Directed by: Yann Arthus-Bertrand, Anastasia Mikova | 105 minutes | documentary
Yann Arthus-Bertrand (1946) is a world-renowned French photographer, who has built a reputation particularly for his fantastic and revolutionary aerial photographs and who has also been making documentary films and series since 2006. A nature lover pur sang and passionate ecological activist, who wants to show the beauty and vulnerability of the earth to a large audience with his work. But Arthus-Bertrand’s love for the world goes beyond nature alone; he also loves humanity in all its diversity. He demonstrated this in the documentary ‘Human’ (2015), an impressive and bulky project for which the Frenchman, together with his much younger Ukrainian-French assistant Anastasia Mikova (1982), interviewed people from all over about life and life for three years. being human. Themes such as poverty, war, religion and racism were discussed. All those stories were professionally processed in a documentary that lasted more than three hours, full of small, moving portraits, which, despite the long playing time, never gets boring. Arthus-Bertrand and Mikova (now “promoted” to co-director) once again pull off this fine piece of craftsmanship with the film “Woman” (2019), in which they pay tribute to women, their femininity and being a woman. The starting point is: what does it mean to be a woman? How do women compare in a predominantly male-dominated world? Of course it makes a big difference whether you come from the Middle East, Africa or South America, or from Europe or North America, but still all those women – wherever they come from – look more alike than you would at first glance. would think.
As many as 2,000 women from fifty different countries were interviewed for this documentary. The fact that women play the lead role in this film is mainly due to Mikova, who saw during the making of “Human” that men stepped forward en masse to tell their story, while women were much more hesitant and suspicious. “But once they took a seat in front of the camera, it seemed as if they had waited their whole lives for that moment.” Arthus-Bertrand and Mikova felt a strong need to give women the stage they want. They no longer have to remain silent because the men around them tell them to. The women in “Woman” are therefore surprisingly outspoken, also on intimate topics such as menstruation and sexuality. They come from far and wide, from different cultures, all look different and represent different age groups. Nevertheless, they all have in common that they know what it is like to be a woman, what that entails. That men sometimes want to see you as the weak and vulnerable sex and take advantage of it; how can you arm yourself against this? Very sad stories pass, of women who have been doused with acid by a family member, women who have been trafficked, raped or tortured. Women who have been systematically abused. Women who feel sad because they cannot become a mother, were forced to have an abortion or were unable and were not allowed to make their own choices in life. Women who were belittled or discriminated against for being a woman, and therefore did not get a fair chance in their career or were not even allowed to go to school at all. Women whose face you can read pain, but who finally get the chance or the guts to tell their story. They are stories that make a deep impression because they are taken from life. Certainly if you yourself are a woman, they come in hard (even if you come from a completely different culture than the woman in question). But for men, this film should also be a must, so that they can better understand and value their wives if they haven’t already.
Such a summary of tragic life stories suggests that “Woman” is very heavy and gloomy, but this documentary is far from that. Enough time is set aside for cheerful, light-hearted stories. The joy around the first period, for example, or the escapades between the sheets, provide a lot of hilarity. Even women who have found a way to stand up for themselves, dare to show their pride and radiate a zest for life ensure that the balance does not turn too much towards tragedy. Which is also a relief: all these women are real. They are not smooth fashion dolls, but women with real female bodies full of imperfections. A number of them also dare to literally reveal themselves, in images specially shot by fashion photographer Peter Lindbergh. The fact that they are vulnerable makes them powerful and tough. And that goes for all women in “Woman”; together they step forward on behalf of the female gender. However different they are. Arthus-Bertrand and Mikova have found a nice way around them to give full attention. An even, dark background and the focus completely on the woman’s face. Here and there the “talking heads” are interspersed with a series of close-range shots of women in their everyday habitat, but even then our attention is always focused on the woman. “Woman” puts the “ordinary” woman on a pedestal, to show that she is not “ordinary” at all, but very special in her own way. An impressive and moving tribute to the female part of the world population that unfortunately still remains underexposed in many countries and cultures, but really deserves its place in the spotlight.