Welcome back to Pop Pedestal, the series where we pay homage to our favorite characters in pop culture. This week I'd like to take it back to 1996 with Dawn Wiener, the 7th grade martyr from Todd Solondz' Welcome to the Dollhouse.
Pedestal Profile: In Welcome to the Dollhouse we follow Dawn Wiener, an endearing loner, as she navigates the minefields of life in junior high. Nicknamed "Wienerdog" by her classmates, Dawn spends much of the movie being made fun of mercilessly by her classmates. Besides suffering the miseries of school, at home Dawn is also the black sheep, stuck between a nerdy, driven older brother and a beautiful, charming, ballerina for a little sister. Over the course of the film Dawn experiences an overwhelming crush on her older brother's hunky friend, the tearing down of her clubhouse for The Special People's Club, the kidnapping and comic recovery of her little sister, and the aggressive and threatening affections of her first boyfriend.
Here's three films you can watch (or in one case, cover your eyes during) this week at the Portland International Film Festival! Whore's Glory—a documentary on sex workers in the Global South, Water at the End of the World—an Argetntine film about two sisters' final journey, and Snowtown—a scarily realistic film on Australia's most infamous serial killings.
I originally intended for this to be a companion piece to my previous post about the 2009 film Adam. Mozart and the Whale is a 2006 romantic "dramedy" about a man and a woman with Asperger syndrome and, in many ways, it makes a very neat thematic companion to the other film. In Adam, the protagonists' relationship ultimately fails because the title character's autism prevents him from fulfulling an appropriate "masculine" role. In Mozart and the Whale, the relationship succeeds because both characters are autistic; neither of them can successfully maintain a relationship with a "normal" person but, as the tagline says, "They don't fit in. Except together." The troubling implication is that if autistic people are going to pursue romantic relationships, it's best if we stick with "our own kind."
There are many movies about a young person awkwardly stumbling into adulthood—but they're not usually about young women. Attenberg (screening this week at the Portland International Film Festival) follows Marina, a 23-year-old woman living in a coastal Greek city who's smart, but still doesn't have all the answers. Click through for more on the film, and other flicks to catch this week at PIFF!
Save a few outlying exceptions, I watched most of these films on Netflix and streamed a number of them. This is how I saw Argentinean writer-director Lucía Puenzo's 2007 feature debut XXY. It's a touching coming-of-age film about Alex Kraken (an excellent Inés Efron), a 15-year-old intersex girl who decides to stop taking medication to suppress her masculine features. She recently relocated to a seaside village in Uruguay with marine biologist father Néstor (Ricardo Darín) and mother Suli (Valeria Bertuccelli) to avoid social stigma. Her mother invites family friends from Argentina to their new home with the intent to discuss a sex change operation, which Alex doesn't want.
Call Me Kuchu is a new film that follows Uganda's "Kill the Gays" bill, openly-gay activist David Kato (who was murdered three weeks after the bill was originally shot down), testaments from queer Ugandans, and the contradiction of religion, state, and identity. Its premiere this month at the Berlin Film Festival couldn't come at a better time.
I found out about the movie from a great post Nigerian writer and media activist Spectra Speaks put up today detailing more about the re-introduction of the "Kill the Gays bill" this week and what Ugandan LGBT activists are doing....
In a recent interview with Samantha Burton for Bitch, Kenyan writer-director Wanuri Kahiu recalled a lovely endorsement she received from a film festival attendant in Zanzibar. Speaking of her 2009 short Pumzi, he said:
"If you ask everybody here, 'What exactly happened in that film?' they wouldn't be able to tell you. But if you ask everybody here, 'What was that film about?' they would be able to tell you."
I'd like to talk to the man quoted above—as well as Kahiu—because I'm not sure if I know what this film is about.