Women in Film:
That Object Named "Desire" 
or In Search of TRUE Liberation for Women
by Maria Pearse
Romanian translation by Alexander Ovsov: Femeile în film
I. Introduction
   It can be said with no exaggeration that without women there would be no cinema. Sadly, this is so not because the natural concerns of genuine womanhood have been addressed in film, but because from the very beginnings of cinema a woman has been made the centerpiece of attraction, an object of desire. This systematic cultivation of women as objects of desire has been akin to the gradual process of drug addiction: at first, the effects were rather mild and pleasantly stimulating - and thus considered not only harmless by both men and women, but even liberating - however, as time went on and doses increased, a feverish state of dependency set in. What has started out as a quest for liberation from convention ended up being a different form of enslavement.
   Today women can be seen to have divided themselves into roughly two groups: those, who continue to perceive this enslavement as "liberation"; and those, who vaguely sense that the real search for the true liberation of women has not even begun.
   To help us gain insight into the predicament of womanhood, we will focus at the outset on the two films by the world's greatest woman-director, Agnes Varda. The choice of Varda is a natural one not only because she is a woman (it is actually quite rare that a woman-director is able to make use of her womanly intuition in the filmmaking process), but more importantly, because she belongs to that select group of filmmakers, who engage in spiritual seeking through the medium of film.
II. Beauty and Freedom
  Surprising as it might seem at first, the question of beauty is absolutely critical to unlocking the mystery of a woman's failure so far to attain true liberation - so that Varda's film Cléo from 5 to 7  (1961) presents us with the perfect opportunity to focus on this issue and to see just what connection exists between beauty and freedom. The film chronicles two hours in the life of a woman as she waits for the results of her cancer test.
   Cléo, the main character, is beautiful - so beautiful that, as she walks down the street, men stop and stare. She herself is perfectly aware of this and does not miss a chance to look at her own reflection. She is a famous pop singer; she has money and a boyfriend, who "adores" her; she lives in Paris, has a maid and rides around in cabs. Her life is perfect. There is only one problem now: death is knocking on her door. Panic-stricken, she intuitively grasps at that, which she feels should provide her with a support: beauty. But this support is not there for her. Again and again she reaches for it in vain; it slips right through her fingers. She goes to a hat store and tries on every hat, reassuring herself that she looks beautiful in everything. And even, when she receives "confirmation" from a fortune-teller of her own forboding premonition concerning the outcome of her test, she consoles herself by looking into the mirror and thinking:
Don't rush away,
pretty butterfly.
Ugliness is a kind of death...
As long as I'm beautiful,
I'm alive.
   This, however, only works for a little while. A few minutes later, she is having a fit of hysterics in a cafe (also while looking at herself in a mirror). So what is wrong here? Why can't Cléo find real support in beauty? Is she, perhaps, mistaking in her assumption that beauty can provide such support? Is true beauty as fleeting as a butterfly? Or does it possess an unsuspected power? Such power as prompted Dostoevsky to write:
"Beauty will save the world."
    These words are well-known (particularly in Russia), but they are usually viewed as the statement of an idealist, a dreamer. Hardly anyone suspects that behind these words stands the Power of the Living Law: the Law of Beauty. Knowing this, we can see the following: it is not beauty that has failed to save the world, but it is we, who have failed to bring true beauty into this world. And this is why now we, along with Cléo, have no access to the Power of Beauty. What we have instead are substitutes for beauty. We are assailed by them continuously from all sides.
    Cinema, in particular, has made a devastating contribution here. One definition of 99% of cinema would be to say that it specializes in creating beauty-substitutes. Through personality cults of stars, through promotion of escapism into fantasy, it creates images, which encourage superficiality and vanity - the two qualities that are already sufficiently developed as it is within all of us. And since women, due to their superior intuitive faculty, are more susceptible to suggestions through imagery than men, the effect on the female population has been nothing short of catastrophic. Most women are no longer able to separate vanity from beauty; to be an object of desire has become synonymous with being beautiful. During her televised funeral, Princess Diana (a role-model for millions of girls and women around the world) was eulogized ( by an anchor-woman) as "an object of every man's desire".
   Cléo too is unable to separate herself from what has become her identity. To everyone and to herself she is that object named "desire". Even when she wants to be alone, far away from everyone; when she abruptly leaves her apartment, ordering her maid to stay behind and slamming the door; when she finally gets to the secluded section of the park and finally finds herself all alone - she cannot turn it off, cannot be herself! She treats a stairway in the park as a stage: moving her body in a seductive way and dragging her scarf behind her, she begins to sing a song to herself, while slowly descending the stairway. Her identification NOT with true beauty, but with a beauty-substitute makes it impossible for her to find consolation and support just when she needs it most. She is beginning to taste the bitter harvest of her own sowing.
