Landscapes of Resistance
27 January 2021
For each of the features in competition, IFFR asked a critic, writer, academic or programmer to write a short reflection in a personal capacity. The resulting series of ‘Appreciations’ aims to encourage viewers − and filmmakers − at a time when there is no physical festival. Kiva Reardon shines a light on Landscapes of Resistance.
At the beginning of Marta Popivoda’s Landscapes of Resistance, a haunting song is sung a capella over a field of poppies in the dying light of day: “So much blood has flowed, our fields forsaken, all that remains are poppies red.” In many countries (here in the Balkans), this flower has become a ubiquitous symbol of war and nationalism. Their burnt colour representing spilled red blood, and with it, the fragility of human bodies. If you hold a poppy, however, its colour is less striking than its delicacy. Its petals are tissue-thin, seemingly unable to withstand a strong wind, unlike the hearty lily, rose or tulip. Popivoda’s film bores into this question of fragility. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say ‘conceptions of fragility’, as the main subject is a portrait of unconventional resistance.
Shot over 10 years (and interlaced with home video as well as the filmmaker’s own observations about the increasingly dangerous political climate in Europe), Popivoda captures the memories of Sonja, a Serbian anti-fascist fighter who was imprisoned in Auschwitz and became a leader of the resistance in the Nazi death camp. Sonja, approaching her centennial birthday celebration at 97, doesn’t fit history’s construct of a hero: she struggles now to pin her white hair in place as time has taken its toll on her hands. But, as Popivoda’s film unfolds, we’re reminded it was these hands that once took up arms, and fought to defeat fascism. While Sonja’s hands can no longer join a call to arms − as fascism, once again, is on the rise − her memories and stories reject the fragile image that her corporeal form conveys.
Popivoda’s film moves at Sonja’s pace − patiently, slowly, elliptically. It resists, again, conventional structures of heroism, leaving space for reflection; it forces the viewer to actively listen. In my case, even cry. Fittingly, as Popivoda recalls in a moment of voiceover: “Crying was a powerful reason to make a political film.” Landscapes of Resistance proves that fighting and resisting take many forms.
Kiva Reardon is the founder of the online film journal cléo and a film programmer at the Academy Museum in Los Angeles.
‘Appreciations’ aims to encourage viewers − and filmmakers − at a time when there is no physical festival. Discover more short reflections on the features in competition.