Tuesday, September 24, 2019
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CULTURE | 25-05-2019 09:22

Argentina’s battle over abortion hits the big screen at Cannes

Filmmaker Juan Solanas new documentary, Que Sea Ley, premieres at influential film festival.

Filmmaker Juan Solanas declares himself an atheist. But he says that if God did exist, he would wear a green handkerchief, the emblem of Argentina’s pro-abortion movement and subject of his documentary that premiered at the Cannes Film Festival Saturday.

Solanas, 52, says the film was shot on the spur-of-the-moment when he became inspired by television reports of massive women’s pro-abortion protests in Argentina.

He grabbed his camera and took to the streets of the capital to get amongst them, “fascinated by so much talent, life and creativity in the Green Movement.”

Months of protests to decriminalise abortion in Pope Francis’ homeland culminated in a make-or-break Senate vote on a cold, wet night last August.

Having passed through Congress previously – despite strong pressure from the Catholic Church – the abortion bill fell at the final hurdle in the Senate, defeated by 38 votes to 31.

“That night I died from the cold, from the rain, I almost broke my camera,” Solanas told AFP.

“I felt anger, indignation,” said the director, son of the national senator and celebrated filmmaker Fernando “Pino” Solanas, who won Cannes’ Best Director prize for his 1988 film Sur.

“I grew up in an atheist family, although my paternal grandmother was very devout. I respect people’s beliefs, but it is medieaval and violent to impose them on people who don’t think the same.”

The resulting documentary, Que Sea Ley (“Let It Be Law”), is peppered with testimonies from women who took to the streets.

“I’m not a guy who cries. I’m hard... but I was moved to see a wonderful, super-powerful women’s movement on television. I fell in love. It was a shock. Women are incredible,” he said.

Those “heroines will be with me in France,” he told AFP before departing for Cannes, where the film premiered in the “Special Screenings” section on Saturday.

Solanas – the maker of such features as the 2005 Northeast and the 2012 movie Upside Down – is better known in France than in his homeland, having spent most of his life there.

In moving to France he followed in the footsteps of his father, who as a target for Argentina’s military dictatorship had fled to the country to develop his film career, leaving Juan with his mother.

“My mother and father were militants all their lives, they were going to kill him,” said Solanas.

Now aged 83, the elder Solanas made an impassioned speech in favor of decriminalising abortion on the night of the vote.

In Argentina abortion is only allowed in case of rape, a threat to the mother’s life or if the foetus is deemed non-viable. Various charities estimate that hundreds of thousands of illegal, secret abortions are carried out every year in Argentina, resulting in around 100 deaths.

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