Wednesday, June 12, 2013

HRWFF ’13: Camera/Woman

In Morocco, men are rigidly patriarchal and domineering of woman, yet they often expect their wives and sisters to provide for them.  That is a nasty catch-22 to reconcile.  The divorced Khadija does her best as a wedding videographer, but it is never good enough for her freeloading family.  Karima Zoubir documents her daily grind in Camera/Woman (trailer here), an Al Jazeera co-production screening as part of the 2013 Human Rights Watch Film Festival.

Morocco is a man’s world, but women like Khadija do all the house work and evidently pay most of the bills.  After her divorce, she and her young son moved back in with her parents and her lazy brothers.  At least her mother does some cooking. The rest of the family seems incapable of doing anything besides passing judgment on her.  Yet, it is her jobs videotaping weddings (where everyone looks happy except the brides) and circumcision ceremonies that pays their rent. Unfortunately, that means she must work evening hours, which essentially makes her a prostitute in the eyes of her brother Abdel.  Why, he can barely find the magnanimity to gorge on the food she buys.

Eventually, Khadija’s conflict with her family reaches a critical point, remaining unresolved when Zoubir’s film ends.  If she made good on her promise to cut them off financially, there is an excellent chance they have all starved to death since then.

Yes, C/W is brought to you in part by Al Jazeera and, no, the film never digs too deeply into the socio-religious institutions responsible for the rampant sexism and exploitation Khadija and her fellow divorcees endure.  Still, the women mince no words, decrying: “In our society there’s no mercy. It’s ruthless.”  Likewise, it is clearly a disastrous Ramadan celebration when the family resentments come to a head.

C/W is far from a perfect film.  Khadija’s friends are not well established and most of her family is understandably camera shy.  Nonetheless, it vividly illustrates the misogynist nature of traditional Islamist society.  Camera/Woman is the sort of film that instills outrage and a feeling of helplessness in viewers.  Presented on a double bill with Going Up the Stairs, it makes a convincing case women’s rights are several millennia behind the times in the Middle East.  One of a handful of eye-opening selections at this year’s HRW Film Fest, Camera/Woman screens this coming Sunday (6/16) at the IFC Center and the following Tuesday (6/18) at the Francesca Beale Theater.