With the MeToo movement bringing much-needed attention to the toxic power dynamics that are so often at work between men and women, we might expect cinema to take on this problem in a way it has not before. The film also clearly draws attention to the power dynamics of rape, powerfully demystifying the figure of the rapist. Soon it becomes painfully clear that the sexual violence in the film mostly serves as a tortured metaphor. Erasure is also at work when films confuse consequence for symbolism. In Berlin, this was amplified by the shameful inclusion of the rape-filled Human, Space, Time and Human in the lineup, a film from the Korean auteur Kim Ki-duk, himself the subject of extensive sexual assault allegations , which he has denied.
This greater awareness is very much welcome, but with it should come a much more nuanced attention to the way cinema represents sexual violence. But for every scandal, little attention has focused on how dozens of other films dealing with sexual violence against women treat the topic. The fact that so few of these films explore the impact and trauma, specifically the psychological consequences of such violations seems testament to a lack of engagement beyond shock value. Auteurs from Bertolucci and Polanski to Lars von Trier and Michael Haneke have built their careers around making films dealing with sexual violence, particularly against women. Soon it becomes painfully clear that the sexual violence in the film mostly serves as a tortured metaphor. With the MeToo movement bringing much-needed attention to the toxic power dynamics that are so often at work between men and women, we might expect cinema to take on this problem in a way it has not before. Films as varied as Wind River , Nocturnal Animals and The Birth of a Nation all focused on the experiences of men close to and around female victims, turning stories of female physical violation into narratives of hurt male pride and temporary disruption of the patriarchal order. However, Dominika niftily flips the terms of the encounter, undressing and offering herself to him instead. For the greater awareness and momentum of the current climate to endure, cinema cannot turn sexual violence into another plot point or symbol, and ignore the specific experiences of victims. The film also clearly draws attention to the power dynamics of rape, powerfully demystifying the figure of the rapist. In Graduation, a young girl is the victim of an attempted rape. If the festival wished to seriously engage with the matter at hand, it needed to do more than select films filled with rape. Merely addressing that topic or presenting an act of rape without exploring its consequences on the victim should no longer be good enough. In Berlin, this was amplified by the shameful inclusion of the rape-filled Human, Space, Time and Human in the lineup, a film from the Korean auteur Kim Ki-duk, himself the subject of extensive sexual assault allegations , which he has denied. Erasure is also at work when films confuse consequence for symbolism. We can only hope that a wealth of films — commercial, independent and arthouse — will devote more time to the lived realities of sexual violation. By contrast, representations of sexual violence in general and rape in particular are anything but rare in arthouse and independent cinema. To see a commercial film address the topic of sexual violence and identify its mundane, non-sexual roots, is rare, and exciting. There is progress in Red Sparrow choosing to centre on Dominika, the victim of an actual rape early on in the story. Though men can and do leverage their power and influence in order to elicit consensual sex with women, they also deliberately develop strategies for taking advantage of women through coercion. The Salesman, meanwhile, comes even closer to co-opting the Death Wish and Taken mode, by focusing on an outraged husband tracking down the man who assaulted his wife, a woman whose character and actual experience remain largely oblique and at the margins of the film. There, she is taught to identify the one thing that a human target desires — and to become that thing to extract information.
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