But, you didn’t speak about women?

I titled last article “More on Marx (and women) in anarchism” and then failed to mention women again. Not explicitly, but when you write about how to challenge Marx’s status as “heavyweight theory” and women have been predominantly told to stay away from heavyweight theory, you are doing some feminism.

This remark came from the “feminism” end of the anarchist spectrum, but it still feels like one of those “women should keep their place” kind of remarks. But yes, the last article was about my own experience with Marx, rather than “women’s experience with Marx”. Secret: I don’t know about women. I can’t generalise my own experience to all women or even to all anarchist women.

What are common experiences of Marx among women? I am genuinely interested, but here we find another problem: non-mixity never applies to anything remotely ‘interesting’. Men can only be excluded if we talk about things that would probably only gross them out and unsettle them (and gross us out and unsettle us). Women’s issues. Non-mixity on Marx? That would be unfair exclusion!

Non-mixity was not developed so we can talk about girl stuff. It was developed so that we  can gain some of the solidarity and networking opportunities that we are denied because we are oppressed and invisible. If there is one issue on which women lack people to network with, it is Marx, not accountability processes or rape culture (which are however top of the agenda of non-mixed meetings all around). Having non-mixed meetings is no victory at all if there are restrictions on their remit.

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Incoherent thoughts on being an anarchist woman today

I have been reading a number of biographies of Marx, to get acquainted with the context of his works. What struck me as un-anarchist in Marx’s elaboration of theory was obviously the subservience of everyone to his needs. Marx’s great quest to develop theory justified endless sacrifices from his wife, family and friends. Marxist political economy was not a collaborative work, but a highly specialised task, in which Marx did not have all the power (in particular, he was dependent on people taking care of him and funding him) but had all the intellectual and ‘moral’ power (his task was his alone and somehow invaluable to all workers). The “shoulders of giants” he stood on were not only the economists that had come before him, but the friends and family he was crushing much less figuratively. At the same time, I was wondering about anarchism’s relative failure to have theoretical output of quality, and how the refusal of such ways of getting things done could explain part of it (you know, the gentle way you kick out the “comrades” who periodically decide that what they are writing or doing is of greater importance to the cause than what you might ever accomplish, and that therefore they are entitled to living on your sofa, getting fed by you and generally using your energy and resources). Thinking about this, I stumbled (dialectically, one could say) on a larger issue: a fraction dividing anarchism today, which I think hinders its development and needs to be addressed.

Anarchist thought can be seen as a spectrum going from two extreme positions that are mainly strawmen that almost no-one actually defends: from the grossest workerism and devotion to class struggle politics to the most liberal identity politics. Along this spectrum, anarchists balance a vision of capitalism as it exists, largely based on Marx, and an understanding of systems of oppression. Although, in their theoretical intellectual framework both of these coincide quite happily, when you get to the material level and see how individual anarchists spend their time and energy, something starts to appear: people are specialised. Even though they read Marx and are very much interested in explaining capitalism as a system, women tend to spend most of their intellectual energy (discussions, debates, reading, writing) being concerned with feminism as well as intersectional politics. Discussions about Marx and explanations of the economic crisis are overall led and directed by men. With the notable exception of Rosa Luxemburg (and yes, there have been more recent examples), developers of Marxist and revolutionary political economic theory are men. Marxist feminism has long been the diversion for female Marxist scholars, the input of which is not negligible, just as intersectional politics today are an essential component of anarchism.

On the one hand, we have “heavyweight” “theory” which is commonly seen as dusty, old-fashioned, intellectually legitimate but too complicated for most people, useless, solely axed on class politics. On the other hand “liberal” “identity politics” which is new, fun, inclusive, post-modern, intellectually illegitimate, class-collaborationist. A lot of pointless conflict goes to show that one of these two caricature is good, and the other one evil and a lot of affect and emotion is invested in these supposed “sides” by anarchist, despite the fact that it is obvious that neither sides are anything close to anarchism. Our own gender construction pushes anarchist women to spend their intellectual energy on intersectional issues. Our comrades’ reinforcement also edges us that way: positive feedback on anarchafeminist articles, little or no feedback on contributions to discussions on capital. There is a perverse way in which men feel they are not “legitimate” to spend energy on feminism. That is, that they end up feeling more legitimate (than women), spending more energy on discussing capital. Also, as much as it is nice to feel that your input on a discussion on feminism is being valued, the contrast when you start talking about the economy is all the more striking and feels all the more violent.

