DEUX FOIS (MIFF2021) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

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The 1968 experimental film Deux fois marked the fearless debut of Éric Rohmer’s one-time editor-turned-filmmaker herself, Jackie Raynal. Appearing as the film’s central protagonist (alongside her co-star Francisco Viader), Raynal employs André Weinfeld’s striking black and white photography which follows her on a trip to Spain. Consisting of a series of at first seemingly disconnected vignettes (some of which are replayed, hence the title), Raynal’s loose, confident visual style invites us to map links between each moment, reaching into ourselves as much as into the film itself, and thus acting as a provocation of sorts for us to divine our own meaning, on our own terms.

But there is nothing passive in this strategy, indeed, far from it. The opening moments of the film alone make it clear that this is not a film by, about or for particularly passive women. A lengthy single still shot of a table as Raynal passionately eats and drinks is soon followed by a scene where a little girl with a penchant for throwing random objects out windows sits on a train and does precisely that. Between the voracious eating and the determined litter-bugging, Deux fois finds us firmly in the terrain of unruly women.

One of the most historically important French feminist films ever made, Deux fois was also a key film made by the Zanzibar Group filmmaking collective. While Rayner would become best known as a programmer in the United States (she worked at both Bleecker Street and Carnegie Hall in New York), Deux fois was a response to a feminist challenge of sorts, when a woman colleague dared her to stop editing movies for other people and to start making her own. That colleague was the intriguing Sylvina Boissonnas, a French heiress who funded the Zanzibar Group’s work which boasted amongst its other members alongside Raynal central figures, including Philippe Garrel.

Boissonnas family wealth came from her oil prospecting grandfather, and during the 1960s she developed a passion for both art and feminism. Despite her young age she began working alongside a number of iconic figures, not just in the Zanzibar Group but artists such as Niki de Saint Phalle. While she abandoned filmmaking in the 1970s to be involved in more radical (and less commercially focused) activism, Boissonnas is a key figure in Raynal and the Zanzibar Group’s ability to make movies – including the pioneering Deux fois.

Currently playing in the “MIFF Plays” online series that has replaced the originally planned in-person and online hybrid that the Melbourne International Film Festival had originally organised but adjusted due to COVID-19 related lockdowns and restrictions, Deux fois remains a fascinating remnant of the “It Takes a Village” stream focusing on collective filmmaking. Deux fois was programmed as one-third of a collection of 2 hour-long features and a short under the umbrella “Disobedient Muses”, described as a series of films where “Feminism, media interrogation, enduring relationships and exploratory cinematic art practices are showcased in this series spanning two continents and five decades.”

Raynal’s work was to appear alongside the Australian feminist art collective Barbara Cleveland’s This is a Stained Glass Window (2019) and the French collective’s Maso and Miso Go Boating (1976), both of which are also available on MIFF Play. And so – in a way – these three films can still be experienced as they were intended to be in the live cinema location. While the opportunity to catch this important and captivating film on the big screen has sadly not been possible, both in its own right and as part of both the “Disobedient Muses” screening and the broader “It Takes a Village” stream show that exciting curation of rep films is alive and well, even if the circumstances in which these films was originally planned to be screened is a little less healthy, for the time being at least.

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Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Alexandra Heller-Nicholas is a multi-award-winning film critic and author who has published nine books on cult, horror and exploitation cinema with an emphasis on gender politics, including the 2020 book ‘1000 Women in Horror, 1898-2018’ which was included on Esquire Magazine’s list of the best 125 books written about Hollywood. Alexandra is a contributing editor at Film International, a columnist at Fangoria, an Adjunct Professor at Deakin University, and a member of the advisory board of the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies (LA, NYC, London).