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International Cinema: March 2024 Films Recap

IC explores justice, otherness, and feminism in March’s films and lectures.

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Every month, International Cinema holds free international film lectures and showings. These films explore various themes and display a wide array of cultures. In March, 2024, faculty members throughout the College of Humanities presented lectures about five films before their showings.

February 28–March 2: In a Better World

Produced in 2010 and directed by Susanne Bier, this film follows two boys in Denmark who bond over the injustices they see at school and home. Before its showing, Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies Chip Oscarson (Interdisciplinary Humanities, Scandinavian Studies) presented a lecture titled “Personal Politics and Global Melodrama in the Films of Susanne Bier.”

Oscarson began with a bit of background information about Bier, who was born in 1960 in Copenhagen and graduated from the National Film School of Denmark in 1987. Her film In a Better World won the 2011 Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Oscarson explained that while the film’s title translates to In a Better World in English, the film has more to do with revenge than making the world better. It features several examples of people making wrong choices—some intentionally and some because of circumstances out of their control. Bier deliberately muddles the definitions of good and evil to make the audience think about how they would react in a similar situation.

March 6–9: The Other Son

Produced in 2012 and directed by Lorraine Lévy, this film follows two men, one Israeli and one Palestinian, who discover they were unintentionally switched at birth. This discovery makes both young men struggle to accept their true identities.

Monica Richards (Hebrew Language Acquisition and Pedagogy), a faculty member of the Department of Asian & Near Eastern Languages, gave a lecture called “An Introduction to The Other Son.” She explained that although The Other Son takes place in Israel and Palestine, it is directed by a French woman. Since the filmmakers came from a French background, they had more freedom to portray both Israelis and Palestinians without bias, rather than with an outlook colored by the tensions between both groups.

Richards said that a more accurate translation of the film’s title is The Other’s Son, as in the son that belongs to the “other side.” She explained that because Israelis and Palestinians rarely interact with each other, they often consider each other the “faceless enemy,” which inspires a tendency to “otherize,” or view the other side as intrinsically different from themselves. When the two sons in this film discover their true identities, they both struggle to accept that they belong to the group that they hated for so long. However, the young men ultimately learn to see the humanity in all people, regardless of political boundaries or differences.

March 13–16: The Eternal Feminine

Produced in 2017 and directed by Natalia Beristáin, this film portrays the life of author and poet Rosario Castellanos, from her time as a university student to later becoming a prominent figure in the feminist movement in 1950s Mexico. Additionally, the film depicts her complicated relationship with Ricardo Guerra Tejada, her philosopher husband.

Professor Doug Weatherford (Latin American Film) presented a lecture titled “The Eternal Feminine: An Introduction to the Life and Literature of Rosario Castellanos.” He touched on a few recurring visuals in the film, such as mirrors and reflections, books, stairs, and framing of characters. He said that Castellanos often appears in the “margins” of the frame, which could be Beristáin’s way of symbolizing the isolation or dread Castellanos may have felt as a woman trying to find her place in a society dominated by men.

Weatherford explained that while based on real events, the film does not represent the individuals in the story with complete accuracy. However, he also said Beristáin depicted the complexity of Castellanos and Tejada’s relationship in a sympathetic way. While Tejada’s unfaithfulness and jealousy makes him unlikable to the audience, Weatherford noted that Beristáin portrayed the positive aspects of Tejada’s legacy.

March 20–23: I Am Not Madame Bovary

Produced in 2016 and directed by Feng Xiaogang, this satirical film, based on the book by Liu Zhenyun, follows a woman named Li Xuelian who tries to attain a legitimate divorce to separate herself from the man who accused her of cheating and then cheated on her.

Steve Riep (Asian Literature and Film), professor of Asian & Near Eastern Languages at BYU, presented a lecture titled “Neither Bovary nor Pan: Who Really is Li Xuelian Anyway?” where he explained the significance of the film’s title. In English, “Madame Bovary” refers to the French novel Madame Bovary: Mœurs de province, in which the titular character has multiple affairs because she finds her husband boring. The Chinese equivalent of this novel is Jin Ping Mei. The main character, Pan Jinlian, also has an affair and even kills her husband when he discovers it. Directly translated from Chinese, the title of this film is actually I Am Not Pan Jinlian. The movie’s plot refers back to this classic story, though with a twist: Xuelian’s husband labeled her as a cheater even though she was never unfaithful. Xuelian spends the entire movie trying to clear her name and get a real divorce.

Riep also explained how the time period influenced the film. While the exact year the story takes place in is unknown, we do know that the story occurred sometime between 1979 and 2015, when China had a one-child policy. The film portrays the various disparities between men and women during that time. For example, men could marry more than once, while women could not. Men also had more power in the bureaucracy, and, as Riep pointed out, the film featured no females in significant positions of power. These two instances of inequality made Xuelian’s quest to attain a legitimate divorce much more difficult than it would have been for a man.

March 27–30: Hawa

Produced in 2022 and directed by Maïmouna Doucouré, this film follows a young girl named Hawa who decides to ask Michelle Obama to be her adoptive mother to avoid foster care. As Hawa faces the imminent passing of her guardian—her terminally ill grandmother—she worries about her future. Additionally, Hawa is albino and neurodivergent, and she feels that those traits will ostracize her from the majority of her community and make her search for another guardian difficult. She figures that if anyone would be loving and accepting of her regardless of her looks and personality, it would be Michelle Obama.

Professor Marc Olivier (Film and Media, 18th-Century Literature), professor in the French & Italian Department, gave a lectured titled “The Power of Storytelling in Hawa.” He explained how Hawa’s identity and unique characteristics give her unexpected strengths. For instance, as Hawa embarks on a unique journey to find Michelle Obama, her albinism and neurodiverse way of thinking allow her to accomplish that goal. Olivier said, “Perhaps only someone straddling multiple identities—someone so accustomed to being on the outside that they’ve always had to make space for themselves, someone who thinks differently and ignores roadblocks— perhaps that person has the power to reach unimagined heights.”

Stay up to date on upcoming films and lectures by visiting the International Cinema website.