In the privacy of my own intellectual musings, I am much more confident discussing Marx than discussing feminism. I completely share what men describe as their own fears about feminism and intersectional politics (fear of saying something stupid, not being legitimate, being oppressive without meaning to). Ironically, these are the fears that made me want to address those issues, to become a much better person, and although I was starting pretty low, I think it did a bit of good. But getting so much pressure to stick to this, and contrasting how people accept any unsubstantiated claim I make about something to do with women or minorities to the usual terribly oppressive “who are you to even dare speak of Marx” attitude I was brought up with, and accustomed to, makes me dizzy.

There is no doubt that Marx’s love of polemics, ad hominems and vicious fighting has been tolerated among Marxists for way too long. There is no doubt that organising talks like “in room A: a man will explain to you current theories on the economic crisis, while in room B: a woman will talk to you about intersectionality” has nothing feminist about it. We need to challenged the oppression of women has it materially takes place, every time a woman is cut short, humiliated or not given credit in our discussions of capital. Not by giving in in exchange for some spaces of peace and quiet where we can be listened to and valued, but never trespass on “real” politics. Anarchism has made some tremendous efforts in its inclusion of women, but the economy (as a system, not as it impacts on people’s everyday lives), capital and Marx are the last bastion of the dominant male discourse. Only by going against the flow and our own internalised misogyny, our judgement that some things are ‘too complicated’ or ‘too theoretical’ for us can we challenge that. As for men: many have learned to shut up and listen when oppressed people talk about their oppression. This socialisation as shy, unconfident, etc. is even worse when a woman talks about Great Things. But men’s effort to listen and shut up is much lesser (because of the discussion not being about the oppression of women, therefore men not having any feeling of lack of legitimacy). A lot of men, even great comrades that I value immensely, have two debating styles with me: on the issue of feminism, despite sometimes the weakness of my arguments, they are polite and engaging, on the issue of capital, despite sometimes (okay, rarely) the strength of my argument, they are dismissive and condescending. This will not do.

[This was written before I checked the 2013 Anarchist Bookfair programme, so no ill-intent was meant by “There is no doubt that organising talks like “in room A: a man will explain to you current theories on the economic crisis, while in room B: a woman will talk to you about intersectionality” has nothing feminist about it.” However, yes, there is a problem when you systematically “balance” one Marx meeting with an anarchafem meeting, namely: “class struggle and class consciousness” vs. “anarchafem conference”; “anarchism and marxism” vs. “stuff your sexist comrade”; “Marx and Harvey” vs. another “Anarchafeminism”]

Pixie-bashing is woman-bashing

I first became involved with the formalized concept of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl in a comedy YouTube video my friends were sharing. I thought to myself ‘O dear, woman-hating is really everywhere’. In this video men could unload their Manic Pixie Dream Girlfriends to a special care hospital designed for them. Disturbing and tasteless. A bit later, I realised they were not sharing this video to fuel their disgust for it, but they seemed to find the video either funny or at least cathartic for some kind of hatred for Manic Pixie Dream Girls they shared.

At first, I thought it was ridiculous to think about it, because the films revolving around MPDG are generally terrible. And I ended up watching a lot of them. Power to the people who punish bad cinema. MPDG are sickening, they belong to the exact same category as Doctor Patch and Forrest Gump.

Using a trope such as the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is lazy and terrible writing, and they are annoyingly often the ‘muse’ of a male character (although not always), like is justly pointed out in the Feminist Frequency video.

The terrible lazy writing aspect is that the male character is entirely bland. MPDG movies are films written for women and the man is 1. cute 2. full of love to give. In Elizabethtown, Garden State and My Sassy Girl, he has just lost a relative and needs some good old mothering.

