annihilation of humanity or an “end of cinema”. In other words, cinema faces the danger of extinction. With the rise of technological changes, cinema is under increasing threat of disappearance (Elsaesser 13). Due to the competition with the Internet and television, cinema has to undertake the extraordinary actions to overcome the challenge.
Cléo from 5 to 7 Film
Female film makers have contributed to the advancement of melancholia that is displayed by the drama arts. According to the suggestions of the feminist theory, the participation of women in various matters has often faced curtailments without valid justifications. The case applies to the film and drams. Neroni (71-100) observed that early, when the film industry was at the nascent stage, the sector was open to women but by 1930, it had become closed. Regardless of the occurred changes, the industry remains comparatively closed to women even nowadays.
Agnès Varda’s Cléo de 5 à 7 (Cléo from 5 to 7) emerged before major developments of the feminist theory. Varda’s films concentrate on the contradictions between female beauty and the social definition of women (Neroni 87). Varda focuses on the political life. In the past, she has publicly vented her frustrations about anti-abortion laws. The feminist’s worldview informed such disappointments which fueled her creativity.
Cléo from 5 to 7 presents an opening scene involving a famous singer Cleo, who probably suffers from cancer. In the remainder of the scene, Cleo wanders over acquaintances in her life while contemplating feelings about the women (Neroni 87). While wandering, Cleo confronts a number of existential crises alongside many other unanswered questions. Given the gravity of the problems, it is likely that the audience feels sympathetic to the actress’ plight. It is also evident that the film does not portray Cleo as a feminist heroine. On the contrary, the actress is cast to capture the contradictions of feminism.
According to the film, Cleo is uncertain about her own identity. For example, when she attempts to assess her own image, she seems to be a lost woman (Neroni 87). The moments she spends trying to figure herself in the mirrors happen to be among the most painful and anxious ones. Surprisingly, the moments also pass as the most existential ones since Cleo wonders about herself, her beauty and identity. While travelling, the woman meets other people who have certain expectations about her.
The film demonstrates the cases, involving the women who prefer to be viewed as sex objects. The drama achieves the objective by investigating the association between beauty and commodity, enjoyment of beauty, enjoyment of the consumption of feminism, and anxiety about cancer diagnosis among women (Neroni 88). There is more melancholy in the title of the film, which implies the everyday life of Cleo, from 5 to 7. In other words, the events in the movie occur within the period of two hours every day. In French, the terms refer to slang, meaning a sexual affair based on such durations. Despite the above possibilities, the film is about Cleo’s frustrations about the possibility of facing death.
The filmmakers display clearly Cleo at the beginning of the film. The actress also constantly radiates her beauty through various women actions (Neroni 82). Later, it emerges that Cleo is a famous musician who produced many hit songs. It is interesting to note that almost every person she meets notes that she is beautiful, except the last man. With few exceptions, all acquaintances of Cleo are likely to happen due to her femininity.
The melancholy demonstrated in the film reveals how the society views and regards beauty. Whenever people perceive women to be beautiful, they link the beauty to their anatomy. Female beauty is a strong ideology because it is essentially tied to the women’s body (Neroni 88). The female beauty ideology invokes the perception that some women are lucky (the beautiful ones) while others (ugly) are not. However, the society fails to proclaim that female beauty is a signification system. Ideal beauty has a set of social signifiers. Thus, it is not surprising that women often act according to the customs and traditions, which pertains to how they should dress and behave.
The Cléo from 5 to 7 film is critical for demonstrating feminism in the industry. For example, the movie manages to highlight how political, social and theoretical movements have influenced feminist film theory. In the United States, the Civil Rights Movement, which was a reflection of underrepresentation and the oppression of women, highlights a part of the melancholy displayed in the old films. The movement focused on addressing the issues facing the minorities, and to a large degree informed female film makers that it was possible to voice their grievances in order to change the society (Neroni 71). It reveals an aspect of feminist melancholy since women are portrayed as victims of oppression.
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The framing of women’s bodies has played an influential role pertaining to the highlights of feminist film melancholy. There was a restriction of females to the certain areas, ways of dressing in addition to being portrayed as sex objects (Neroni 73). Although viewed as negative, the film accurately captured the place of women in the society. Moreover, the given story played a significant role in the creation of an ideal woman. Consequently, the film contributed to pushing women further into limited roles.
