Every year the Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF) brings films from all over the world in many genres, including short films, documentaries and animation. As a continuing concession to the pandemic, this year the CIFF has continued with its hybrid model for films including in-person, virtual, and even drive-thru screenings. This model has helped the festival remain more accessible for filmgoers who may not be able to go in person.
Here are three new films directed by women that vary significantly in theme and format – from a fictional portrait of workmen in Barcelona to a documentary about a cow on a UK farm, to another documentary about an all-women expedition to the North Pole. All three are available for home viewing in the links provided below.
The Odd-Job Man directed by Neus Ballús (Spain)
The Odd-Job Man is the portrait of two plumbers over the course of a week in Barcelona. Valero’s partner Pep is on the verge of retirement and a new worker named Moha (a young immigrant from Morocco) has been brought in to be Valero’s new partner. But Valero hates Moha on sight. At best, Valero is a misanthrope; at worst, he’s a racist.
The Odd-Job Man takes place in the first week of Moha’s trial employment. It’s a quiet, occasionally funny portrayal of two men (and sometimes Pep, the retiring partner, as well) going from home to home – whether it’s to the home of a 100-year-old man who is more interested in talking about his supplements than having Moha fix his sink or the home of a famous photographer with a rotating door of models. It’s a commentary about people adjusting to a changing world.
The narrative style is curious since The Odd-Job Man interweaves Moha’s own internal monologue with the dialogue of the other characters. The audience doesn’t get the same monologue from Valero though we do see him in his family life as he interacts with his wife and kid. Overall, it’s an enjoyable slice of life film even if the wrap-up ending is a little too neat.
Cow directed by Andrea Arnold (UK)
Cow is an unflinching documentary about the life of a single cow named Luma living on a UK farm. Filmed over four years, the film starts with the birth of Luma’s first calf and shows Luma’s life as she feeds, gets milked, mates, etc. Cow also occasionally follows the first calf (the one that is birthed at the start of the film). Aside from the chatter that farmworkers make as they work, Cow has no dialogue.
It’s disorienting from the very beginning as we see the world from the cow’s eye level, much like in Elizabeth Lo’s Stray, a documentary about stray dogs in Istanbul shot primarily from the dog’s point of view/level of view. We are never presented with any real explanation of what we are seeing throughout the film, mirroring Luma’s own lack of understanding of what’s going on around her.
There are some sublime moments as the cows are let into the pasture to eat during the summer or spring. There are beautiful images of cows eating freely in fields of green, or resting under a sky turning to night. But those moments are few and far between.
It’s not an easy film to see by any means from start to finish. It’s hard to watch Luma being separated from her calves; we can presume her anguish as she brays, staring directly at the camera for an uncomfortable amount of time. As someone who has not grown up around a farm, I don’t know how much of the film is typical for dairy farms. As someone who also writes about cheese, I felt that I needed to watch the film as much as I wanted to look away.
Arnold sums it up best: “This film is an endeavour to consider cows. To move us closer to them. To see both their beauty and the challenge of their lives. Not in a romantic way but in a real way. It’s a film about one dairy cow’s reality and acknowledging her great service to us. When I look at Luma, our cow, I see the whole world in her.”
Exposure directed by Holly Morris (USA)
Worlds away from the cows of England, Exposure is a documentary about the all-women Euro-Arabian North Pole Expedition Team in 2018. This was my favorite of the three films but, then, I am also obsessed with all things Arctic and Antarctic.
The film follows the 11 women from all over Europe and the Middle East who have been chosen to ski to the North Pole. It follows their two years of training whether in the snow and cold or the deserts of Oman. It opens with one woman, walking around her British town with ski poles, dragging a tire behind her tied to her waist. The second half is the actual expedition as the women trek across the landscape, dealing with frostbite, deep crevices, and the mental challenge of it all. The film dives into their varied lives; one woman is a marine biologist while the other appears to be a Muslim chaplain at a hospital.
It’s also fascinating to hear the logistics of it all. It was incredible to learn about how they have to make a runway, every year, at the temporary Russian base of Barneo. They parachute two tractors from a plane along with their other supplies. Incredible footage.
Exposure is a beautiful film, following these women’s work through the physical and mental challenges of making it to the Arctic. It’s also a reminder of what is lost as we fail to make substantive changes to mitigate the effects of climate change. The film is very clear about what polar expeditions are facing as a result of climate change right now – whether it’s cracking ice or the increased threat of polar bears.
Exposure is a triumph – a “must-see” for people interested in exploration, the Arctic, and/or women’s sports.
© Elisa Shoenberger (10/25/21) Special for FF2 Media
LINKS TO FILMS ABOVE
The Odd-Job Man: https://www.betacinema.com/138/pid/278/The-Odd-Job-Men.htm
CREDITS AND PERMISSIONS
Access to still photographs courtesy of the Chicago International Film Festival. Our gratitude to CIFF.
Credit for The Odd Job Men still goes to Cosima Finkbeiner.
Credit for Cow still goes to Kate Kirkwood.
Credit for Exposure still goes to Anisa H of PowderKeg.