Is it sexist? Well, women’s role is not to help men through mourning, and MPDG does appeal to the part of women which sees themselves as caregivers. But then again, picture of kittens appeal to that side of us as well, and I do not find them sexist.

The truth is, the male ‘lead’ is as irrelevant as he is bland. The grief he wallows in is not what the film is about, it is the background for the MPDG’s charming quirkiness. The Elizabethtown girl has a terrible, boring job, an estranged boyfriend she does not love and is terribly lonely, the Garden State girl has mental health issues, in My Sassy Girl, she is herself dealing with grief, addiction and mental health issues. They are not exactly post-feminist ideals of strong independent women juggling careers, luxury consumerism and trophy boyfriends.

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When I looked at the origin of the concept of MPDG, I started thinking there was a point in attacking it after all. I do not understand how people could rally behind an idea that is born from the fantasy of violence against women. When I said they were in the same category as Forrest Gump and Doctor Patch, I was anticipating this point. A lot of characters are terribly annoying. Jar-Jar Binkses are everywhere. What the creator of the concept of MPDG did though, is to take out a subsection of these annoying characters from bad movies on gender lines and on grounds of their hyper-femininity, and made them the annoying characters towards which we can direct our anger at bad cinema. I think that is sexist:

“The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is an all-or-nothing-proposition. Audiences either want to marry her instantly (despite The Manic Pixie Dream Girl being, you know, a fictional character) or they want to commit grievous bodily harm against them and their immediate family. As for me, well, let’s just say I’m not going to propose to Dunst’s psychotically chipper waitress in the sky any time soon.”

As a concept, the MPDG only makes sense if you count in our cultural propensity to fantasize about hurting women. The male ‘lead’ gets off lightly, but the MPDG is so annoying she has got to die. Ideally suffer a lot first. Or you know what, we could just lock them up in a mental hospital.

I am not saying hyper-femininity or child-like femininity are not annoying. I am generally annoyed by people with baby voices, a lot of people are. A lot of people are annoyed at camp men and wish they would ‘tone it down’. A lot of people cannot be bothered putting the extra effort in to understand a non-native English speaker, or just someone with a thick accent. Some people think American accents sound stupid. Some people cannot stand the way people from certain other races smell. Some people cannot be bothered learning that not all people from a different race look the same. That is true, but we need to be better than that. As long as they are women who feel most comfortable with their baby voices and their dainty clothes, portraying them in film will not be a sexist thing to do.

In many reviews about MPDG films, strangling is the preferred way of killing them, as their being annoying is associated with the noises they make. They do not speak, they chirp, they nag, their voices are too damn high-pitched. They are too needy, but they are also too independent.

500 Days of Summer is a film about a boy being rejected by a woman. It has strong sexist undertones, but not because of the female character who rejects the male lead and refuses to feel bad about it. In a film like Sweet November, the female character conducts a meaningful relationship with a man under her own terms, breaks it off when she wants to, without reason, as per previous agreement. The male character is confused and ends up finding out why she broke up: the female character is terminally ill and she cannot project herself in a long-term relationship. He confronts her about this and she maintains that these were the boundaries they had agreed on, that she has every right to stand by them and that she did not have any duty to disclose her illness. It’s a bad movie for other reasons, but that all story-arch is pretty good. Once analysed through the MPDG spectrum though, the female character is just another quirky misfit girl who is only interesting because of the influence she has on the hero, and, in the second case, is so disposable that she is conveniently terminally-ill.

Is this element of analysis helping feminism? Or is it making all female characters suspect. Not good enough. As some reviewers have noted, maybe to avoid being accused of sexism, films should just do away with the female annoying sidekick altogether, it would be much easier than to write a better script.

But the whole discussion of the MPDG avoids an issue altogether in those films, and that is the representation of women and mental illness in films. There is a pretty old cultural idea that being a woman is a mental illness. See Bergman’s Through A Glass Darkly, or Suddenly, Last Summer for depiction of insane women.