   We too are in the same position as Cléo. We may not be as beautiful or as famous as she is, but the poison of vanity and ambition has also seeped into our being. And today's cinema reflects our inner being. The intoxication with one's own image and the relentless promotion of that image - this is the agenda for womanhood, which today's cinema (along with television and other media) lays out enticingly before every woman. And nearly every woman is hard at work implementing this agenda into her life. The scope of this activity, naturally, varies with one's particular circumstances. A woman does not need to be a movie star in order to become an object of desire among friends, acquaintances and co-workers. A woman might even honestly feel that, in this way, she is creating beauty in the world - where as, in reality, she is helping to produce beauty-substitutes in every area of her life: in her choice of attire, her movements, her language, her thoughts and her dreams. These substitutes have no connection with the Power of Beauty in Creation and thus they have no support from the Source of Life, Love and Light. So that today, womanhood on earth finds itself cut off from the Light - without even realizing it. Vanity has contaminated the beauty of everything and of everyone to such an extent that no one today is totally free from it.
      "Vanity is so firmly rooted in man's heart that a soldier, a cook or a porter will boast of their abilities, and yearn for admiration. Even philosophers want people to admire them; even when they write against the folly of human vanity they want to be admired for the style of their prose. And those who read philosophy want to be respected for the depth of their understanding. Perhaps in writing this I too am fishing for the admiration of my readers."  (Blaise Pascal) 
    And yet, it is just womanhood, which is called upon in this Creation to bring true beauty to earth. This, however, we cannot do until we free ourselves from our vanity. This is the connection between beauty and freedom. True beauty is impossible without freedom - freedom from vanity! To attain to this freedom will not be easy for any of us (those, who feel that it is, have not even tried it yet). It would even be utterly impossible, were it not for the unprecedented help given to womanhood (as well as to manhood) at this time in the book of New Knowledge "In the Light of Truth: the Grail Message" by Abdruschin, which discloses the unique origin and the unique role of womanhood in Creation.
III. The Quest for Lost Womanhood
  Another brilliant film by Agnes Varda, which examines the issue of women's freedom, is Vagabond (1987). It follows the story of a young woman, who makes a conscious decision to drop out of society and lead the life of a drifter. Shot in a poetic/documentary-like style, the film conveys in an objective yet intimate fashion the dilemma of someone, who can not and does not want to fit into the existing conventions of society. This decision, however, is depicted neither as a "grand statement" nor as a confrontation between youthful idealism and the corrupt world. Instead, we see a young woman, who is just as confused and as adrift spiritually as those with 9-to-5 jobs, trying to help her. Much to the credit of the filmmaker, no attempt is made in the film to idealize the main character or to cover up the fact that she has already picked up some of the worst traits of that very society, from which she is trying to escape: coarseness, selfishness, laziness, foulness of language and habits, etc. Equally interesting are the reactions and comments of the people with whom she comes into contact on the road. Some have nothing but contempt for her; others feel sorry for her and try to help; and some almost envy her. One woman says with a sigh: "She is free. She goes where she likes."
    The most remarkable feature of Vagabond is that it raises the question of woman's freedom in a natural and unobtrusive way. In essence, this question pulsates continuously underneath the narrative of the entire film - though, it is never posed outright in a clumsy or pointed way. But as we watch this young woman wander from place to place, enduring hunger and deprivation, we are seized by a feeling of anguish: what is she looking for? Is she looking for anything? Is this really freedom?
    Several times in the course of the film, she is offered a chance to settle down. One offer is even in complete accord with her "dream": to have her own piece of land to grow potatoes. But in the end, all of these opportunities come to naught. The viewer can almost empathize with the frustration of that kind landowner, who gave her the land for free only to watch her just sit there all day, doing absolutely nothing, while he had to work the land. After all, what is the matter with her? Why can't she shake off this inertia and take advantage of a new chance in life? The film gives no explanations. But in the course of all her wanderings, we can observe along with her the various forms and realizations of other women's "dreams": the dream of motherhood, the dream of going "back to nature, back to the land", the dream of becoming a successful career-woman in a man's world, the dream of a woman with wealth, with a cozy job, etc.  All these options pass before her (and our) gaze. Could it be that none of them fully satisfy the magnitude of her inner longing? The inner longing of what it means to be a REAL WOMAN?
    This and only this can be the reason why she rejects all these options and ends up as she began: with nothing other than a vague sense that the search for the true meaning of womanhood must start somewhere, where all these options leave off: BEYOND motherhood, BEYOND marriage, BEYOND career and success, BEYOND all present womanly goals. This unknown young woman, with no earthly accomplishments to her name, has enough womanly intuition left to perceive that even if she were to have her own potatoe field, become successful, get married and have children, she would still be carrying this void deep within her, she would still be unfulfilled.
