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Women on the 2019 Silver Screen
by Pat Frickey

It is always inspiring watching strong, defiant women in movies. Two films in competition at the Berlinale, the first with a very short title, ÖNDÖG and the second with a lengthy one GOD EXISTS, HER NAME IS PETRUNYA (Gospod postoi, imeto i' e Petrunija) were both winners though only the latter received official  recognition honored with two independent awards: the German Guild Film Prize and the Ecumenical Jury Prize.

Wang Quan’an’s enchanting seventh feature, ÖNDÖGstarts off as a murder mystery but soon becomes, surprisingly enough, a romantic comedy with two love stories. The heroine is a mid-thirties self-reliant herdswoman (Dulamjav Enkhtaivan) nicknamed Dinosaur who lives in a yurt on the vast steppe of Mongolia and pretty much keeps to herself despite a persistent suitor desperate to woo her. She tends her herds, butchers her animals, cooks her meals, rides her camel, and is handy with a rifle. She is a woman who can look after herself and even helps the rookie police officer (Norovsambuu Batmunkh) when he is stranded on the steppe overnight left to guard a murdered corpse. She saves him from certain death by freezing or certain death by devouring (by wolves); and in kind, he saves her (unknowingly) from a sad and lonely future.

GOD EXISTS, HER NAME IS PETRUNYA, the fifth feature film from Macedonian writer-director Teona Strugar Mitevska, is a satire supposedly based on a true story. Every year on the Epiphany the local Orthodox priest ( Suad Begovski)  throws a sacred crucifix into river and the man who retrieves it is promised prosperity and good fortune for an entire year. Thirty-two year old left-on-the-shelf Petrunya (Zorica Nusheva), a woman with nothing to lose, defies local tradition and on a whim jumps in the river and retrieves the crucifix herself. That’s a giant “no no” in the town of Stip in Macedonia, a town where patriarchal society still reigns supreme. The more the locals and even her own tyrannical mother demand her to return the cross the more stoic and unwavering she is to keep it.

Both of these films, unconventional and from countries not always thought of as being at the vanguard of emancipated females; portray independent, fierce, and resilient women. They bring to mind Halla (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir) in the Icelandic film WOMAN AT WAR which was the top prize winner at the Filmfest Hamburg in 2018. It is another film about a strong unyielding woman who goes on a secret crusade to cripple big industry using an awesome, industrial strength bow and arrow. However Halla is from a country where strong and resolute women have ruled for years. How refreshing to see that at the Berlinale that Iceland and the West do not have a monopoly on these brave and daring women. Jeanne d'Arc is alive and well and living in a yurt in Mongolia and in the traditional town of Stip, Macedonia.