On the one hand, mental health is an issue that concerns a very large number of women. Statistics on anti-depressant prescriptions are frightening. And, a bit like the depiction of homosexual characters for a long time, there is the idea that any kind of depiction is good. Being able to see in a film a woman suffering from mental health (AND who does not hack anyone into pieces) is pretty amazing. On the other, like gay side-kicks helping their straight friends with their love-life, the MPDG’s (who almost always explicitly has some mental health condition or another, that is the ‘Manic’ part of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl) idiosyncracies (or symptoms) are charming and help the main character see life differently. There is no darkness attached to it, a bit like romanticized homeless ‘free’ people teaching rich people that there is more to life than work and money.

This representation of mental illness is not healthy by a long shot, but neither is the one proposed by anti-MPDG reviews. They demand independent post-feminist superwomen juggling careers and trophy boyfriends. Those barely functional Manic Pixie Dream Girls should just be locked back in the mental home where they belong.

And that is why I think we need to scrutinize our art and culture, but I think the phrase ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ should be banned from our vocabulary. It is a lazy trendy concept that does not help study or change the depiction of women or mental health in films. Thankfully, like many concepts which do not lead to fruitful analyses, it has already mostly disappeared on its own.

Jappe translation and anarchist women on Wikipedia

So, here is the first chapter of the translation I am ‘proofreading’.The whole first part of the book is a critique of capitalism and its traditional critics, so it is quite ‘negative’. That’s my excuse for working on it so slowly. The second part, which tries to find solutions, is much more fun, so I am looking forward to that.

Let me know what you think, especially so we can see if disagreements arise from imprecise translations and correct them!

Another reason why I am procrastinating is that I have been doing related work like trying to improve the Wikipedia article on Jaime Semprun (to whom Jappe’s book is dedicated). I started translating the French existing article, but it is a mess, so I am thinking it needs a complete reworking.

And I went on another tangent when I realised Maria Isidine did not have a Wikipedia article at all. I tried to get people interested in helping create one, but all I got was a reply that another woman anarchist, Clara Gertrud Wichmann, did not have a page in English… And I am sure we could make this list longer, and please leave a reply about this. This needs to change, and no-one but us will care and can change this. I don’t have much experience writing Wikipedia articles, apart from the Jaime Semprun fiasco, the only article I wrote was about Lawrence Storione, so any help is more than welcome!

I think the anarcha-feminists at the St. Imier congress in August 2012 decided to organise an international anarcha-feminist congress some time in the next two years, although it seems to be the best kept secret in anarchism. Obviously, it needs preparation, and I was contemplating how creating/translating articles about anarchist women on Wikipedia could be part of this work.

To help write this article in English on Clara Wichmann.

To help with the article on Maria Isidine.

To help with the article on Marie Ganz.

To help with the article on Anna Sosnovsky.

Anarchists without Wikipedia pages:

Libertad Rodenas

Fanny Breslaw

Clara Rotberg Larsen

Mary Abrams (Domsky)

Other wikipedia articles about anarchist women that could be translated/augmented/etc:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnes_Inglis

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rose_Pesotta

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madeleine_Pelletier

A review of Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen, by Anna Whitelock

This is a book about kings, queens and popes. Between the royal pregnancy in the United Kingdom and the Pope’s resignation, social pressure around issues of these ongoing institution tests one’s belief in a possible new social organisation based on a fairer, more rational basis. It may sound a bit sad, but I think in reading this, I tried to take refuge from current affairs and turn to queens and popes I can understand: the long dead ones who will never return.

Obviously, I was also attracted by its focus on strong women characters, mainly Catherine of Aragon and, obviously, Mary herself, who reigned despite her tendency to just menstruate all over the country. Whitelock actually writes

“It is likely that Mary’s illness was the onset of menstruation, with recurrent pains and melancholy exarcebated by distress and anxiety. It was a condition from which she would suffer repeatedly.”

I will not make any of the compulsory joke about her nickname of Bloody Mary here, out of deference for the excellent cocktail of that name.

