The Daughters of Fire (Las hijas del fuego, Argentina 2018)

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On the utopian road

This is a startling film for a number of reasons. Most obvious is the nature of the representations of sexual intercourse, which are the most explicit I’ve seen. Compared to In the Realm of the Senses (Ai no korîda, Japan, 1976) and The Idiots (Idioterne, Denmark-Spain-Sweden-France-Netherlands-Italy, 1998), for example, both of which feature hardcore sex, this film raises the bar for arthouse explicitness. The film even trumps Gaspar Noé’s provocations (at least the ones I’ve seen such as Love) as this is indisputably a pornographic film. Director Albertina Carri (she also co-wrote with Analía Couceyro) does use the narrative as a frame for moving on to the next sex scene. I can’t remember where I read that pornography is like the musical: in the latter the narrative moves us on to the next ‘song and dance’ number; in the former it is for the ‘moan and grope’ sequences. However the film is also more than porn.

Carri, whose short film Barbie Can also Be Sad (Barbie también puede estar triste, Argentina, 2002) is reputably also worth a watch, has made a meta-porn movie using arthouse techniques to comment on and question what we are seeing. This is primarily through the voiceover of one of the two characters who embark on a road trip (to stop one of their mothers selling a car!) where they pick up other women along the way. Inés Duacastella’s cinematography beautifully captures the austere landscapes of Patagonia; I’m not sure but I think they are headed south toward Tierra del Fuego, the end of the world (continent) which is named after fire. Road movies usually lead characters to learn about themselves, but this bunch are already full of knowledge about their sexuality and apparently need little more. In this sense, the spaces they move through are utopian; there are no psychological impediments to their lasciviousness. They are challenging patriarchy and have little problem dispensing with the two homophobic misogynists they come across: a utopian space indeed!

Carri’s crew was apparently virtually all female and although I found the film intensely erotic I (heterosexual male) am not the target audience. I suspect many will find the graphic sex scenes too much to view but the film is clearly more than porn (listen to the interesting discussion between academics José Arroyo and Deborah Shaw). (I’m trying to avoid ‘protesting too much’ so it seems I’m justifying watching porn).

There are moments of great beauty in the film. The hallucinogenic sequence when the characters take mushrooms, where imagery of sea life is superimposed on the image, is particularly stunning. Whilst not going the whole Godardian hog of alienating the spectator from the film with the voiceover, Carri does enough to get us thinking about what we are seeing. The final, long take, of a woman masturbating reminded of the scene in Godard’s British Sounds (UK 1970) where a naked woman stands on a stairway with a Marxist-Leninist tract on the soundtrack (as I remember it at least). The content of the shot is such that the viewer is interrogated as much as the image.

The film’s showing on MUBI for a while and is available on at least one pornographic website, an interesting platform for an arthouse movie.

One comment

  1. Roy Stafford

    I agree with most of your comments. This is indeed both art cinema and porn, though the intention is to use both to ‘expose’ the limitations of what the filmmakers see as the ‘male gaze’. There is a lot to say about the film so I’ll just stick to the opening sequences in this comment.

    In the opening we see the three women separately who will meet up in the town later. The one who is the filmmaker has been in either Antarctica or elsewhere in the archipelago and in her voiceover narration as she leaves the ship bringing her back to Tierra del Fuego she imagines a film that goes back to 1968. Her voiceover links patriarchy, the history of Argentinian aggression and expansionist policies in the region (which involved disputes with Chile and war with the UK) and criticises the military and the clergy in particular. It links the representation of women on screen and specifically their bodies and how those bodies are related to ‘territories and landscapes in front of the camera’. The imagined narrative is about how women as scientists(?) have challenged the unchanging patriarchy. This is heady stuff and I’m reminded that Territories was the title of one of the avant-garde films made by the UK group Sankofa in 1985, dealing with questions of racial and sexual identity.

    btw The women’s journey begins in Ushuaia, the capital of the Argentinian half of Tierra del Fuego island and the most southerly city in the world. They can’t go further south on the main island so they must be driving round the coast and up into the hills.

    There is a lot more to say about the film!

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