Friday, August 31, 2018

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Maeve

Christopher Owens was at Queens Film Theatre Belfast on the 27th of August to view a movie from the 1980s. Here are his thoughts.

Closed over the summer due to refitting, the place looks better than ever. The QFT has been a vital part of Belfast's art and night life since 1968, and to be back in it for Cinema Day is a joy.

Part of an initiative between the British Film Institute and Film Hub N.I, Cinema Day saw various venues in Belfast turned into cinemas (Cafe 31 showing The 400 Blows, Black Box showing Hidden Agenda, HMS Caroline showing E.T) and even honouring the past (the famous Curzon Cinema on the Ormeau Road, now a block of flats, was partially recreated in the apartments courtyard with a screening of The Curzon Project).

And, for the QFT, we got a rare screening of Maeve.

Originally released in 1981, Maeve has proven surprisingly endearing with film academics as it attempts to explore the Troubles through a feminist lens. Also, it's arguably one of the first films about the conflict that doesn't take a universal "why can't it all be like Corrymeela" approach, nor an openly condemnatory one towards paramilitaries.

In many ways, it is a movie that comes out of post punk: it challenges conventional (at the time) cinematic, thematic and political thinking. How well it does this is another matter but, for the time, Maeve fits into a strand of experimental British cinema that was using Marxist theories and French new wave cinema as jumping off points, instead of Hollywood and the established canon of classics.

The narrative structure (possibly inspired by Breathless by Jean Luc Godard) is deliberately out of order, presumably to allow for differing interpretation of events and characters. Some have construed this as a deliberate tactic to not spoon-feed the audience (to which it could very well be). However, a modern audience familiar with the way Reservoir Dogs tells its tale via flashback will find this quite clumsy and confusing.

As for the plot, there is little in the way of one: we piece together the events and conversations that lead the titular character to realise the futility of her surroundings and that the struggle for equality amongst men and women is much more important. So what's important are the dialogue and the characters.

Unfortunately, both of these can, at times can lean towards "amateur drama", especially in the scene where Maeve and her Republican boyfriend argue in the Cavehill mountain about how the 1950's generation of Republicans are stuck in the past, while he is willing to appropriate the past and the myths for something better (sounds like he ended up a Shinner post GFA!) Maeve retorts that the memories he clings to are false and, crucially, "the way you want to remember excludes me....I get remembered out of existence. There's just no space for me" (I was waiting for a line about "my angry lesbian breast" but thankfully no such thing turned up).

Considering the likes of Constance Markievicz, Bernadette Devlin, Roisin McLaughlin and the Price sisters (who had their mother and aunts to look up to) had already established themselves in the Republican canon by 1981, this statement is rather bizarre.

This exploration of feminism in such a space and time does not shy away from the issues within. Maeve's sister is depicted as being distrustful of her sister's ideology (describing it as "no help to me...ended up sounding like mummy does sometimes about men being the enemy, out to take advantage...It's what I've been hearing since I was five"), while Maeve seems to believe that "women's sexuality is so abused that it's almost an act of liberation to turn yourself into a sex object" and transcending roles.

How I, and the audience, cringed at hearing that line in the cinema. Clearly, the feminist sex wars and the idea of a "rape culture" have dated the film's sexual politics.

Indeed, the three main female characters in the film (Maeve, her sister and her mother) represent different strands of female thinking in regards to the conflict: the mother is the long suffering wife who has to "know her place" in relation to her husband and is despondent at the degradation of what was her way of life. The sister is the young girl looking for fun and excitement while being battle hardened because of her treatment at the hands of the British Army. Finally, Maeve is the one who feels no kinship with what she sees in Belfast, and sees England as a land of fresh opportunity.

Bit of unintentional colonialist thinking on behalf of the filmmakers!

Although the film is set in West Belfast, it does not take traditional sides. Portraying the British Army as sneering bullies, old IRA men as stuck in another time and evangelical Protestants as delirious (witness the scene with the man at the Giant's Causeway shouting "Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right" as proof), its overall message is that this place is insane and that escaping to a metropolitan city like London can be the salvation of those who do not fall in line with ideologies.

Once again, a very outsider/colonial point of view: educating the savages by placing them in "civilisation."

And that is a shame, because there are moments here that hint at what women growing up in Catholic Belfast during the late 70's/early 80's (and their mothers) had to endure, and how it impacted on them.

Two scenes in particular spring to mind: one where Maeve's sister tells of attending a party, only for her and her friend to find themselves lying beside a British soldier asking "who's it gonna be" after he reveals he hasn't seen his wife in six months. Another, also from the sister, tells of the mother exploding at a teenage gunman holding up a taxi that she's in. More of that, and we could have been talking about a film which transcends it's time period to tell universal truths about women in a war situation.

Undoubtedly revolutionary in it's day, time has not been so kind to Maeve.

The whole film can be viewed on the BFI website. 

➽ Christopher Owens reviews for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland.
Follow Christopher Owens on Twitter @MrOwens212

2 comments :

AM said...

Another great review Christopher. The popularity of your stuff is reflected in the numbers who read you - well above and beyond what review pieces would normally get on TPQ.

Christopher Owens said...

Thank you very much AM. I am always honoured when people read my pieces.

Be interesting to know what you and Carrie make of the movie.