As one of three women in the Willamette Week newsroom, I need no reminder of the embarrassing underrepresentation of women in the media. Documentaries like Miss Representation frustrate me both with their statistics (women hold 3 percent of clout positions in the media; only 11 percent of protagonists in the top films of 2011 were female) and with their tired formats. That’s why the Siren Nation Film Festival is so welcome. Eschewing the idea that “women’s films” are a monolithically bland or browbeating bloc, this year’s lineup—10 features and a collection of shorts, all made by women—crosses genres, themes and styles. Two stood out to me for their personal, revealing narratives.
The first, Marija’s Own, is an odd, docu-fiction mongrel out of Croatia, part performance art and part boisterous family reunion. The premise: Three young women decide to throw a long-overdue wake for their grandmother (the eponymous Marija) and solicit designs for her unmarked gravesite. Zeljka Suková’s film mixes actors and real-life family members, who drink too much cherry brandy and drunkenly dance to a Czech electro-synth band in a cramped Soviet-era apartment. The three granddaughters look like chain-smoking Disney princesses pining for the 1980s, dressed in fluffy dresses, bright plastic jewelry and dramatic eyeliner. There’s a close-up of a cockroach on a peeling wall, shaky home-video footage and a man who looks like he should be offering spiritual advice to a group of Burners. That makes it sound like a mess and, sometimes, it is—but it’s a rambunctious, vividly hued and curiously touching mess.
Mosquita y Mari is not that film at all. Set in a predominantly Mexican neighborhood of Los Angeles, it’s a loosely plotted, atmospheric film that follows two Chicana teens—one studious and obedient, the other a rebellious recent arrival to the U.S.—as they navigate an unlikely friendship. A tangible undercurrent of same-sex desire burbles throughout, but it’s no stock coming-out narrative. Director Aurora Guerrero resists clichés or labels, and the two leads (Fenessa Pineda and Venecia Troncoso) turn in sincere and lovely performances. Where Marija’s Own is something of a brassy showboat, Mosquita y Mari is delicate, patient and inward-looking. Though the first may profess to document reality, Mosquita y Mari feels like the more honest film.
SEE IT: The Siren Nation Film Festival is at the Clinton Street Theater, 2522 SE Clinton St., 238‑5588. Various showtimes Thursday-Sunday, Nov. 15-18. See sirennation.org for details.