Die Weibchen

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“Deadlier than the male.”

This German 1970’s film is well ahead of its time in some ways, but is postively Neanderthal in others, being basically a scream of fear about women’s liberation. It feels like a far-less subtle version of Neil LaBute’s re-make of The Wicker Man, taking place in a matriarchal town, where women are in charge, with the exception of a couple of incompetent men, to lift heavy things and provide a facade of normality (the police commissioner is an alcoholic, who knows little and cares less about what’s going on). Into this scenario comes Eve (Glas), a stressed-out secretary who has been booked in for a six-week course of treatment at the local spa. It’s not long before she stumbles across the body of a man with a knife embedded in his back, only to discover that no-one believes her, with the clinic’s doctor telling people Eve is suffering from post-tramautic hallicinations. Is that the case, or is there something genuinely unpleasant going on? And what’s this on the dinner menu?

It’s clear this is a warning tale of what might happen if that pesky feminism is allowed to continue unchecked to its “logical” conclusion: there’s even an actual bra-burning, though fortunately it’s only the more photogenic members of the cast who take part in this. It does a particularly good job of straddling the line, where you’re not certain whether or not the whole thing is simply a product of Eve’s deranged imagination. It does finally come down to a decisive conclusion, with a scene which is surprisingly graphic for the time. Up until this point, the cinematography and direction do a nice job of capturing the hallucingenic feel of a nightmare, where it feels like you can only move in slow-motion and wherever you go, whatever is chasing you is already there ahead of you. However, it’s also surprisingly pro-feminist, in that it’s basically only the women who are portrayed as strong and competent: the men are all sex-obsessed or drooling idiots – occasionally both. If ever a film were guilty of sending out mixed messages, this would be it – but, surprisingly, I didn’t feel that hurt it much.

It’s certainly a unique entiry, perhaps to be filed alongside other seventies gynophobia, such as Invasion of the Bee Girls. However, with a woman at its protagonist, as well as the antagonists, this strikes a better balance between its elements and, despite occasional obviously dated elements, stands the test of almost half a century, better than I expected.

Dir: Zbynek Brynych
Star: Uschi Glas, Irina Demick, Francoise Fabian, Giorgio Ardisson
a.k.a. Mujeres carnivores

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