It is quite an interesting bit of the history of Europe, going through all of Henry VIII’s wives and the unrest caused by his death. The incorporation of original letters makes the political intrigue all the more captivating. Maybe I am more sympathetic to the character of Lady Jane Grey myself, and her being brushed aside to make marry the first queen makes me a bit sad, but it is quite an enjoyable read. Just do not think of the fact that the monarchy incomprehensibly still exists today. It made me give a try to the TV series about The Tudors, we’ll see how that goes.

Women-friendly movies (1980-2012)

Film showing is one of the easiest events to organise. However, films available to us, even political films and films about political events, are very much the reflection of the world we live in when it comes to patriarchy, which means the place given to women in them and the number of them made by women are often underwhelming. During an occupation, you can end up watching quite a few movies, and be left with an impression that the revolution is a thing for men, sometimes featuring mothers, wives and love interests (but there’s that woman in Land and Freedom… SHUT UP). Different discussions led me to compose this short list of films which should give revolutionaries something to talk about and feature women in significant roles (sometimes even made by women). All these films pass the Bechdel test unless specified. Please add your own!

Lawrence Anyways (2012) by Xavier Dolan

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rwDzRzqFaIE

This tells the story of Laurence, a 30 year-old teacher, in Québec in the late eighties, who decides to transition to a woman, and her girlfriend, who despite many reservations decides to support her. It also features an abortion. Laurence’s relationship’s with her mother and her girlfriend’s lesbian sister and other female characters are also central to the movie.

Noise and Resistance (2011) by Francesca Araiza Andrade and Julia Ostertag

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGyBVrSk7sY

This documentary, made by women, looks at some of the international DIY music scene “attacked politically on all sides: the right sees them simply as criminals out to destroy the existing structures of society; the left sees them as hopeless utopians, deviationists (…); as for the authorities, they don’t like anarchists in general because they’re unpredictable, you can never tell how they are going to react to a given political situation”. After a quick introduction to CRASS, it moves on to the contemporary movement, questioning non-consumerist attitudes to music through concert footage and interviews of musicians and other members of the movement.

Guerilla (2011) by Nasiruddin Yousuf Bachchu

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vrwGUTazC2w

This Bengladeshi movie centres around female characters enrolled in the resistance in the war of independence against Pakistan. It is very much a state film around issues of national liberation, featuring Marx alongside Che, Castro and Mao. The portrayal of women in it is not unproblematic, however, the choice to focus on a female character makes it quite refreshing.

Bye Bye Blondie (2011) by Virginie Despentes

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0FllrQgB-Y

A film about two young punk women who fall in love in a mental hospital in the 1980s. They start a relationship again in contemporary Paris, when one is still punk and unemployed, whereas the other is a TV journalist living with a gay ‘husband’.

Tomboy (2011) by Céline Sciamma

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&NR=1&v=JvfdCI4MArQ

 

Three Veils (2011) by Rolla Selbak

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zgj2Fl7kpZw

 

You Should Meet My Son! (2010) by Keith Hartman

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=once8DOo71A

This gay comedy centres around two homophobic straight middle-aged women who are trying to find a wife for the son of one of them. They discover that he is gay, and after some thought, decide to meet gay men to find him a husband. However, the son decides to get engaged to “cure” his homosexuality and gets engaged to the daughter of a very conservative family.

 

Never Let Me Go (2010) by Mark Romanek

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXiRZhDEo8A

Based on the alternative-past novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, a moving, horrific story.

Precious (2009) by Lee Daniels

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rx-3jYJkUWQ

Highly-mediatised movie adaptation of the novel Push, by Sapphire about a young woman victim of abuse, helped by a couple of political Black lesbians.

The Baader Meinhof Complex (2008), by Uli Edel

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6IVKAAsqcrI

A film about the RAF.

Louise Michel (2008) by Benoit Delepine and Gustave Kervern

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4FHUqqp8Ne0

This film has little to do with the famous Louise Michel. A comedy about women from a factory which was shut down pulling together to hire a hitman to kill their former boss.

