Belinda: A tale of love and roaming
by Roberto Oggiano
- BERLIN 2017: French director Marie Dumora takes us on a journey through the life of a Yenish girl in modern-day France
Belinda [+see also:
film profile], a documentary by French filmmaker Marie Dumora and included in the Panorama Dokumente section of the 67th Berlinale, is the culmination of work that began some years ago, offering us a realistic depiction of life in a Yenish community in Mulhouse (Alsace). The film follows the trials and tribulations of 23-year-old Belinda as she navigates the social issues that dog Europe’s travelling minorities — petty crime, poverty and marginalisation.
Through one woman’s life, the director pieces together a sliver of the history of the Yenish people based on archive footage that makes extensive use of a shoulder-mounted camera to follow Belinda’s every move. Eschewing any narrative voiceover, Dumora extends a silent invitation to the audience to refrain from hasty judgement.
Throughout the film’s almost two-hour runtime, we are given a real sense of the protracted monotony of Belinda’s daily routine, the indolence of smoking and the strain of a life that jumps from childhood straight to adult responsibilities. Belinda’s childhood was blighted by her separation from her sister, who was placed in a different state home to her, and now, as she takes her place in the adult world, her fate has been pre-decided: she will stay at home to take care of her brothers and sisters and play the role of a dutiful wife. Indeed, the second half of the film focuses mainly on her marriage. Every step in the wedding preparations is documented, with an almost pointless level of detail that begins to try our patience. It does, however, succeed in capturing the sincerity of Belinda’s hopes for a life that is both faultlessly middle-class and in keeping with Yenish traditions — her desire to live in a caravan, for example.
A brief interlude is devoted to her ancestors, some the victims of racial persecution, endeavouring to remind us of one of the many groups that was forced to suffer the barbarities of Nazism and is today recognised as an ethnic minority by the European Union.
Despite the director’s minimalist approach and her decision to step back and let the characters speak for themselves, the dialogues lack naturalness, coming across as a little forced — and we are conscious of the presence of a camera that ought to be invisible and unobtrusive. It’s a style of realism that, paradoxically, feels more appealing in the realm of fiction than in a documentary. Belinda is presented to us in away that manages to move without being mawkish, and Marie Dumora doesn’t dwell too heavily on the background from which her characters have come. Instead, she positions them in the wider world by drawing on a very simple technique: showing us their differences, so that we might understand them.
(Translated from Italian)