Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Een Vrouw Als Eva (A Woman Like Eve)

I had the incredible opportunity to watch this 1979 Nouchka van Brakel movie that while for today’s viewers the story, acting and directing style may look very different to the movies we are able to watch in the lesbian interest and mainstream genres, it is a remarkable and must be seen movie in the genre and for mainstream audiences.

Seems that 1979 was a year where Dutch audiences were able to watch two lesbian themed movies that according to the book The Cinema of the Low Countries by Ernest Mathijs and Harry Kumel “were a reminder of how sensitive such issues were in Dutch society” in the late seventies as both created notable controversies. One of the movies is this one and the other is the amazing Twee Vrouwen (Twice a Woman) by George Sluizer that you can find a review in this blog.

But most interesting is that Een Vrouw Als Eva became the Netherlands submission to the 1979 Academy Awards and no surprise, it didn’t made it to the five finalists for the Best Foreign Film. So, at least in the criteria of those selecting the Dutch made movie to submit for the Oscar, this is a superior movie to Twee Vrouwen and I think I concur as van Brakel movie (she also co wrote the story) has a stronger and mainstream controversial story than the Sluizer movie.

Perhaps some of you remember that Twee Vrouwen was in English and not Dutch, which was quite unusual for a Dutch production, but then this movie is in Dutch, English and French which was also not that common for then and today. Seems that both movies even when in reality had no apparent relationship, they had many parallelisms that include a casting of famous actors, as this movie stars Monique van de Ven (that then was married to renown director Jan de Bont) and none other than Maria Schneider, that some of you perhaps remember from the also controversial movie The Last Tango in Paris.

Another remarkable information about this movie is that it was made with a largely female crew, which in those days (and still today) was not a common practice.

So with this background information, let’s review the story that this time I will totally spoil for you, as I’ll include an analysis that could help to understand why the storyline is stronger and mainstream.

The outline of the story is about Eve (Monique van de Ven) a housewife who becomes thoroughly disgusted with her existence as a drudge and decides to leave her husband and children to share her life with a young French woman, Liliane (Maria Schneider). But she wants her children with her and her husband does not want to give them to her; so, they go to court with her gaining temporary custody, but as the husband plans to remarry to Eve’s best friend Sonja, the court grants custody to the father that will give a more “normal” home to the children.

What follows is a reproduction of an essay I found in the net that if you do not want to read more spoilers, please skip the following four paragraphs. The essay is from the Jump Cut site, the magazine dedicated to the Review of Contemporary Media in its social and political context and it’s written by Lisa DiCaprio; the essay was published in the No. 29 issue of February 1984 and is called Liberal Lesbianism. It reviews mainly John Sayles film Lianna, but has some references to A Woman Like Eve. If you want to read the complete essay go here. These are some excerpts from the essay.

While in Sayles' film, a mother's responsibilities and her lesbian relations appear to pose no conflict, it is precisely the emotional turmoil of such a situation which A Woman Like Eve portrays with rare sensitivity. Eve has two children, but she decides from the outset of the separation from her husband to retain custody of them. She fights a court battle which she ultimately loses. In preparing Eve for her initial court appearance, her lawyer says not to mention her lesbian relationship. However, in a typically vindictive outburst, Eve's husband brings out this fact. Eve refuses to deny her new lesbian identity, stating emphatically that whom she chooses for a lover has no bearing on her maternal competence. Accepting Eve's argument that she has had the primary responsibility for her children and should be allowed to continue as the main parent, the court awards Eve temporary custody.

The film then examines how Eve's maternal role affects her love relation with her lover, Lilianna. A social worker is assigned to investigate the new living arrangement. Eve acknowledges that she in some way sees Lilianna as a "father" whom she wants to be more a part of her family. However, Eve also recognizes that Lilianna resists such a role and that this is that woman’s prerogative. Because of custody problems, although Lilianna prefers that Eve live with her in the commune, for Eve this is not a viable option. Eve's lover often expresses resentment at the fact that Eve’s prior responsibilities and strong emotional ties to her children define their relation. The film presents each woman's perspective in a balanced and sympathetic way. The temporary custody arrangement is portrayed as problematic, but Eve and her lover seem committed to working out the best possible solution.

Eve's husband abruptly announces that he is soon to be remarried — to Eve's best friend. He challenges the custody arrangement. He argues that, remarried, he can provide his children a "proper" heterosexual family. Eve passionately reiterates her original position that single or not, lesbian or heterosexual, she remains the mother of her two children. This time, however, Eve loses.

In the final scene, we see Eve carrying suitcases and preparing to board a train, presumably to the commune where Lianna lives. At the last moment, she decides not to leave. Although she has lost custody of her children, Eve prefers to remain in the same city so that she can visit them. While Sayles' film very much mutes the social consequences of Lilianna's actions, A Woman Like Eve emphasizes the painful choices that society forces on lesbians, especially on lesbian mothers. On the most crucial points, A Woman Like Eve succeeds where Lianna fails. It provides us with an engaging drama which illustrates in a compelling way how the dynamics of a lesbian relationship are shaped by the harsh realities of a deeply homophobic society.

As you can see the essence of the story is very mainstream for those days and still is today in many countries; and in those years Variety described the story as “a sort of bisexual Kramer vs. Kramer” referring to the fact that in Kramer vs. Kramer the law believes that a working woman was not fit to be a good mother and here, a lesbian mother is not fit to be a good mother.

Well, I believed that this movie deserved a large post with some compilation of the very little information found in the net, as is one movie that I strongly recommend for the story it tells and suggest you all to, as much as you can, transport yourself to another time to be able to really enjoy the story, the performances and the directing style.

But one thing I’m sure, if you enjoyed Twee Vrouwen, you will also enjoy this rare movie that absolutely is a must be seen movie in the genre.

I’m really grateful for the opportunity to watch this movie and I truly thank to those special people that made it possible for me to watch.


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