Perhaps it says something about my tastes or my interests that all of the films I’ve seen so far at Silverdocs offer extreme views of womanhood. Last night’s highlight was The Great Happiness Space: Tale of an Osaka Love Thief, a fascinating film about male “Host Clubs” in Japan. There are apparently hundreds of these clubs all over Japan, and the concept is brilliant: men are the product here, women the consumers, and what the men are selling, they say, are “dreams”. Romantic dreams, to be specific. What the women are paying for isn’t sex, but attention. Flirting, touching, snuggling, romantic gestures. The host’s job is to get the girls to fall in love and therefore become repeat customers. They have it down to a science. Women are very “demanding” they say. They need a lot of superficial compliments. But the most fascinating observation they make is that once they reel the women in with compliments, they switch to scolding. And that’s when the women fall in love. We see a host asking a girl why she does such meaningless things, why she lives her life so frivolously, and the girl is completely rapt. And afterward gushes to the camera about how much she loves him. It is a truth that I as a woman was very uncomfortable witnessing. The entire film was uncomfortable to watch, probably moreso for women than for the men in the audience, who seemed to find much of it to be hilarious. I didn’t see many women laughing.
Much easier for women to watch is the story of Leila Khaled: Hijacker. Her world couldn’t have been more different than that of the love-starved women in Osaka. Khaled, who hijacked 3 planes in the 1960s and 70s, had no need for something like a host club, she was too busy being a freedom fighter (terrorist?) for the Palestinian cause and actually altering her beautiful face to avoid capture. And after she was captured, she was insulted when reporters asked her if she had a boyfriend, asked her if she were in love. These things were irrelevant to her. She is now married with children, and encouraged the female director of the film to make babies, but is still every bit the unrepentant soldier. Or terrorist, depending on your view. That’s one of the questions the film poses: what’s the difference between being a terrorist and a freedom fighter? Is the difference simply whether you win or lose?
Meanwhile there’s Only Belle, which is about a female serial killer who emigrated from Sweden in the late 1800s and may have killed more than 50 people (mostly men) in Indiana as part of insurance scams. They found the skeletons of 40 of her victims buried on the grounds of her farm, and eventually just stopped digging–so there may be countless more. She killed several husbands, as well as several of her adopted children, and became a very rich woman after collecting their life insurance policies. And like Khaled, she got away with it all. Like the love theives in Japan’s host clubs, she sold romantic dreams to lonely men, only they paid for it with their lives as well as their money. It was an incredibly creepy film–especially the visit to the site of Belle’s farm, where the family that now lives there keeps finding bones in the ground around the house and the youngest child speaks to several ghosts. The film was a bit heavy-handed with the creepiness, though, which threatened to make it almost cartoonish.
Tonight I’ll be seeing a much more male film–B.I.K.E., about a certain bike subculture in New York City, and tomorrow the film I have been most waiting to see: Walking to Werner. More soon.