“The Hill Where the Lionesses Roar” and “Quickening”, the first feature films by emerging filmmakers, are intimate presentations into the lives of young women

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With heart and bravery, and offering unique windows to typically unexplored lives, Lionesses and Acceleration both question the way young women on the cusp of adulthood navigate their increasingly complicated worlds.

Of The hill where the lionesses roar. (Courtesy of the Toronto International Film Festival)

This is part of a series of 2021 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) reviews, in which I focused on films directed by women; you can find my other TIFF 2021 reviews here.


One of the great benefits of film festivals like TIFF is that they provide a platform for young, emerging filmmakers to showcase their work to a wider audience as they embark on promising careers. The films reviewed below, The hill where the lionesses roar and Acceleration, are the first remarkable characteristics of these emerging talents. Franco-Kosovar writer-director Luàna Bajrami, also known for her supporting role in Céline Sciamma’s film Portrait of a Lady on Fire, was only 18 when she started working on Lionesses. Born in Pakistan, Haya Waseem has already written and directed a number of well-received short films, but Acceleration is his first feature film.

With heart and bravery, and offering unique windows to typically unexplored lives, Lionesses and Acceleration both question the way young women on the cusp of adulthood navigate their increasingly complicated worlds.

The hill where the lionesses roar

the-hill-where-lionesses-roar-review-quickening-debuts-features-young-women-director-feminist-films
Of The hill where the lionesses roar. (Courtesy of the Toronto International Film Festival)

The hill where the lionesses roar is a breathtaking view of the friendship of three young women who share a burning desire to escape the confines of small-town Kosovo life, to go to college and explore beyond the streets and people they have known since birth. Exist in a long-lasting state boredom seemingly only punctuated with disappointments big and small, the friends conspire to form a gang, robbing neighboring businesses in the hopes of putting enough money aside to free themselves from a life that already seems set in stone.

Qe (Flaka Latifi) lives with his parents and a younger sister who idolizes him. Her father is bossy and verbally abusive, and her mother insists that Qe take over the family hair salon even though she prefers to go to college. Jeta, by far the most disgruntled of the three and for good reason, is an orphan and lives with a sexually abusive uncle; as a result, she tries to spend as little time as possible at home. By contrast, the third friend, Li (Era Balaj) comes across as jubilant and carefree, with a loving mother and three brothers, but her romance with Zem (Andi Bajgora) – a sweet young man who is unlucky enough to work for little people. recommendable. characters-causes tension and problems for the trio.

Another disturbance appears in the form of Lena (played by the writer-director), an expat from Kosovo who grew up in Paris and only visits to spend time with her grandmother. Initially, Lena and Qe form a tenuous friendship, partly marred by Jeta’s possessive jealousy. But it’s Lena’s presumptive attitude that ultimately creates a wedge between her and the other women. Qe, Li, and Jeta talk to Lena about living in Paris and studying at university, but when Lena complains that it’s too much pressure and responsibility, the other women balk. How can she not see how lucky she is?

Lena romanticizes the life of friends as idyllic and “simple”: living in the countryside, nothing asks them to spend their days lazing in the sun. In many ways it exoticizes them, a Qe impulse, in particular, vehemently repels. One of the film’s most defining moments is a conversation about freedom. Lena thinks the trio are “free” because nobody expects anything from them; friends feel like they’ve spent their whole lives waiting for a chance to escape, for their life to be meaningful.

As the film’s central conflict purports to be Qe, Li, and Jeta’s decision to participate in a life of crime in order to ultimately leave town, the heist aspect of Lionesses almost feels out of place. The ending is abrupt and bizarre, perhaps not doing the film justice, but what stood out to me were the first two-thirds of the film and its intimate portrayal of young adults whose fates may already be sealed.

What do we see in the lives of these women? Do we sympathize with them or do we understand them? Or are we, like Lena, simple intruders who romanticize their abandoned fantasies and diminished hopes?


Acceleration

the-hill-where-lionesses-roar-review-quickening-debuts-features-young-women-director-feminist-films
Of Acceleration. (Courtesy of the Toronto International Film Festival)

Take a different approach, Acceleration uses innovative cameras, mood lighting and a not quite linear narrative to highlight the coming of age of a Pakistani Canadian student. Also a rumination on the meanings of freedom and family, Acceleration isn’t always straightforward or lucid in his narrative explanations or his character’s motivations, but he betrays a tender care and attention to his subjects that are refreshing and enlightening.

Protagonist Sheila (Arooj Azeem) is a student of interpretive dance, always trying to master her craft while dealing with the delicate transition from childhood to adulthood that all students must make. Still living at home, Sheila grapples with a loving bossy mother, who doesn’t want her daughter to go on out-of-town trips and college parties, and a more understanding father but whose financial secrets. threaten to break up the family (the parents are played by Azeem’s real parents, Ashir Azeem and Bushra Ashir Azeem).

A new boyfriend, her burgeoning sexuality and the conflicts in her own family make Sheila feel more and more detached. She struggles to connect not only with her older relatives, but also with cousins ​​who are her age and try to include her in their conversations despite Sheila’s resistance and, perhaps wrongly, her sense of being. exclusion.

As Sheila’s feeling of being a stranger skyrockets, she finds out that she is pregnant; Of the, Acceleration explores Sheila’s spiraling thoughts and feelings about her family, relationships, and her own body as she comes to terms with who she is.

In Acceleration, a second generation immigrant and a woman of color navigates spaces where everyone “just wants to [her] be happy ”even though no one, even her, seems to understand what it means. And, like her dance lessons, where Sheila’s teacher encourages her to think about how bodies can capture and transmit emotions, the film itself keeps its promise to give us a deep impression of the life of a young woman.

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