Wild Women Gentle Beasts or a glimpse behind the scenes of an all-female world
by Giorgia Del Don
- LOCARNO 2015: This year the Panorama Suisse section of the Locarno Film Festival invites eclectic director Anka Schmid to present her latest documentary
After first screening at the prestigious Visions du réel of Nyon where it had its global premiere, Wild Women Gentle Beasts, by Zurich-born director Anka Schmid, has landed at the Locarno Film Festival, where it is being shown in the Panorama Suisse section.
For her latest documentary, Anka Schmid explores a world, that of the tamers of ferocious animals, that has fascinated her ever since she was a little girl. The passion and urgency (new restrictive laws are putting the profession at risk) with which she tries to penetrate their world gives the film a very unique atmosphere, worrying yet unexpectedly reassuring. Namayca, Carmen, Nadezhda, Aliya and Anosa are five women that have very different backgrounds (French, German, Russian and Egyptian respectively) but share an all-consuming passion, one for ferocious animals, that has become something of a religion for them. Attracted by the danger but also and above all by the almost monastic discipline the job requires, these five ‘extraordinary’ women throw themselves into the arena everyday, the circus arena as well as the arena of life. Anka Schmid follows them closely, revealing the secrets of an extremely demanding profession that leaves no room for error. The glittery images of the shows blend harmoniously with the reality of rehearsals in an hypnotic sequence of cracks of the whip and magical-sounding ancestral commands. Although at first it is the five personal trajectories of these women that dominate the narration – extraordinary accounts that we listen to, bewitched – slowly but surely it is the weaknesses and insecurities that come with the brutality of the profession that take over. These women’s choice to become animal tamers was certainly driven by huge passion, but they had another reason, stubbornly concealed: to protect themselves from a stigmatising world that insists on relegating women to a secondary role. For some of the women, their motivation is more obvious: Nadezhda, a former top German athlete of East Germany, chose to become an animal tamer so as not to lose the rigour that had always characterised her life, just like Anosa decided to honour the nonconformity of her grandmother, who was also an animal tamer, and Nadezhda and Aliya (mother and daughter) chose to take refuge in a harsh but reassuring tradition; for others, like young Namayca, it is more subtle. All of these women share the desire to experiment with a different idea of femininity, often uncertain, sometimes stereotypical, but never imposed. What makes Wild Women Gentle Beasts so interesting is the search for identity that pulls these women into the arena. Although they are all aware of the way men perceive them deep down, it is their concept of ‘femininity’ that they must come to terms with. Whilst nothing ruffles them in the cage, outside they are gripped by a sort of sense of nostalgia. In challenging their ferocious friends they also put themselves to the test, their own (hidden) inhibitions. “As soon as I step into the cage I forget I’m Anosa, I’m just the tamer”. This says it all.
Wild Women Gentle Beasts is being sold internationally by Films Transit International.
(Translated from Italian)