My Twentieth Century     Ildiko Enyedi (Hu;1988)

My Twentieth Century     Ildiko Enyedi (Hu;1988)

My Twentieth Century     Ildiko Enyedi (Hu;1988) Dorota Segda, Oleg Yankovskiy

viewed Star and Shadow Cinema 2nd Oct 2022; ticket £7

Film as Kaleidoscopic Quilt

Opening shot in Ildiko Enyedi’s ‘My Twentieth Century’ is an looped clip displayed within the classic silent movie framing element, the ‘iris’ matte. It shows a man with his head placed inside a huge cannon (like those used by human cannonballs in daredevil circus stunts). In his hand the man brandishes a flaming torch which he directs in the direction of the barrel’s touch hole. As a short clip we see it again and again as the opening credits roll, perhaps a visual metaphor for humankind’s repeated attempts in the twentieth century to self annihilate.  

Enyedi locates us at the turn of the last century, her twentieth century, where Edison and Tesla demonstrate the awesome possibilities of light and electro-magnetism; where telegrams communicate in minutes across the oceans of the world; where the night stars talk like angels in fanciful Hollywood movies; Pavlov’s dogs escape and a chimpanzee zoo specimen tells the tale of his capture. These sequences are spliced into the travels and travails of twin sisters Lily and Dora, born at the end of the nineteenth century and destined to experience life in the twentieth century. The experiences of the twins, separated as young girls, are rendered as pastiche ‘film noir’ as in their separate journeyings they travel across the socio-political landscape of Europe: Lily committed to a vague unspecified revolutionary anarchism, Dora a sybaritic feminist, very much her own woman.

Enyedi’s film is structured like a patchwork quilt. Her specific collection of impressions ideas and action stitched together as a psychic coverlet of images. She has assembled her twentieth century with artful caprice and gracious style. The film is shot to replicate some of the features of early movies: academy frame, filmed with high contrast black and white stock, with many of the transitions replicating the old ‘in camera’ iris dissolve. The characters are elegantly played out by her troupe of actors. Unlike some of their contemporaries, the caste all appear comfortable and relaxed in period costume working together as an ensemble to lend the film its substance, and the solidity cohesion and unity needed to deliver Enyedi’s diffuse scenario.

If there is a remarkable scene in Enyedi’s film, it is surely the ‘feminist lecture’, unexpectedly and subversively interpolated into the the flow of the film. It’s a scene that simultaneously flout’s both audiences’ (the actual and the virtual) expectations and pushes to the top of the agenda one particular aspect in the actual struggle of feminism – the inherent belief of men in their superiority. Dora is present as the male lecturer first introduces himself and his topic: female political emancipation. Quickly asserting his support for women’s emancipation, their right to vote – which elicits warm response from the all female audience – he quickly moves on first to emphasise that having this ‘right’ by no means equates with women being the moral and intellectual equals of men. The lecturer continues stating categorically that women are either whores or mothers. Nothing in between and ….turning to the blackboard behind him he draws in chalk the crude graffito image of an erect cock and balls and pointing directly to his depiction, continues …women’s problem is that they worship the phallus: as ugly and crude as the phallus may be that is the object of their desire.

Using episodic clips Enyedi cuts between the ‘journeys’ of Lily and Dora, to play out this aspect of her feminist proposition: that it is not so much particular rights or issues that constitute the problem for feminists, but the ingrained arrogance of male sensibility. Lily, is drawn into politics. But the politics in which she is involved is very much men’s ‘games’ on men’s ‘terms’. Mediated thorough male political organisation, Lily is treated by her political mentor as an object, a body to be used and dominated. As she travels across Europe, Dora is not seduced into or by the world of men. In possession of a complete sense of self, she dictates her life on her own terms. She initiates relationships with men and determines their outcome: she is the one who is in control confident of both her sexual power and superiority. She stays the course of the ‘emancipation’ lecture presumably because she is not threatened or belittled by it, but rather amused by the deluded bravura rantings of the little man.

Mediating the images and the sequences linking the lives the twins, is the formal device of the iris. Used both as a matte and as a transition, it was a favourite device of early silent films as it was usually composed in camera at the start or end of a shot. Use of a matte as a framing device suggests the idea that the viewer is a special privileged party to the unfolding events, they are in on the secret so to speak. As a transition the expanding or retracting iris emphasises an unhurried movement in the scenario, saying to the audience: meanwhile lets have a look at what is going on over here. In an era of film making characterised either by shots of brief duration or by scenarios dominated by long tracking or crane shots, the iris transition is rarely employed, but chosen by Enyedi to effect her transitions it evokes another sensibility a consciously deliberately stated means of moving through the scenes of her scenario.

‘My Twentieth Century’ Enyedi’s first feature film, has a structure that is analogous to the patchwork quilt, which is a particularly female form of expression: at once practical tactile and beautiful. Her film expresses a statement of artistic and political intent that the female perspective can be represented by forms that lie outside and represent experience in a way that is different from the structure and content of mainstream film that has in the main mostly been developed my male vision. It is another way of seeing of representing life – a non masculine statement of intent.

adrin neatrour




Author: Star & Shadow

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