Culture

The terrorism of love

Adriana Prodeus · 11 June 2013
Watching the feature film debut from Katarzyna Klimkiewicz, I couldn’t help drawing parallels to Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty. Similarly to the American director’s masterpiece, this also is a story of a war, shown in the confines of offices and meeting rooms. The movie tells a story of an ambitious woman working in the tough world of men. The only difference is the object of the hunt: in the first movie they were trying to catch bin Laden, here, the love is the terrorist.

An ode to female individualism

The vision of a strong independent woman, who – whilst fighting for men’s recognition – also loses them, seems especially valid today. Not only because of the discussion over the third wave of feminism in the context of the mythical struggle for power, but also because of its relevance to how work standards affect our private life. The protagonist is blinded by her career: she works in order to prove herself, to show that what seems impossible to the men, is achievable to her, the intelligent and always focused woman. When we meet Frankie (Helen McCrory), she has just taken on a task of completing a project, which, due to the tight deadline is almost impossible to succeed in. The woman sits in her office with earplugs in her ears. Cut off from the outside world, she constructs a statue of female individualism, but unlike in Zero Dark Thirty, is not founded on the power of authority over others, but rather on individualistic narcissism aspiring to total freedom. Frankie is an aerospace specialists and this obvious symbol – the plane – stands for nothing more than flying solo. 

The label ‘single, therefore lonely’ refers to the stereotype of a female role that is only fulfilled in a relationship. The office in a corporation is a sphere of tough demands of a successful career. Frankie however has also a second sphere of activity: the university, which she approaches with less ambition and more as a way of confirming her status. As a widely recognized expert, she feels at ease and has a sense of humour. It is in this sphere – open to asking questions, searching for answers – that she allows herself to become emotionally engaged. In the office she is still committed to the rat race and her colleagues, all of them men, remain to her meaningless. Besides, why would she pay attention to those tired, awkward losers? She drives a fast black car that they can only dream of. She locks herself in the aerodynamic cabin, letting a stream of air blow over her body. In a symbolic scene, she becomes a drone – an unmanned plane. After all, you’re faster when you’re flying solo.

Trained in corporate self-defense, Frankie routinely castrates any potential opponent. When Kahil (Najib Oudghiri) compliments her on a lecture she has just given, she points out that the textbook in his hand (which she has written) is an outdated edition. She puts him in a position of someone who knows nothing, and therefore has no right to give her compliments. When threatened with losing control, she strikes before anyone else get a chance to strike. She doesn’t want to feel defenseless, in need of help. Apart from that, like a true huntsman, she wants to earn things on her own.

The mastery of realism – corporate mechanism

By carving the character from solid stone and observing the details of its emotions,  Klimiewicz attempts to capture the transformation of a woman. McCrory is brilliant, moving effortlessly from moments of anger to pride, then despair, then complete depression. Pursed lips, raised eyebrows –they form a mask, relaxed from time to time by an occasional smile. It is a pleasure to watch as she becomes both more beautiful and surprisingly shy when in love. The actress was born for this role.

McCrory follows the instructions, which lets the director blossom and confirms her rare talent and great skill in her own craft. The leading role actors were perfectly chosen and there is real chemistry between them. It’s only a shame that the scenes of their sexual encounters bring to mind erotic novels and strike with their banality, especially compared to the realism of the rest of the movie. Klimkiewicz is most efficient in her directing when it strictly mirrors reality, as for example in the bathroom scene: Frankie is sitting on the floor, and as if woken from a dream, she stares at her young god in the bathtub. In another scene, she is watching a football match under a bridge, where Kahil is playing with his friends. Here again she is the only woman, as well as a white woman, among the scarf-wearing Muslims. The scenes that are less convincing are the ones that were envisaged to be unreal, as the earlier mentioned aerodynamic cabin or when Frankie is training on a running track seen through a window in slow-motion. Klimkiewicz shows in a much better way for example Kahil’s flirtation with the waitress which turns out to be his ex-girlfriend. Or the moment when his lie is revealed, as Frankie watches her beloved from inside of her car, while he convinces her over the phone to be studying at home. This is a movie about the desire for freedom, for risk and the price one has to pay for them. By inscribing the love story into a context of an unclear terrorist threat, Klimkiewicz has created a movie about distrust that devastates the whole society, but originates from very intimate, personal relations.

