We Want Roses Too (Vogliamo anche le rose)

Courtesy photo
Alina Marazzi/Italy-Switzerland 2008

Collage has always been considered a more feminine art form. With the recent scrapbooking trend showing no sign of abating, it’s certainly a mainstream and popular one. Taking images that other people have created and turning them into something new and interesting isn’t easy. Splicing pieces of fragmented media into a comprehensive documentary without relying on a narrative presence is a remarkable achievement, and what Alina Marazzi has accomplished in We Want Roses Too.

The film is about is how the definition of what it means to be a donna in Italy changed in the 1960s and ’70s, and how women agitating for change, whether on a protest march or by arguing with their dad, also changed themselves. There’s so much to look at – the clothes dancing teenagers wear to demonstrations, a telephone Tarot advice line, the apartment the housewife tidies as she voices her wish to have only adult children who live abroad.

Marazzi’s spoken intent is to restore the collective memory of how things used to be for women and of the steps taken which have brought us into the present. The lack of narration means any conclusions must be drawn ourselves; this trust in the audience prevents it becoming polemical.

In the 1960s married women in Italy had the same legal status as children and divorce was illegal. No women had access to preventative birth control, much less equal pay, or personal protection from rape – until 1996 in Italy, it was a crime against morality, not a person. But the last thing anyone wants in a movie is a dry historic timeline. So Marazzi instead has taken ownership of her history – she’s stated it belongs to her, though she didn’t live it, a simple and strikingly logical attitude – and taps into Italy’s collective memory to remind the rest of us.

Achieving the right tone when covering such diverse ground so many angles is very difficult. Be flippant as a woman describes undergoing a backstreet abortion and you’re offensive; be overly serious when showing how changing fashions altered ideas about femininity and you send everyone to sleep. Marazzi manages this tricky feat superbly, juxtaposing film footage (including old home movies, newsreels, archival footage from left-wing libraries), diaries read aloud, songs, and a variety of animation techniques – including two-dimensional line drawing, adding movement to vintage magazine illustrations, and children’s-television pastiches – to move us through time and issues with a sense of adventure and exploration.

None of the women discuss childcare or body image, two hot “women’s issues” now. Instead they worry about their orgasms and complain about housework and being called “bourgeois” for refusing to sleep with someone. The eagerness of women to demonstrate, to document, to stand up publicly for their beliefs is startling in today’s more jaded environment.

The term hyperlink film has been coined for ones which interweave seemingly unconnected stories, such as Babel or Crash. That term should equally apply to something like We Want Roses Too (the title is an old union chant). The London Film Festival was only the film’s second screening, after its world premiere at the Locarno Film Festival. It creates such excellent food for thought it deserves wider attention.

The London Film Festival screening was prefaced by Ursula Ferrara’s 1999 short Five Rooms, an explosion of color (mainly yellows) and layered noise. Its stylistic shifts of painterly animation (from charcoal drawing to Van Gogh, Matisse and Haring pastiches and back again) explore the lives of people in one small house.

© 2007 Sarah Manvel. All rights reserved.

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