Saturday, September 18, 2021

Stars of feminist Western say movies ready for new gender roles


Hollywood stars Robert Pattinson and Mia Wasikowska said the current reckoning with power abuses in the entertainment industry has opened a door to new movies that subvert traditional gender roles, as they presented the feminist Western “Damsel” Friday at the Berlin film festival.

Pattinson, the “Twilight” heartthrob turned independent film actor, said the #MeToo movement against sexual misconduct felt like a watershed moment both on and off screen.

“I think if you feel that you’ve been wronged and you feel like you’ve been bullied into silence, it’s one of the most awful feelings in the world,” he told reporters after the screening of “Damsel” in competition at the 11-day event.

“It’s kind of amazing when any kind of dam breaks and people feel like they’ve got the numbers to say ‘you’ll be safe to say whatever’s happened to you’.

“A lot of these kind of conversations kind of mirror what we’re trying to say on the screen.”

In the movie, Rob‘s character travels around with a mini horse named Butterscotch.

‘Not how love works’

Pattinson plays Samuel, a dim-witted cowboy in the Old West who is searching for his old flame Penelope (Wasikowska), his purported fiancee who he says has been kidnapped by an old rival.

Samuel hires a pastor he hopes will marry them and the pair set off on horseback to track down his heart’s desire.

But as they come upon the prairie homestead where she is supposedly being held captive, Samuel instead finds a scene of domestic bliss with Penelope, far from being a damsel in distress, happily married to the other man.

Samuel, first seen as a hopeless romantic and dashing saviour, is exposed as something of a bumbling stalker, while a furious, rifle-toting Penelope accuses him of destroying “the first time I’ve ever been happy”.

“I guess with Samuel, he just has a kind of extremely skewed idea of consent. He’s just completely delusional about it — obviously it’s pushed to a massive extreme,” he said.

“When someone has said no to you and because you think ‘I’m in love with you, the only thing that matters is the fact that I love you so all of my behaviour has to be excused’. It’s like ‘no, that’s not how love works, that’s not how reality works’.”

‘Projection of man’s desires’

The Polish-Australian Wasikowska, who also divides her time between big Hollywood productions such as “Alice in Wonderland”, television series like “In Therapy” and smaller budget movies, said her character represented a new take on the old-fashioned Western heroine.

“I just really like that we were led to believe a certain thing of this character and then halfway through the film it gets flipped on its head and all the expectations we have of this woman are very much a projection of the man’s desires,” she said.

“I think it’s part of a growing kind of consciousness of changing the way that women are seen. The more you see empowered female characters that have a really strong voice or who know who they are or are challenging expectations that are deeply ingrained in culture, the better it is.”

Wasikowska said she thought her character meshed with the current zeitgeist, in which seismic shifts in sex and power dynamics are becoming palpable.

“I think it’s amazing — I’ve been in Australia for most of the last year and watching it from afar,” she said.

“The Respect Rally (for women’s rights) in Sundance (last month’s Utah-based film festival) was the first thing I’d been able to go to and been a part of and that was really amazing to feel the energy there and the connectedness of the people. I think it’s great, and I think it’s going to be a really significant change.”

“Damsel” by US filmmaker brothers David and Nathan Zellner is one of 19 movies in competition for the festival’s Golden and Silver Bear top prizes, to be awarded on February 24.

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