Not less than one month after the Oscars and the glorious goof up, cinephiles across the globe are still debating about Isabella Huppert missing out on the Oscars for English-French production 'Elle'. Not far away, and on a much wider scale, society and feminists are attempting to dissect the feminist undertones of the film with some describing 'Elle' as one of the most powerful expressions of post-modern feminist cinema, some calling it ‘anti-sexist’, and even as ‘misogyny masquerading as feminism’.
I got the chance to see the flick during the International Film Festival of Kerala this year. I came out very disturbed and to be frank, didn’t like the movie. I couldn’t completely get the essence behind a ‘light-hearted rape movie’. Michelle LeBlanc is a very complicated character who carries herself around with a formidable hauteur - framed as a mass murderer at the age of 10, owner of a company that makes obscene video games, having an affair with her best friend’s husband, going after the masked assailant who raped her, fantasizing about him, waiting for him to come back and getting involved in an eccentric and scary cat and mouse game with him. She goes about unabashed and is ready to take out societal and personal norms if she has to. A character who reeks of superiority complex and makes disturbing inroads to your conscience and ideas on morality, society, and life. A well-etched character whose idiosyncrasies coupled with the movie’s peculiar narrative make Michele a haunting screen presence.
But what made me consider the movie as very progressive despite criticism pouring from all corners, calling the character a false representative of feminism, is that the movie depicted something that we often don’t see in Indian cinema - an unapologetic female character.
A character, who is unabashed about her ways, needs neither moral justification nor any fig leaf to cover up her own actions. A woman who lives her life on her own terms, will, and actions.
Compare this to the Indian context. In one of the most acclaimed movies of our times ‘Fire’, still broadly discussed for portraying a lesbian relation on screen. Despite all its ‘progressiveness’, it ultimately reverts back to depicting the relation as the outcome of the failed marriages of the two women who then try to get back at the patriarchal system and its power hierarchy through their relation. The movie ultimately went onto to play for the conservative crowd. We are yet to evolve into a space that is comfortable with depicting life as it is. Even all the so-called feminist movies ultimately try to root their characters' attitudes to some internal conflict or past incident. Each time, it boils down to the same old long drawn out apologetic, excused ‘existence’.
To me, feminism is about being unapologetic about being the way you are. The world doesn’t need one-half to justify their actions while their male counterparts live a mostly unapologetic life. We all deserve the liberty to be free. Liberty to a dignified coexistence. Liberty to be unapologetic. To be and let be unapologetic.