Films on the Green: Women of Mediterranean Cinema

July 17, 2015 | By Sultana Seban-Sumner

This year’s Films on the Green Festival centered on the theme of La Méditerranée, but a hidden common thread of strong and confident female roles also weaved through our series. Below, we highlight these powerful, resilient, liberated, and confident figures.

Juliette in …And God Created Woman
Juliette is an 18-year-old orphan with a high level of sexual energy. She makes no effort to restrain her natural sensuality—lying nude in her yard, habitually kicking her shoes off, walking around barefoot, and disregarding many societal restraints and the opinions of others.

Layale, Nisrine, Rima, and Jamale in Caramel
Caramel features diverse, independent, and nonconformist women in a traditional Lebanese society, like Rima, a lesbian, and Jamale, an older single mom who never gives up on her dreams of being an actress. A determined perseverance through their struggles characterizes both women.   

Gaby in Pépé le Moko
Gaby, the mistress of a rich businessman, goes to Algeria and subsequently falls madly in love with the Gangster Pépé, who hides out in the Casbah. Defying her former lover, Gaby chases Pépé, until she hears the (ultimately false) news of his death.  Devastated, she goes back to her old lover and returns to France. 

Irène in Priceless
Irène is a fiercely free and independent woman who uses her charms and seductive beauty to bring men to their knees.

Bouboulina in Zarafa
As Maki, a Sudanese orphan, and his giraffe make their way from Africa to France, they come across the pirate queen Bouboulina and her ragtag crew.  A benevolent ruler with no king, Bouboulina rescues Maki and allows him to join her crew as she guides him on his journey.  Talk about a lady in charge. 

Fulla in Goha
Fulla, a beautiful young woman who is betrothed an old and well-established man, falls in love with the poor, young Goha and risks her reputation in traditional Tunisia for love, placing her own wellbeing and instincts above all else. 

Hélène in Queen to Play
The lovely, repressed, and quietly intelligent chambermaid Hélène discovers that she has a knack for chess. The newfound obsession—which her family frowns upon—leads her to seek the tutelage of a reclusive American expat. Through the game, Helen gains empowering knowledge about the world outside of her reach.

Jacquie in La Dérive
The picture of sexual liberation, Jacquie is no stranger to sleeping around, or to the occasional consequences of her carpe diem spirit, which she readily admits. Her mother, similarly free, reminds Jacquie that she can and should control her men. Banned at the time of its release, La Dérive has met wide acclaim for its precocious and daring subject matter.

Haydée in La Collectionneuse
Two men vacation at their friend’s house with a very young woman named Haydée who turns up, often very late at night, with a different lover each time they see her. The vacation that the friends had envisioned transforms because of Haydée, whose power over men becomes increasingly evident as she lives up to her reputation as a “collector” or “collectionneuse” of relationships.

Zlabya in The Rabbi’s Cat
The Algerian Rabbi’s daughter Zlabya is anything but traditional. She is a modern teenage girl: independent and driven—a powerful force.  Zlabya is also loving and caring toward both her father and his cat.  She reminds audiences of New Wave feminists who challenged the confines imposed on women in society and rejected the limitations set by social norms.

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