Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

Holla back!

11 Comments

What’s wrong with this film review published in today’s Observer? Can you spot the anomaly?

Michael Rowe, an Australian writer-director currently resident in Mexico, won the Caméra d’or last May for best first film in the official programme at Cannes for this chamber film. All but the opening scene set in a supermarket takes place in the cramped Mexico City flat of freelance business reporter Laura, a single woman of peasant stock from Oaxaca, an impoverished state in the far south. Through loneliness and low self-esteem, this broad-hipped young woman with large, firm breasts picks up lovers for the night, or in some cases hour-long stands. They look down on and patronise her, and when one of them, the preening, would-be actor Arturo, starts abusing her physically, she draws him into an increasingly dangerous sadomasochistic relationship to win his approval and elicit a little tenderness. It’s an intense, powerful and at times deeply painful movie, a serious exercise in sexual politics, and Mónica del Carmen as Laura gives an outstanding, brave performance.

If it read like this instead, would you notice?

Michael Rowe, an Australian writer-director currently resident in Mexico, won the Caméra d’or last May for best first film in the official programme at Cannes for this chamber film. All but the opening scene set in a supermarket takes place in the cramped Mexico City flat of freelance business reporter Laura, a single woman of peasant stock from Oaxaca, an impoverished state in the far south. Through loneliness and low self-esteem, this young woman picks up lovers for the night, or in some cases hour-long stands. They look down on and patronise her, and when one of them, the preening, would-be actor Arturo, with a bulging package, starts abusing her physically, she draws him into an increasingly dangerous sadomasochistic relationship to win his approval and elicit a little tenderness. It’s an intense, powerful and at times deeply painful movie, a serious exercise in sexual politics, and Mónica del Carmen as Laura gives an outstanding, brave performance.

My question is this: how is the size and shape of the young woman’s breasts even vaguely relevant to the film, to the actress’s performance or to the review? They clearly enhanced the reviewer’s personal enjoyment of the movie but describing them is more than a Freudian slip, it’s a huge bloody pratfall, that in filmic terms would be signalled by bananas, Peter Sellers and mocking laughter.

In Anna Karenina, Tolsoy describes the work of the peasants in the fields and at one point lovingly describes the shape of a young worker’s breasts. Having never once described, or even alluded to the breasts of the upper-class and noble women in the novel, this brief sentence starkly signals the author’s prejudices: young peasant women represent sex and sex that is to be appropriated by the ruling class.

However, we are a long way from 1877. I don’t expect to find superfluous breast descriptions in my Sunday Observer. It spoils my morning and I lose respect for people whose intelligent reviews I have enjoyed for a long time.

Don’t do it, Phillip French.

Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

11 thoughts on “Holla back!

  1. It’s getting exhausting, isn’t it? I’ve been watching the cricket, but I don’t have radio coverage, so have to listen to the television commentary, and it’s amazing how often they are still talking about crowd shots of women in singlets. I guess I never had great respect for those television sports commentators so it’s probably not as depressing as reading someone whose work you do respect. Hope the rest of your Sunday is better.

  2. Ironic too, that the movie theme is sexual politics *rolls eyes* some people just don’t get it.

  3. Yes Charl Yes. You have knocked that reviewer for 6 and he deserved it. This sexism is invidious and insidious. Thank you for so smacking him up side the head, and so eloquently.

  4. Bravo! I completely agree with you (and love your alternate version).

  5. Well said, Charlotten.

  6. I admit the ah, *bulging package* did rather stand out in your revised version. Well spotted and well said. A serious exercise in sexual politics indeed!

  7. I am exhausted from “spotting the sexism”. It’s everywhere. All I can do now is start removing people who are in favor of it from my Reader. Several expats made that cut this year. I may not be able to control the world, but I can show my distaste and anger.

  8. Philip French wrote that? God. I expected better. Lazy and offensive. And bizarrely irrelevant.

  9. How bizarre!! It’s quite a startling reference, isn’t it? One immediately thinks, ‘Excuse me, what?’ Totally and utterly irrelevant – very indulgent and objectifying.

    Btw, I only read this review because you were blogging about it – I now make it a practice to avoid them for the reason exemplified here: they’ve become little more than plot summarising spoilers.

  10. Yes you are right, but….

    But I am not sure the description of Laura’s body is as irrelevant as you suggest. Could French have been badly served by his sub-editor?

    For so many women, myself included, our self-esteem is closely linked to how we think other people judge our bodies, and nowhere more than in the sexual space. In fact the sexism here folds in on itself, because men with self-image issues are predominantly gay.

    So you may indeed have spotted an illuminating and unconscious example of man-depersonalises-woman in action, or French may have made his point more thoughtfully and had it eviscarated for him by someone else.

    You are of course right that such sexism shouldn’t go un-challenged. And what an extremely illuminating comment by Tolstoy. No matter how you consider that one it doesn’t come good.

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