    Indeed, it cannot be otherwise. This is so, because all of a woman's present activities lack the perspective of a WOMAN'S PRIMARY ACTIVITY, which has remained undiscovered up until now. And only the specific knowledge about this PRIMARY ACTIVITY can shed enough light on a woman's true role and purpose and give the necessary meaning to her other, secondary activities - such as motherhood, marriage and whatever else she might wish to do. The grandiose nature and breathtaking scope of this PRIMARY ACTIVITY OF WOMANHOOD is disclosed in a book, which brings New Knowledge concerning ALL issues confronting humanity today.
    Without this knowledge about the woman's principle function in Creation at large, all attempts at attaining lasting happiness and genuine liberation for women are doomed from the start. In Vagabond, the sensing of this doom is given its expression in the narrative structure of the film: we learn that all the trees of Europe carry a disease (a rot inside), which spreads slowly but surely and therefore "all the plane-trees are doomed". With human beings, on the other hand, the reversal of the disease is possible - but only through individual initiative in discovering what it means to be a woman in Creation (or what it means to be a man), which the Grail Message of Abdruschin discloses.


IV. A Dilemma for Both Sexes
    Men have suffered greatly under the failure of womanhood to achieve true liberation and to realize true beauty in this world. Some of them, of course, are too busy "enjoying" the fallen state of womanhood to notice the suffering of their spirits. But all must sense that, at the very least, something is not quite right in our relationships with each other.
     One man, who did, is the great Spanish-born filmmaker (who also lived and worked in France) Luis Buñuel. His film That Obscure Object of Desire is a remarkable record of the absurdity that male/female relationships have become. In this film something strange happens: the actress, playing the female lead, is suddenly replaced in the middle of the film by a different actress, who continues to play the same part - and the male protagonist does not even notice the switch! One cannot help wondering how many of the viewers actually do not notice this switch either, since Buñuel keeps the narrative right on going as if nothing whatsoever has happen. Throughout the course of the film the two actresses are used interchangeably - but the male protagonist continues to pursue the woman in the film as if she were the same woman, not noticing any difference. This is Buñuel's brilliant way of demonstrating our present-day distortion: all a man sees in a woman is "that obscure object of desire".
     By way of contrast, in the films of Sergei Paradjanov we see a rare attitude towards women: a genuine intuiting that a unique treasure is buried within each woman. In his films, men look up to women for inspiration for their deeds. Nobility emanates from his main characters; this is reflected in their attire, their movements and their speech. Untiring striving for images of genuine beauty is the predominant and most extraordinary quality of all of Paradjanov's films. In this context, it becomes possible to catch a glimpse of true womanhood - so that in his films a natural connection emerges between Beauty and Purity. (Purity should not be confused with puritanism, for it represents something as yet unknown among humanity.) In his Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors, for instance, we see the juxtaposition of two kinds of women: Ivan's first and only love (Marichka) is pure and natural - and therefore beautiful; while Ivan's wife is "beautiful" only by worldly standards. After Marichka's sudden death, Ivan is shattered and, in a moment of weakness, he succumbs to that object named "desire" and marries the second woman. But personal misery sets in immediately and he no longer even feels attracted to his "beautiful" wife.
     Another remarkably perceptive film highlighting the contrast between two types of womanhood is The Ladies of the Bois de Boulogne by Robert Bresson. It illustrates the unique power every woman holds to either uplift or destroy, inspiring a man to direct his desires upwards or enticing him to direct his desires downwards. It also shows how an extraordinary transformation can occur, when a woman makes a decision to start on a new way of life, based on her inner longing to regain purity. The ideal womanhood will invariably embody these words of Anton Chekhov:
"Beauty should be pure."
   Probably, no other major director on the world stage has been so preoccupied with the mystery of womanhood as Ingmar Bergman. From as early a film as Persona to as late a film as Autumn Sonata female characters occupy center stage in all of his films. Frustrated and confused, often in the middle of a life-crisis, these women are definitely seeking something - their identity, the meaning of it all . . .
     Although just a few examples from some of the world's greatest filmmakers have been cited here, the ongoing search for a woman's true identity can be seen in the films of many filmmakers from all over the world. Ultimately, this search has to take us to a higher plane: to a search for Knowledge of how womanhood fits into a greater context of not just the world, but of Creation at large.            
text and artwork by Maria Pearse,
except the first picture, which is by
Caspar David Friedrich
Copyright (c) 2007 cinemaseekers.com