Mira Mattar and Michael Reid
A response to a screening of one film from distributed by Cinenova; Leila and the Wolves (Heiny Srour, UK/Lebanon, 1984) and a new work selected by Emma Hedditch and Melissa Castagnetto; The Package (Dara Greenwald & Ona Mirkinson, USA, 2010). This screening was part of Bodies Assembling organised by Cinenova and Auto Italia South East.
Within the mesh of narratives that form Leila and the Wolves, a young and beaten wife in 1930s Palestine is given advice by an older woman. How can she keep her husband’ She should, amongst other conciliations, have hot water ready to wash his feet when he returns home. At the same historical moment women pour scolding hot water from cooking pots over balconies onto troops of the British mandate, who have just violently clashed with villagers. Domestic objects are weaponised. What in one instance is a prop for domination is, in another, a tool for resistance.
In further sections depicting the 1930s, resistance against the colonial threat again utilises zones of tradition and domesticity; wedding rituals conceal the distribution of guns and information, domestic labour is employed in the grinding of bullets rather than flour. But while marriage and the home can be made points of insurgence, points of subterfuge, eruption and courage, there is a sense that these moments can only ever be temporary, that a wolf remains in the house. Women may resist by making bullets but it is not they who will fire them.
Later, in 1970s Beirut, a woman volunteers for military training, much to the consternation of her grandmother. In interior monologues, the grandmother worries that her granddaughter’s militancy will deem her unworthy of marriage, while the granddaughter muses on the difficulty of her political struggle, which rejects the priority of the home. Something has changed, something more is possible; but this change is also a schism between generations and presumably also between women of the same generation, insofar as the prescribed roles of the 1930s continue to cascade elsewhere.
In another moment a group of women are holding a political meeting. The mother of the house serves them coffee, observing rituals of hospitality. They ask if she will join them and she declines. After she has left, her daughter suggests that they can resume more meaningful business. Again, a schism. The problem is not the political engagement of the women but that this engagement is still supported by the servitude of the mother.
At the end of the film there are two images of liberation: militants who are being trained to assemble guns blindfolded, remove these blindfolds to reveal women of all ages, and women who are silently sitting on a beach wearing full burkas remove their veils and descend to the sea. After these images we see the eponymous character trapped in a dizzying dance with deathly figures. The film dreams of the liberation of all women but it can’t imagine a solution. The schism remains. On the one hand the militant, on the other the servant.
Curiously, the role of men in Leila and the Wolves doesn’t seems open to change. They are indifferent to women militants and demanding of and dependent on women homemakers - they remain wolves. The question of who is to perform domestic work is never addressed to them. The demand is a burden that only women experience.
In the short film The Package, we see a female activist in 2010 shopping for food to deliver to a male political prisoner, under the aegis of ‘militant care’. Why does female militancy here so resemble domestic servitude’ What type of body is it that is meant to care’ What militant effect is this care having’ Has Leila and the Wolves found its resolution in The Package, in the union of militancy and care’ Or is it just a wolf in sheep’s clothing’