Opening 26 Sep 2013
‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, and in male dominated Mauritius, Africa, the fattest women are considered the most beautiful. Tine Wittler had frequently wondered, “Was macht schön”? (What constitutes beauty?), since her corpulent figure is often considered unschön. Intrigued, Tine and a small crew land in Mauritius to uncover the nitty-gritty. Their local escort Wafa meets them at the airport, having arranged a driver, a translator and paved the way to meet locals willing to talk on-camera. Tine’s first surprise, when purchasing mahalfas (a colorful, one-piece garment a woman wraps around her body and head), is the abundance of choices she has, the opposite of finding clothes her size in Germany.
From age six or seven, girls are overfed, often through a violent ritual – Zwangsmastung (compulsory fattening) – which Tine tries, drinking 10 liters of camel milk accompanied by food; vicariously we experience Zwangsmastung’s cruelty. Female interviewees include: an activist, a famous singer, women at a journalist’s symposium, and a sports enthusiast who lost 80 kilos since becoming health conscious. Among the males are: a doctor trying to educate both sexes about health issues linked to obesity, a filmmaker, the taxi driver and friends. Young men’s opinions regarding a woman’s size are changing, mainly from watching (porno) films originating in the West. Paradoxically, the women prefer trim men.
Guided by Tine’s voiceover and taped conversations, we travel into the heart of Mauritian homes and culture. A couple of scenes drag, Schöttler’s camera wavers somewhat, and having no title cards sometimes confuse. But the context, and locals, more than make up for these. From township to ocean to arid desert landscape where Tine and Wafa drink tea, even understanding minimal German – French and nominal English is spoken as well, with German subtitles – this is like watching a fascinating Mauritius travel film. (Marinell Haegelin)