What destroys the relations in the first place is the mechanism of a corporation. As Małgorzata Sadowska wrote about Zero Dark Thirty, in this world, “a man, in order to be successful, needs just to do his job; a girl – has to catch bin Laden. For a corporation, this ‘bin Laden’ can stand for many various things.”

Both films: Bigelow’s and Klimkiewicz’s can be viewed as a representation of the destruction that corporate career can do to a woman’s life. Does work need to be obsession, is there a place for a private life outside it?

Terrorism and love: to be taken for granted

 

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Frankie maintains a close relationship with her father, submitting to his overprotectiveness. Her mother is dead, she is single and the desire to be seduced makes her a typical flirt, or a cougar. If we were to summarize the plot, it would not sound very original: forty-something woman, who – despite the excess of work – is still attractive, fit and allows herself for a flirt with a handsome man, 20 years younger than her. However, it’s not the freshness of the plot, but the unambiguity of the assessment of the events that make the film exciting to watch and the frames of the genre become a space for a game with the spectator and his expectations. The woman’s worrying over the man actually indeed desires and loves her or not, hiding the devious plan of using her to escape, is the worrying of a person in love. Here, it is combined with a fear of terrorism, fear of the Other. The subject of Algerian underground in Great Britain functions like in the movie MacGuffin – we won’t learn about any concrete threats to which the boy might or might not be linked, apart from those imagined after seeing a backpack full of (toy?) weapons lurking from under the bathtub or the Islamic websites. The uncertainty of love comes disguised in this movie, wearing the costume of Middle Eastern terrorism.

The exotic-sounding language both excites and disturbs the protagonist, then irritates and tires her. The thread of cultural foreignness, present also in Klimkiewicz’s other, highly acclaimed motion picture Hanoi-Warsaw, is further developed in this movie. To Frankie, suddenly her own country seems as if it was foreign. The protagonist wakes up from her infatuation to become suspicious. Does she have real reasons to worry? Will she reject the love out of fear of destroying her career?

The original title of the movie is Flying Blind. The term comes from American flight terminology and describes maneuvers in the air in conditions of insufficient visibility, for example in the fog. Today used rather colloquially, also in reference to games, it means ‘trusting one’s intuition, or having no other possibility, without the necessary information to make the right decision, including the results contrary to the ones envisioned’ – says the dictionary [1]. This fits perfectly to the romantic situation which awakens the desire of an adventure, hope and fear. Thus, although Flying Blind is analyzed in the context of attitudes towards Muslim minorities, war on terror or Arab Spring, love is the central theme of the movie. The title seems to be referring to the emotional blindness – risky, but necessary in any romantic relationship. If you can’t trust other person, everything may collapse.

Watching Katarzyna Klimkiewicz’s film, I couldn’t help thinking about Roland Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments. As Michał Paweł Markowski wrote in the preface to the book ‘Other, spelled with capital ‘O’, denotes a place from which others can hear us and in which we are recognized in our desire; ‘other’ spelled with small letter means simply an object of affection, a beloved person who does not necessarily have to hear us.’ [2].

Footnotes:

[1] www.sjp.pl

[2] M. P. Markowski, „Dyskurs i pragnienie” [w:] R. Barthes, „Pisma”, pod red. M. P. Markowskiego i K. Kłosińskiego, tom 2, Wydawnictwo KR, Warszawa 1999, s.11.

Movie:

Flying Blind, dir. Katarzyna Klimkiewicz, Great Britain 2013, distr. Alter Ego Pictures Sp. z o.o.