Women Survivors in Cinema

The Issue of Madness
  • Esther Fuchs
Chapter

Abstract

Films about women survivors tend to portray them as profoundly troubled individuals, whose lives end in self-destruction.1 In the best cases, the point of these films is to dramatize the ongoing impact of the Holocaust on the lives of survivors. They often seek to validate the perception that the Holocaust is a profoundly mutilating and deforming event and that in the case of survivors it has a psychological after-life. When the attempt is to elicit empathy for the characters most films seize on romantic and tragic narrative conventions. More often than not, the films portray these women in traditional male-dependent roles. The sexual and maternal roles assigned to most of the characters enclose them in a domestic universe of traditional femininity. The ‘older’ survivors tend to fall into the conventional cinematic category of the aging woman, polarized as saint or shrew.2 The story of the woman’s survival is the story of her eventual demise, suggesting a certain death wish, or mythical masochism, thus validating yet another female stereotype.3 The plot in most of these films hinges on a process of degeneration, mental breakdown and death. Films like I Love You Rosa, The Summer of Aviya and Enemies: A Love Story strive to create the illusion of ordinary women, but this ordinariness is often shaped by an ideology of female propriety. What is most disturbing is the reliance on the trope of female instability.4 Most women in these films are portrayed as both ignorant and mentally fragile. The women’s perceptions do not concur with what the films construct as ‘reality’. With the exception of Sophie’s Choice, which focuses on a gentile woman, most of the films I will discuss barely explain or dramatize the specific events, or memories that interfere with the victim’s appropriate interpretation of her social reality.

Keywords

Depression Europe Beach Smoke Bark 

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Notes

  1. 2.
    Karen M. Stoddard, Saints and Shrews: Women and Aging in American Popular Film (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1983).Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Paula J. Caplan, The Myth of Women’s Masochism (New York: Dutton, 1985).Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Mary Ellmann, Thinking About Women (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1968).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 5.
    Sander L. Gilman, Difference and Pathology: Stereotypes of Sexuality, Race and Madness (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1985); Shoshana Felman, Writing and Madness: (Literature/Philosophy/Psychoanalysis) (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1985).Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Phyllis Chesler, Women and Madness (New York: Avon Books, 1973);Google Scholar
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  7. 8.
    The compulsion to hide is more appropriate to memoirs and fictional dramatizations of victims who survived by hiding, rather than of concentration camp vicitms. See Lillian Kremer, Women’s Holocaust Writing: Memory and Imagination (Lincoln and London: 1999), pp.24–25.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    André Pierre Colombât, The Holocaust in French Film (Metuchen and London: The Scarecrow Press, 1993), pp.49–96. Colombât does not deal with Madame Rosa but analyses a number of films produced in the 1980s that reveal what he calls ‘a struggle for accuracy’.Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    Mary Anne Ferguson, Images of Women in Literature (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1981);Google Scholar
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    On male produced images of women in Israeli cinema, see Ella Shohat, ‘Making the Silences Speak in Israeli Cinema’, Calling the Equality Bluff: Women in Israel, eds. Barbara Swirski and Marilyn P. Safir (New York: Pergamon Press, 1991), pp.31–40).Google Scholar
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  19. 26.
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  20. 29.
    Carol Rittner and John Roth, Different Voices: Women and the Holocaust (New York: Paragon, 1993);Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Esther Fuchs

There are no affiliations available

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