A festival like Rotterdam is a great place for women directors to gain exposure. Not coincidentally, Rotterdam is also a great venue for films with female-driven narratives. The five I saw, three directed by women and two by men, shared an interest in how the past haunts the present; in intense feelings hidden beneath a constructed surface and the essential loneliness of women.
In "Happily Ever After," Croatian-born documentarian Tatjana Božić, in a troubled marriage to Dutch filmmaker Rogier, visits her former lovers: two Russians, a German, an Englishman and a Croatian, hoping to learn why her relationships always fail. It's a rom-com setup, but they don't typically explore the subject with such obsessiveness. Fortyish, with masses of curly, dyed-red hair and a warm, affectionate nature, Božić is genuinely welcomed by her old loves. She's introduced to the wives, interrogates the men, gets advice from friends, and eventually, the men all tell her the same thing: While attracted to her strength, they lost interest when she took on the victim's role in their relationship -- a situation that will be uncomfortably familiar to many women.
She may be a doormat with her partners, but Božić certainly has the healthy ego of an artist (She also relentlessly filmed their lives). Božić has a sense of humor, but under her sociable exterior, there's not much insight or empathy. During a boozy dinner with one ex and his wife, Božić comments morosely that they have managed to stay married for 20 years. "Oh?" says the wife. "You try staying married to him!" as her husband squirms in the background. More of that would have been welcome. (Trailer below.)
In Henrik Hellström's "The Quiet Roar," also investigating her own past (with the help of a psychedelic drug) is dying, 60ish Marianne (Evabritt Strandberg). Guided by her mentor (Hanna Schygulla), Marianne reflects on a pivotal moment 40 years earlier at a vacation house set against stunning, precipitous Norwegian mountains. As Marianne's grip on reality loosens, glaciers melt into dramatically crashing waterfalls, fires flare, and small children come perilously close to the mountain's edge. Marianne travels deeper into her psyche, questioning her younger self (luminous Joni Francéen) and her young husband (Jorgën Svensson). The camera lingers on different objects, their impassiveness echoing the younger Marianne's as she nurses her unspoken and perhaps unrealized anger. The ending is hard to buy, but the film, gorgeously art-directed by Josefin Åsberg and shot by Fredrik Wenzel is engrossing throughout.