Throughout history, the issue of gender and sexuality has evoked numerous debates and concerns especially form human rights activists and feminists. Many times, women have been on the receiving end of the injustices brought about by societal beliefs, values, and norms regarding gender and sexuality. The society has placed roles and duties to gender with regards to physical anatomy with little regard to how these roles affect people in society. For example, Society has always perceived women as weak, vulnerable, and in need of protection. These traits have become a norm in the community and have primarily defined how society views people of different genders (men and women). Movies and films have not relented on showcasing these norms. This paper examines the film Ma Vie en Rose (1997) and Bliss (2010) through the lens of author Judith Butler.
In her article titled ‘Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory,’ Judith Butler argues that people are not naturally born to be men or women, but rather gender roles are assigned through socially sanctioned practices and performance. These are endorsed by the way we dress, move, as well as our social positions. Butler asserts that “one is not born a man or a woman; one simply acts like a man or a woman” (Butler 522). We see this aspect in the movie Ma Vie en Rose.
The movie is about Ludovic Fabre, who is not a typical boy as the society would expect. Ludovic does not believe that he is a boy and thinks of ‘himself’ as a girl. However, the problem is that his parents find it difficult to accept Ludovic’s tendency to dress up like a girl and wearing make-up. Moreover, his whole family is ridiculed by people in the neighborhood who refuse to accept anything that they deem ‘bent.’ This refusal to accept reality causes Ludovic’s father to get fired from his job (Ma Vie en Rose). This film is consistent with Butler’s arguments. Ludovic although born a male, he does not feel like he is male. He wants to be a girl. Just because he was physically born with masculine features, society expects him to act like a man. However, Ludovic does not feel the same way. He wants to dress and behave like a girl, and this is what society does not approve. So basically, Ludovic is physically male, but he identifies with the female gender. Butler states that “the body is a historical idea and it gains its meaning through a concrete and historically mediated expression in the world.” (Butler 526). It means that regardless of the sex, people grow up to identify with a specific gender based on their worldview.
Similarly, the movie Bliss tells a story of Meryem, a teenage girl who faces persecution because she was raped. Meryem’s family feels that she has shamed them for being raped and they want to punish this act by killing her. The Turkish Society sees this killing as ‘honor killing’ (Bliss) but in reality, is just some form of misogynistic tendencies to look down upon women. Butler in her article argues that to define the roles and expectations of women in society is discrediting the fact that being a woman is not a natural fact but a traditional idea. She states that “to be a woman is to have become a woman, to compel the body to conform to a historical idea of ‘woman,’ to induce the body to become a cultural sign.” (Butler 523) This situation is what is happening in the movie Bliss. The society does not see the rape as an inhumane act, but instead, they view the historical and cultural definitions of womanhood to place the blame on Meryem (Bergen-Aurand 126). It is an unfair perspective because it stereotypes women and disregards their feelings and pain. Just because the person who raped Meryem is a man, society ignores the animosity that he performed and instead viewed the victim as the source of shame.
The movies Ma Vie en Rose and Bliss did an excellent job of showing the issues of gender and sexuality. In Ma Vie en Rose, the acting is superb. The main character Ludovic played by Georges Du Fresne gives an entirely natural and charming act as a child trapped between his desires and societal approval. His parents perform excellently in showing the natural fears of anxious parents having the dilemma of standing by their son and defying social expectations (Bergen-Aurand 126). The expressions and the sounds phenomenally showcase these dilemmas. The filming also successfully conveys the mood and the issues of gender and sexuality. Most of the scenes such as the one where Ludovic is dancing with the Barbie Pam are shot with bright lights to show how Ludovic is excited about his feminine side. The film in some parts uses shocking contrast to create a more oppressive atmosphere. For example, when Ludovic’s father is fired from work, the lights are filtered to produce a clash with the bright lights.
The movie Bliss also uses effective cinematography to convey the mood and challenging aspects of gender and sexuality. For example, the film uses monochromatic colors and dark scenes to show the sadness and the oppression in the Anatolian Village where shepherd discovers Meryem’s tortured and brutalized body. The scene sharply contrasts with the natural beauty and splendor of the Istanbul Waters. The dull monochromatic colors in the village show despair, while the bright colors of Istanbul show hope and determination.
Bergen-Aurand, Brian K. “Turkish Cinema: Identity, Distance and Belonging.” (2010): 123-126.
Bliss. Directed by Abdullah Oguz. ArtHouse Entertainment, 2010
Butler, Judith. “Performative acts and gender constitution: An essay in phenomenology and feminist theory.” The RoutledgeFalmer reader in gender & education. Routledge, 2006. 519-531.
en Rose, Ma Vie. “Directed by Alain Berliner.” Sony Pictures Classics and Haut Et Court (1997).
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