Although the coding of females continues to change, the portrayal of women as sex objects has persisted. Their positioning is contrasted with that of men, who appear as subjects rather than objects (Neroni 74). In addition, the techniques that film makers employ help in depicting women as objects by specifically focusing on highlighting certain parts (legs, hips, breasts, etc.) of the body.
The concern with cinema’s presentation of the woman’s body is that it is rarely seen despite being viewed directly. Thus, there is a difficulty in acknowledging how the body works ideologically given preexisting associations between the body and its anatomy (Neroni 74). People view the body as a biological entity as opposed to a political or social one. However, feminists consider that the body is the interplay between biology and culture. However, they mask the position by the ideological view of the body as a biological piece. Consequently, such perceptions aid the society to undermine women.
The framing of the body influences perception through different media. For example, the frames form the basis for the Internet, media, television and films (Neroni 75). Moreover, it creates a feeling of claustrophobia given that these perceptions greatly influence character’s development and personality.
The films capture the role of mothers as objects that are useful in facilitating biological reproduction. In this regard, the value of women is in giving birth to the children and nurturing them or supporting them to mature into adults (Neroni 82). Although such a role is demanding, the society does not express sufficient respect for the mothers who implement such important task. Instead, the fils portray the women as people who only meet the part of their duties. After satisfying such demands, it is expected that the mothers disappear from the scene and let their husbands, namely the fathers, to bring the children to school. Moreover, women learn how to progress in their professional lives. The portrayal of such images in the film is not only demeaning to women, but also reinforces negative culture that focuses on their sabotaging (Neroni 82). Even the working class of women should not deviate from the societal expectation of nurturing children, and if they happen to disobey this rule, they are deemed as sexist and deviants.
The film interweaves the issues of beauty, image and the place of women in the culture with subjectivity, death, and existential crises. Through such an approach, beauty ideologies contribute to, or shape subjectivity. Therefore, the film initially portrays Cleo as naturally beautiful, looking tall, thin, blond, and with a model face makes. To emphasize the lady’s beauty, the film repeatedly highlights peoples’ reactions whenever they meet Cleo.
Spanish Film Volver
The movie demonstrates the tribulations that Volver encounters. The woaman faces both personal and group traumas, which appear later to complicate her present life. Thus, besides functioning as a powerful piece of female melancholia in the cinema, the film also exemplifies the witnessing mode that was popular in such pieces of art. In addition, it shows that it is possible to understand both the present and the past due to the traumatic experiences of the people. According to Gutiérrez-Albilla (325), the film tries to show that the utopian rural environment provides an alternative to the adverse patriarchal and late-modern historic paradigms. Unfortunately, returning to the utopia requires a nostalgic operation. In addition, the film attempts to incorporate memory into the current world without inciting contradictions or longings of late modernity.
The three sequences of the film highlight various issues pertaining to melancholy. According to Gutiérrez-Albilla (326), the descriptions show how Volver is confronting historical losses with specific focus on life and death, the uncertainty that characterizes anxiety between the past and present, shift in personal/ public spaces and societal tribulations that influence daily life. According to story of Volver, the return to and from collective/ personal problems as well as incompatible memories have an impact on the present-day life. Gutiérrez-Albilla (326) concedes that the power of the past serves as an indelible force within peoples’ minds and bodies. For example, the ghost of the mother enters the physical space and contributes to the gravity of the past traumas. Such circumstances that entail revisiting the past influence the present life, since the victims are unable to overcome the challenges that occur with the relevant concerns. In compliance with the analysis of Gutiérrez-Albilla (326), the film exemplifies traumatic cinema, captured through the relations between children and dead paternal figures. Considering the collective sense, the trauma is a result of the Francoist regime.
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The regime issue revolves around the political repression perpetuated in the country of the cast. The rape of Raimunda by the father and the attempted rape of Raimunda’s daughter by the husband reflect personal trauma (Gutiérrez-Albilla 326). However, the above case is an allegory of the political landscape in Spain under the leadership of Franco embodied in the character of Paco.
The ills of the patriarchal society relate to those of the government. The traces of the negative past contribute to the present occasions, thus posing permanent problems for the victims (Gutiérrez-Albilla 326). Interestingly, Raimunda’s husband is called Francisco, which resonates with the Spanish dictator’s name. The Francois regime has haunted the Spanish nation within a long period hence using the name is intended to evoke the bad memories. Although such occurrences happened in the past, they definitely affect present-day life.
