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by Jo Schmeiser

grade: 7

Moments of Resistance by Jo Schmeiser stands for a colourful all-female collage, within which past and present meet, in a cyclical repetition of history that, unfortunately and despite the tenacity of certain activists, never seems to end. At the Viennale 2019.

Postmodern Amazons

What to do when human beings start waging war against each other? Do we simply stand by and watch, waiting for things to happen to us, or do we take action ourselves in order to stop it? Documentary filmmaker Jo Schmeiser, in this regard, in making her Moments of Resistance (original title: Widerstandsmomente), presented in the official selection at the Viennale 2019, interviewed numerous female activists, who – each of them in different countries and at different times in history – have in some way been active in order to put an end to certain situations.

And so, Moments of Resistance represents a colourful collage within which past and present meet, in a cyclical repetition of history that, unfortunately and despite the perseverance of certain activists, never seems to end. An all-female collage, this one, with numerous testimonies concerning both recent events and better-known past events: from the sadly painful holocaust to the dictatorship in South America, without forgetting the numerous episodes of racism that are still very frequent today.

On the screen, therefore, huge green fields alternate with overhead shots of the Mauthausen concentration camp, along with scenes filmed directly from factory interiors, from gyms where people train in self-defence moves, and close-ups and extreme close-ups of jumpers knitted during captivity or of handwritten letters through which the prisoners attempted to communicate with their families. Images, these, of places in which the memories of what happened are still alive and pulsating and which, together with numerous testimonies of women from different countries around the world and all living, to this day, in different cities in Austria, are presented to us as if we ourselves were experiencing them.

The experiences of these women, therefore, merge, in Moments of Resistance, with each other, thus becoming, almost, a chorus of voices, perfectly in line with the lyrics of the song It’s burning (written in 1938 by Mortechai Gebirtig), which – with an elliptical structure – are displayed on the screen at both the opening and closing of the documentary.

Jo Schmeiser, for her part, has opted for a rather classic and simple mise en scène, devoid of useless tricks or directorial virtuosity, in order to leave room only for the protagonists, whose faces we now see firsthand, and whose testimonies we now hear through old audio recordings. This is a directorial choice that all in all works, even though it lacks, overall, a few elements that contribute to giving the film a much more marked rhythm.

Yet in spite of this, Moments of Resistance successfully conveys what initially was in the director’s own intentions. And it does so with a successful crossover between past and present, with a series of characters that stick in the audience’s memory for a long, long time. With a series of postmodern Amazons who are not afraid to fight for their own rights, their own lives, their own world.

Original title: Widerstandsmomente
Directed by: Jo Schmeiser
Country/year: Austria / 2019
Running time: 98’
Genre: documentary
Screenplay: Jo Schmeiser
Cinematography: Sophie Maintigneux
Produced by: Plaesion Film und Vision

Info: the page of Moments of Resistance on the website of the Austrian Film Commission; the page of Moments of Resistance on the website of the Viennale