Créteil International Film Festival Opens 43rd Virtual Edition Honoring Nicole Stéphane and Aïssa Maïga


Article by Moira Sullivan
Developmentally Edited by Alexandra Hidalgo

Copy Edited and Posted by Iliana Cosme-Brooks

The Créteil International Film Festival took place from April 2-11. Last year the festival was cancelled on opening day due to the pandemic and this year gatherings of over 100 were prevented by the French government. To make the best of the situation, festival director Jackie Buet and programmer Norma Guevara created a rich, virtual pageant of new international and French films with seven feature films, six feature documentaries, ten short films and six films—all on the theme “Heritage” and competing in the 2021 Prize TV France competition “Des Images et Des Elles,” which was open to all films in the Créteil festival. Each film at this entirely virtual film festival was presented with a pre-recorded video with the filmmakers. 

An image of Aïssa Maïga sitting in a black, folding director's chair with "films de femmes" written on the back. She is a black room with a light up sign of "films de femmes."
Aïssa Maïga

The guest of honor for the 43rd festival was the French-Senegalese actress Aïssa Maïga who actively works for inclusion and diversity in the French film industry. She is part of the activist group Diaspor-Acte, which is made up of 16 black and mixed-race actresses who marched for diversity in the film industry at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. The festival featured her documentary Regard. She is also the focus of Regard Noir (“Black Gaze”), co-directed by Isabelle Simeoni. The film follows Maïga’s journey from France to the US to Brazil to interview black and mixed-race women working in film and television and expose what their experiences are like within the context of #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter.

Quo Vadis, Aida?

The Grand Jury prize went to Quo Vadis, Aida? by Jasmila Žbanić (Bosnia-Herzegovina). The film centers on the heroic actions of translator Aida (Jasna Djuricic) at a UN Camp. The film, which takes place in 1995, follows Aida and her family as her hometown Screbrenica in Bosnia and Herzegovina is taken over by the Serbian army, and the town’s residents seek refuge at the camp. Aida frantically tries to prevent the transportation of Bosnika Muslims out of the UN camp. Quo Vadis Aida? is dedicated to the over 8,000 women who lost their male relatives during the war.

A still of a woman looking through a fence at the camera. Her face looks hardened by time.
Still from Quo Vadis, Aida?

I Love You I Miss You I Hope I See You Before I Die

Best documentary went to I Love You I Miss You I Hope I See You Before I Die by Danish director Eva Marie Rødbro. The film, which is exceptionally shot with a luminescent color palette, concerns a young mother of two living below the poverty line in a home she shares with ten others in Colorado Springs.

Nicole Stéphane in Les Enfants Terribles

Last year, a retrospective of the work of French actress, director, and producer Nicole Stéphane was postponed and held this year instead. Stéphane produced films by Marguerite Duras and Susan Sontag. Hélène Delprat’s documentary Nicole Stéphane, A Displaced Person, named after a designation Stéphane used for herself, screened as part of the retrospective. The retrospective included a 4K screening of the 1950 Jean Pierre Melville film Les Enfants Terribles, which is based on Jean Cocteau’s novel. It is the best copy I have ever seen of this brilliant film. Many of us know Stéphane for her bold  and defiant interpretation of the character “Élizabeth”—sister, caregiver, friend, and wife—in this film.The retrospective also included The Messengers (2003) by Helen Doyle, a documentary made about six artists, including the films of  Nicole Stéphane and Susan Sontag, who spoke out against war and barbarism. Stéphane was Susan Sontag’s friend and lover, and together they made Promised Lands (1974) about the 1973 Yom Kippur war, as well as Waiting for Godot in Sarajevo (1993). Stéphane also played and narrated the story of Marie Curie in George Franju’s Monsieur and Madame Curie (1956). The closing film of the festival was Destroy, She Said (1969), produced by Stéphane and written and directed by her friend Marguerite Duras. Based on her novel by the same name, it is a highly stylized erotic film about a chance encounter in a forest hotel with Elisabeth and a married couple.

A black and white image of Nicole Stéphane wearing a bathrobe and looking at the camera in a slightly shocked way.
Nicole Stéphane

Two Forgotten Boxes–A Trip to Vietnam

Italian documentary filmmaker Cecilia Mangini, who was a welcome guest at the Créteil festival in previous years, passed away on January 23. Born in 1927, she was the first female documentary filmmaker in Italy. Her last film, Two Forgotten BoxesA Trip to Vietnam (Deux boîtes oubliées–Un voyage au Vietnam)—made with Paolo Pisanelli—features photographs that were to be used in an unfinished film on Vietnam made with her husband Lino Del Fra in 1965. “It’s the photographs that remind me of things because I’m losing my memory,” explains Mangini in the film. “I didn’t remember these two boxes. And then I took them, I opened them, I started looking at the auditions and there were things I couldn’t remember anymore and instead they came back to me because… photography recovers time, recovers space, recovers sensations, recovers everything.”  At the end of the film Mangini powerfully declares to the camera, “Vietnam won the war.”

A barrel of a large gun/cannon is in the foreground of the image. The black-and-white image includes many vietnamese soldiers manning the gun.
Still from Deux boîtes oubliées–Un voyage au Vietnam.

Maria de Medeiros, Nos Enfants  

Also honored this year was Portuguese actress, producer, and vocalist Maria de Medeiros. Her latest film Nos Enfants (Our Children) streamed at the festival. It is the story of a Brazilian activist forced into exile by the dictatorship for several years. She later meets her daughter for the first time, who is now married to a woman pregnant with their first child. Even though she supports human liberation movements, she has a hard time accepting her daughter’s relationship.

Eden

The opening film of the festival this year was Eden, a beautiful film patiently and reverently directed and written by Hungarian director Ágnes Kocsis. The brilliant cinematography is by Mate Toth Widamon. The film’s protagonist Eva (Lena Baric) is confined to an apartment where she makes wire sculptures. Outdoors she wears a massive white space suit, since she is allergic to everything, from radio waves to chemical substances to air pollution. As the film evolves, a psychiatrist evaluates Eva for a trial to see if, after being subjected to invasive tests, her affliction is in her mind or due to environmental hazards.  

A psychiatrist must determine if her claim is valid. It is certainly painful to listen to Eva’s wheezing attacks when she can’t get enough air, and it evokes what so many people have experienced during the pandemic this past year. When Ágnes Kocsis presented the film online, she was aware that Eden would touch home because of this subject matter. This was one of the highest quality opening films for this festival in recent years.

Eva is sitting in a darkened, sparse, modern living room wearing a spacesuit and staring off at the ground.
Lena Baric as Eva in Eden.

After 43 years of festivals, Créteil continues to distinguish itself as a relevant and vital showcase of films made by women—the passes for this virtual festival were completely sold out. Throughout the festival’s history, famous female directors have premiered and screened their films, discussed their work with the public, and held face-to-face encounters. From the beginning, Créteil was a festival where women premiered their films, rather than at A-festivals. These films were confirmations of the importance of women filmmakers, and through the years the festival has served as a living history of the representation of women in films made by women. Retrospectives are held, and women of all ages learn of pioneers and cutting-age directors of today and yesterday. Each Créteil International Film festival is an unforgettable and unique, testimony to the achievements of women in film. We look forward to next year’s festival screenings for the 44th edition at the Créteil Maison des Arts Cultural Center.

Learn more about the festival here. Connect with Moira by visiting her profile.