In the film, it is noted that people are preoccupied with the unknown. For example, engaging in burials and reburials are the important issues in the lives of some actresses. The burials of Raimunda’s parents and Agustina’s mother, the exhumation of Paco’s body and its reburial are traumatic events that reflect the life of the Spanish people under the regime of Francois (Gutiérrez-Albilla 326). In this regard, the film highlights how women had to expend their energies to bury their loved ones. To undertake such traumatic activities, the women need both psychological and emotional efforts. However, the history of fighting under the negative leadership meant that women had to overcome significant challenges in their lives. The corresponding events at the state level have contributed to the breakdown of the family structure, with men disappearing or being killed, thus putting women under immense pressure to raise their families.
Another aspect that the film highlights is how the rapid modernization of Spain caused traumatic experiences to the citizens. Due to the emerging changes, a sense of alienation at the individual level and feelings of marginalization increased (Gutiérrez-Albilla 326). For example, migrant people, such as the Latin American prostitutes, feel a sense of alienation. Such a past is fraught with negative experiences that people do not aspire to encounter again.
The Volver is not only warm and emotional, but it also borders on the brink of tears since it is peppered with pique, past resentments and moments of lyrical longing. In addition, the kisses and machine-gun smacks planted by the characters with affection remain equally fascinating. Melancholy is apparent from the title itself, which implies coming back (Gutiérrez-Albilla 327). The film is a mark of a return to the past/ roots. The past is the world of mothers and women. The Spanish director is trying to recollect a painful disagreement that occurred 16 years earlier.
The film Volver is a representation of a radical shift from bad education. Although melancholic in its portrayal, Volver possesses irresistible humor (Gutiérrez-Albilla 327). It reflects the indomitable spirit that exceeds the despair that the characters are facing. Born in the same town, the characters face similar challenges. The women come from a small town and lived in depressed low-rent houses in the outskirts of Madrid. Within the area, it is common for housewives to befriend prostitutes. The women in Volver resemble survivors.
In the film, Irene (Maura) is killed alongside the husband in a raging fire but returns as a ghost. The intention of her coming is to correct some mistakes, which she was unable to meet during her life (Chocano 1-2). In specific, the lady comes back for her daughters Raimunda (Cruz) and Sole (Lola Duenas). In the initial scenes, the daughters are tending their parents’ graves (Chocano 1-2). One neighbor named Agustina is also tending her own grave as customs demand. Moreover, Agustina has been caring about Paula who suffers from the late stages of dementia. Despite the advanced illness, Paula is caring well about herself (Chocano 1-2). The house is well stocked as she manages to give the two sisters some items. According to Agustina’s explanation, Irene’s ghost is returning to care about Paula, and she claims that the observation is true because many neighbors have spotted her (Irene).
Raimunda has a difficult life because she married a perennial loser (Paco) who is an alcoholic. Both Raimunda and Sole find the idea strange and terrifying. The moment when Irene returns to Madrid via the trunk of Sole’s vehicle, she is forced to insinuate herself into the lives of her daughters cautiously. The reappearance of Iren seems to be timely since Raimunda and Paula soon encounter a major predicament. The incident is an opportunity for suspense and tension rather than for expressing solidarity and strength. La Mancha’s spirit seems more than the mere return of Irene because it is infused in the burdensome town that is also home to many undocumented youth. When in need of help, Raimunda consults Regina, a prostitute from the Dominican Republic (Chocano 1-2). Given that men in the neighborhood are not reliable, women organize themselves into a society that strengthens their solidarity.
Evidently, Almodóvar expertly chronicles the Spanish soul by deftly weaving the aged and new Spanish into one. The town in the cast resembles a friendly ghost of its glorious past. It is now arid and windy. Unlike in the past, there are many turbines instead of quixotic windmills in the La Mancha countryside. Although the shift indicates integration of modernity in the area, fires and associated problems affect the region negatively. As the director posits, returning to La Mancha equates to going to maternal bosom. The issues that Raimunda encounters in her attempts to follow the new changes depicts the kind of challenges that people encounter.
Medak-Seguín (2-15) also concentrates on the oppression of women in the society relying on the film. According to the author, female voices within the Spanish society were muted and condemned to a miserable life. Medak-Seguín (2-15) acknowledges that the film is an excellent exemplification of melancholy as it recasts the past based on the society’s subjugation of women.
