Interviews

Caught in the act

The eight Hivos Tiger Award Nominees had their own special day at the festival. Our Young Film Critics, Archana Nathan, Taylor Hess, Martin Kudlaç and Rowan El Shimi, saw the nominees and wrote reviews on all of them.

Returning to IFFR after premiering the short films Shulie in 1998 and The Fancy in 2001 is American writer/director and first-time feature filmmaker Elisabeth Subrin. Her drama A Woman, a Part world premieres among the eight films slated to compete for the Hivos Tiger Award in Rotterdam this year.

By IFFR Young Film Critic Taylor Hess

Joining Subrin in Rotterdam is lead actor Maggie Siff (Mad Men, Sons of Anarchy) playing Anna, a rigorous Emmy Award-winning TV actor who is overworked and hollowed-out. Determined to take a break from her lonely LA lifestyle, Anna returns to her old apartment in Brooklyn, revisiting two long-term friendships and the buried identity she’d left behind. But while she reintegrates herself into the familiarity of the past and the perception of who she once was, Anna struggles to restore a relationship with the experimental theatre friends of her youth, played by Cara Seymour and Jon Ortiz.

New York as character

 

A shadow of displaced identity and isolation has followed Anna to New York, despite her attempt to reconcile or excavate a grounded sense of self. "I was interested in the idea of gentrifi cation not only on the urban level, but in the way people build things on an internal level," says Subrin. The gentrification of New York is as much a character in the film as the people, and the city's landscape expresses an energy and behaviour that the actors in the film seem to reflect and internalize. "When you build on top of a construction, you are building on top of a history and a past in the same way our internal lives build layers within our bodies," Subrin says. "You don’t just throw out your past; it's within you."

A Woman, A Part

Siff colours her performance with such depth and texture that Anna's backstory seems as alive and full as what's captured during the interactions onscreen. She is experiencing an existential crisis of sorts; an inward evaluation and reflection of her life at a micro-level, which could be representative of larger macro issues concerning our identities in society today. "We are living in an era of constructed identity and artificial presentation of self because of social media and self-branding," says Subrin. "In a way, we're all performing," she explains, "and an actress is just a stand-in for how we all act." Bearing the title of the film in mind, A Woman, a Part is as much about the crisis of an actress as it is about the breakdown of human performance in modern society.

And about women specifically, Subrin cites a Susan Sontag quote to address gender performance: "to be a woman is to be an actress." To an extent, we're all projecting and performing our female and/or male roles, but "to another extent," says Subrin, "the burden of appearance in how one is presented to the world, and the sub-consciousness around that is something men don't deal with as much. The line between acting and being is a much more complicated issue for women."

How gender performativity infl uences all of us is certainly a complicated issue, in that it’s difficult to diagnose and maybe impossible to cure. But how the experience of a singular actress in Subrin's A Woman, a Part speaks to our social, political, and socio-economic consciousness on a global scale is unmistakable. Luckily, with the benefit of a film on a screen, we don't have to suffer an existential crisis ourselves in order to understand something more deeply about how we interact with our identities in relationships, jobs, and in our everyday lives.