The fight against patriarchy hit the big screen in Cannes with the screening of “Riposte féministe”, the documentary by Marie Perennès and Simon Depardon dedicated to feminist activists whose influential poster campaign has highlighted the scourge of gender-based violence.
Political protests are banned on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival. Twice this year, however, the famous alley lined with photographers has been the scene of spectacular demonstrations against violence against women.
A woman interrupted a red carpet premiere on Friday by stripping naked to reveal the message “Stop Raping Us” on her naked body alongside the blue and yellow colors of the Ukrainian flag. Quickly covered, she was taken aside.
Two days later, feminist activists stormed into another premiere, unfurling a long banner with the names of 129 women murdered in France since the last edition of the festival. This time, security forces appeared unfazed by black-clad protesters who paused on the steps of the Palais des Festivals, belching smoke from handheld devices concealed in their clothing.
This intervention by members of the activist group Les Colleuses coincided with the premiere of the film “Holy Spider”, a competition film directed by Ali Abbasi, about the serial killings of sex workers in Iran. It was also linked to another film, Feminist Riposte, which was shown later in the day and documented the group’s fight against sexism, sexual violence and the scourge of feminicide.
Armed with brushes, glue and sheets of paper, Les Colleuses ran a creative and effective campaign to make the voices of women heard in cities across France by plastering the walls with slogans denouncing gender-based violence. Feminist Response by Marie Perennès and Simon Depardon follows them on their nightly raids as they defy the law to publish their messages during the Covid-19 lockdown and confinement.
“Sexism is everywhere, so are we,” they claim in big letters. “If you don’t want us inside, we’ll glue things outside,” reads another collage plastered over the entrance of an art gallery in the Breton city of Brest, where a collective exhibition features only male artists. Action and message are equally important as Les Colleuses reclaims public space and opposes the omnipresence of men.
“Have you noticed how many tails were drawn all over the place during the Tour de France?” a splicer asks in surprise. “What is it with men that they have to drag their penises everywhere?”.
Feminist Response responds to these provocations with its own “tour” of France, a journey through the country’s cities big and small to meet “strong, united and ‘badass'” young women fighting against patriarchy. Her activism is joyful, fueled by sorority. The scene where they mix glue and hot water in their pots “like witches on their cauldrons” is a real treat. But behind that lightness, they recognize the importance of their struggle in a country where the rate of femicide remains high.
Throughout their film, the duo of filmmakers Marie Perennès and Simon Depardon silently watch as she maintains the intimate and united atmosphere that permeates the discussions, allowing the colleuses to be comfortable, open up and tackle difficult issues.
“The first time someone said to me, ‘I believe you’, it blew my mind,” one activist recalls of her personal ordeal. “#MeToo has made me realize that I’m not alone and that it’s not my fault,” adds another. In discussions, violence is often brought up as a useful and legitimate tool for “combating” it.
“Touch one of us, we’ll fight back,” the placarded slogans warn, signaling that the Splicer is ready to retaliate. In one particularly poignant scene, a feminist march manages to scare off a group of anti-abortion groups by yelling, “My body, my choice, now shut up!”
France 24 spoke to the co-filmmakers of Riposte féministe about the important struggle they documented and which is now being given a platform at the world’s largest film festival.
The film evokes the liberating effect of pasting messages to walls and “reclaiming” them. How did you go about filming these scenes?
Marie Perennes: Putting slogans on the walls is almost as important as the message itself. That’s the whole idea of reclaiming public space. This space where women are not normally welcome, well you must claim it day and night and make it clear that you have every right to be there.
We tried to support this idea of reappropriation through the way we filmed the scenes and placed our camera. We didn’t want it to feel like a report, with a shaky handheld camera almost anxiously “stealing” footage, adding stress and urgency. On the contrary, we put our camera on a tripod to take them (Les Colleuses) down the street and follow their action to underline that they have every right to be there. .
Simon Depardon: Our goal was to make something that was both politically engaged and cinematic. We didn’t want to write the history of this band with a series of on-camera interviews. Rather, we wanted to capture a moving image of the splicers that would be shown in theaters and endure over time.
Was it important to you to cover the entire French territory?
PM: We didn’t want to stop in Paris, as is often the case with films about political issues. We wanted to travel the country, meet different types of people and explore the specifics of each city. We also wanted to show the connections between young activists who don’t know each other but act with the same determination and courage across the country.
SD: The posters were also a pretext, a way of filming French youth and the political commitment of a by no means apathetic generation. We wanted to counteract the idea that rural parts of the country are being lost to the far right. Young people want to participate in the country’s democratic life. Not necessarily just by voting, but also with paint, glue and sheets of paper – and without asking permission.
Her film highlights the inclusive nature of the movement and its fight against all forms of discrimination. It doesn’t address the disagreements surrounding transphobia and biological sex. Was it a conscious decision? ?
SD: Our film is not an exhaustive exploration of feminism. As we traveled the country, we sensed an atmosphere of sisterhood and a great desire to change things, especially with regard to femicide. The issue of transphobia came up in the discussions, but only partially and not as divisively. We didn’t want to give him more importance than what we saw on the pitch.
PM: We were also disappointed to see that media coverage of the movement often gave a distorted, almost caricatured picture. We wanted to remain faithful to the young women we met and who moved us deeply. These questions are complex and our film is not a complete history of the movement. It is based on 10 splicer groups out of about 200 that exist in France and the issue (of transphobia) was not a source of tension.
Les Colleuses had a major impact on the festival. What’s next for them ?
SD: We were happy to bring together many gluers from different parts of the country here in Cannes. They were in touch on social media but had never met before, it was very moving to see them meet at the festival. They took the opportunity to pull off something spectacular on the red carpet. It’s important to have such strong images to make things visible.
PM: Posters are more of a tool than a movement. You can use them on a small street at night or on the Cannes red carpet. Our goal was to trace a movement that belongs to a specific era, a moment after Covid-19, when people felt a great need to express themselves and change things. Even if the posters disappear, the determination will remain and express itself in one way or another. Our film isn’t about posters, it’s about young women fighting for a cause.
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