The review by Marcantonio (77-79) proves the significant analysis of female melancholy in the Volver film. Similarly to the other authors, he underscores the absence of fathers from family matters, despite the fact that their obligation is to be the family leaders. In essence, the review is critical in highlighting the tribulations that women suffered in the Spanish society. Focusing on the ills experienced in the past, the film manages to highlight a form of regret due to the injustices of the society.
Italian Film Mia Madre
Paying attention to some characters is also useful in developing the feminist melancholic theme. Margherita and Giovanni are witnessing their mother’s suffering. Unlike Margherita, Giovanni is not a workaholic (Grusin 7). The film is a huge political undertaking that requires significant investments. According to the author, one of the main themes of the Nanni Moretti’s cinema is the effort to reconcile the political issues with the personal ones. In the film Mia Madre, one of the most vivid expressions related to the theme is expressed (Grusin 11). In the play, the director tussles with her ailing mother while attempting to create a movie about a strike at a factory. Although hilarity ensues, Moretti introduces a tender and nuanced follow-up. Overall, the Mia Madre is a melancholic film that displays an element of fun based on the contradiction of a subject to match thoughts and actions or vision and reality.
Margherita emerges in the scene in the middle of a confrontation between the police and protesting workers. In the ensuing argument, Margherita scolds the cameramen for focusing too much on the blows of the policemen on the protesters (Beauvoir 23). The question posed to the cameraman is if he wants to be the worker or remain cameraman. In essence, filmmakers have the power to influence the audience since it is not important what they capture, but how they do it. Regardless of the afore-mentioned fact, the episode highlights some of the problems society is facing as the film coalesces into an uneasy activity that pities competing energies.
Margherita’s scenes raise melancholy based on the health of her mother. Suffering ill-health is traumatizing occurrence that is often difficult to overcome. In addition, the fact that Barry finds novel ways to undermine every scene adds to the negative tone pursued by the film. In addition, Moretti intersperses short dream sequences, where Margherita reassess events and figures of her life (Beauvoir 24). The questions that the authors pose later show the concerns in the mind of Moretti. The issues relate to the valuation of work and the life interests. It also seems that Margherita is sad because she considers frustrating that the mother has invested so much in books and education, but the significance of what she learned will disappear after her death. The exclamation, “Where will all these books go — all that work?” is testament of Margherita’s anguish.
The concern is both existential and practical. Considering the fate of the mother, a loss is likely to be witnessed since decaying and disintegration are the outcomes of death. Without any doubt, Margherita is also likely to pose such questions to herself. For example, it is questionable if the movie she is making will generate the value equal to the investment (Beauvoir 14). The film shifts further its tone from setting the chaos to sadness at the hospital stasis.
It is worth noting that Moretti does not succumb into the cliché of being worried about Margherita’s time spending. Moreover, it is evident that working on a film is a difficult task and requires balancing time between the family and the venture. However, the heart and emotions of Mia Madre focus on minute details, which Moretti often considers familiar. The above contradictions related to the expectations highlight the disharmony in the society.
It is possible to define the issue of sadness in Margherita’s dream that her mother has died. When she is awake and finds that her mother is in a hospital room and still alive, she expresses heartbreaking relief (Beauvoir 15). In addition, Margherita’s tribulations persist as she nearly experiences a nervous breakdown due to her inability to get a useless electric bill. In order to temper the disappointment, Moretti ties the bill to irrelevant tasks. The concerns extend to the set scenes as it is seen in the manner of cloud assistants follow the demands of the director silently regardless of their irrational nature. Thus, the film is a reflection of issues that contribute misery to a woman’s life.
Feminist melancholy emerges as a major theme in the European cinema. In the French film, it is evident that the focus on the melancholy is associated with the societal perception of beauty. The movie depicts beauty as biological feature, hence not being connected with the woman’s efforts. The females are forced to believe in the patriarchal societal narrative, hence being viewed as appendages of men. The filmmaker also manages to demonstrate that subjectivity, death and existential crises affect the lives of women in a negative way. The Italian film Mia Madre is hilarious although it comprises numerous melancholic scenes. The given position depends on its exhibition of the contradiction between matching subjects and thoughts with actions, vision, and reality. The film Volver, as well as the other two, demonstrates melancholy since even its title implies the return. Thus, it is a mark of returning to the past, which is characterized by the presence of mothers and women. The film is a recollection of a painful disagreement that emerged a number of years before.