XXY (2007) by Lucia Puenzo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cWcyZDMm1rE

A movie about a young XXY person.

 

Persepolis (2007) by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZ22VyjJ6n8

Adapted from Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel, it tells the story of a young Iranian woman.

 

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007) by Cristian Mungiu

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DCPlewKTsNQ

A young woman tries to get an abortion under Ceaucescu’s Socialist regime.

Ethel MacDonald: An Anarchist’s Story (2006) by Mark Littlewood

Documentary about the Glasgow anarchist Ethel MacDonald and her participation in the Spanish revolution.

Water (2005) by Deepa Mehta

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RewNn2r2P3g

The story of an Indian child widow.

Moolade (2004) by Ousmane Sembene

An African film about female genital mutilation.

Iron-Jawed Angels (2004) by Katja von Garnier

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UGyB3tV9kU0

The story of a group of women fighting for suffrage.

 

The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things (2004) by Asia Argento

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqEW9qtcO1Q

The story of a young boy and his mother with drug problems. Quite similar to (but less surreal than) Terry Gilliam’s Tideland which has a female protagonist and definitely does pass the Bechdel’s test.

Bechdel test: Can’t remember.

 

Anatomy of Hell (2004) by Catherine Breillat

A film about a woman’s sexuality, and male fear of it (represented by a gay second character).

Bechdel test: It fails, as there is only one female character.

The Raspberry Reich (2004) by Bruce LaBruce

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PCcRu5OsdXw

A gay porn movie about the RAF.

 

What to Do in Case of Fire (2002) by Gregor Schnitzler

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QDlke-U0UOs

A comedy about the former members of an anarchist collective in Berlin who must reunite years later when an old incendiary device they had planted in an unoccupied property is set off 15 years later than planned.

 

Dirty Pretty Things (2002) by Stephen Frears

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7pb2IClEys

In London, illegal immigrants are groomed by organ traffickers and try to fight them.

Bechdel test: it does pass but not brilliantly.

 

The Gleaners and I (2000) by Agnès Varda

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKgjjEJvMbM

A documentary about gleaning, containing cats and some beautiful people who pick up other people’s trash for whatever reason. Beautiful, poetic, personal.

 

I shot Andy Warhol (1996) by Mary Harron

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qAQRCcQlXXE

A film about Valerie Solanas’ assassination attempt on Andy Warhol.

Tank Girl (1995) by Rachel Talalay

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9mTl4KPRXJ8

Tank Girl lives in one of the last communes which steal water from Water & Power, the company which rules over the post-apocalyptic world. But she soon has no choice but to fight them.

Heavenly Creatures (1994) by Peter Jackson

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E-vUl-1FJ9E

Based on a famous murder case, tells the story of two young women ready to do anything for their love, in a society that tries to keep them apart.

Europa Europa (1990) by Agnieszka Holland

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2OZjiH8A304

Directed by a woman, it tells the story of a Jewish boy during the Third Reich, from his time in the Communist Youth, to the German army and the Hitler Youth. Female characters are only secondary though.

Bechdel test: There are quite a few female characters, the protagonist, Leni and her mother have a conversation which could maybe count.

De Toda La Vida (1986) by Lisa Berger and Carol Mazer

Titled after Pepita Carpeña’s Memoirs, joins the CNT at age 14 and joins Mujeres Libres during the Spanish revolution. She is interviewed along with other women anarchists of revolutionary Spain.

The Little Drummer Girl (1984) by George Roy Hill

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QQpFBehAUZc

This adaptation of John Le Carré’s eponymous spy-novel tells the story of the young lefty actress (played by Diane Keaton) cast to take part in the operation against a PLO terrorist. It features Klaus Kinski however, recently accused by his daughter of sexual abuse.

Bechdel test: it does pass, but not by much, as there are very few women in this film, which is pretty much about a central female character being used by men.

Playing For Time (1980) by Daniel Mann and Joseph Sargent

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JpdBTLxV3iY

Based on Fania Fénelon’s autobiography, it tells her story of being deported and performing classical music for the SS in the camp.