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Review: Women Are Heroes (2010)

Director: | 85 minutes |

The French, rather anonymous, street artist and photographer JR (he himself calls his profession “photographer”), adds a new heading to his CV: director with his debut “Women Are Heroes”, which premiered in Cannes. It should come as no surprise that his firstfruits excel above all in the visual. The images presented to the viewer are often breathtakingly beautiful. Supported by the flawlessly dosed score, written by Massive Attack, among others, “Women Are Heroes” is an appealing documentary that will appeal to art lovers in general and art lovers in particular.

JR’s film serves as a kind of report of his art project in which he shot portraits with a 28 mm lens, ie at close range, of women he interviewed. These women live in mostly miserable conditions in slums all over the world. By photographing these women – he often makes them pull funny faces – and letting them do the talking in front of the camera, while also being very close to them, he creates a bond between artist and model. That has repercussions on the viewer. It is made easy for the viewer to penetrate their perception, so that you cannot but be deeply touched by the stories of these strong women who have so much to do without and yet continue to worry, fight, keep hope, live …

Cambodian heroine Peng Phan, for example, decided after the end of the Cambodian to help children who had become orphans. Together with her husband she provides for the education and care of these children, in her own home. Now that the city is modernizing, the couple, like the other local residents, is threatened with deportation. The Indian Shanti Mehrar also makes a big impression: despite her sad story, a cheerful sparkle remains visible in her eyes and with the broad smile on her face, she is the epitome of a proud, positive woman. The young widow Jecinta Achieng and the excellent English-speaking Catherine Mukulu live in Kibera, Kenya, and also bravely tell their story. Catherine says she wants her children to live better lives than she has so far and stresses the importance of good education. She also wants to mean something for society, but women in Kibera can hardly get a job because they have to compete against the prejudices that their neighborhood entails.

For his art project, JR chooses the most beautiful or most appealing photos and blows them up to immense proportions. With this he illustrates a bare wall, covers all (previously leaky) roofs in the dilapidated slum in Kibera, or sticks them on a train or bus. This produces extremely special shots that you have to see to believe. The fact that JR also works uncompromisingly as a filmmaker is expressed in the absence of a clear narrative structure and the explanation of a voice-over. The unpredictable editing also contributes to this. In the beginning of “Women Are Heroes”, when recording the neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro, the idiosyncratic artist often uses the time-lapse technique, later on he uses long shots to increase the effect.

Even more than the moving stories and powerful cinematography argues for the documentary is that JR not only takes women as his subject, he also shows what children are capable of, by giving them a camera or the floor. And then not a disposable camera, but a digital Canon SLR camera. It’s all about possibilities: give a child the chance to develop and it doesn’t matter where it comes from. It is an important message. And it makes “Women Are Heroes”, in addition to a very beautiful, also an important documentary.

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