By any Means A-Veilable
Original title: SLØR (NIQUAB NI SOUMISE)
Babette, a naïve but driven Danish woman looking for an apartment in Paris, embarks on an absurd mission fuelled by her fear of getting short changed. Her original mission, which was so light-hearted, takes on a more serious twist when she decides to come back to the same apartment twice…
Babette, une jeune femme naïve mais obsédée par la peur de se faire avoir est à la recherche d’un appartement à Paris. Elle mesure méticuleusement tous les appartements visités. Un jour, elle se rend dans un appartement tellement chaotique qu’elle ne parvient pas à le mesurer. Son aventure prend une tournure insolite quand elle décide d’y retourner une deuxième fois sans se faire reconnaître.
For a longer synopsis, please read Alex Delonian’s review:
The strangest thing about Danish filmmaker Charlotte Schiøler’s droll but serious short Paris drama “By Any Means AVEILable” is that — Strange as it may seem — it is basically a retelling of what actually happened to her when she went to buy an apartment in real life and hit upon the idea of disguising herself as a veiled Moslem woman in order to unobtrusively take the measurements of the apartment she was interested in. Sounds weird-funny, huh? Well here is what the film is about:
Babette, an obsessive young woman from Denmark living in Paris wants to buy an apartment but is determined not to get short cut in the process. A crucial step in doing so is taking measurements of the space under consideration to make sure she will be getting her money’s worth and not be taken over. She has a very friendly meeting (by mistake) with an engaging young woman selling a space that would be quite suitable, but, during their meeting, she is unable to measure because of the chaotic state of the place. The owner tells her it is 68 sq. meters but Babette’s constant fear of being taken advantage of as a naive foreigner in Paris, makes her doubt. She has basically agreed to the price but does not want to offend the prospective seller by questioning her word and taking the measurements in her presence. She therefore returns on a different day to take the measurement from outside the building and, in order not to be recognized, she decides to buy a full Moslem face veil known as a niqab. This is a partly Moslem neighborhood so the face covering would not be unusual or attract undo attention.
The body of this fully packed short film (RT 18 minutes) consists of her negotiations to buy the veil needed — three Arab dress shops suspiciously turn her down before she is finally able to make the purchase — and then the way people look at her in various situations on the street. Hostile, disgusted, pitying, or condescending stares make her realize that this is what Moslem women under the veil have to put up with every day on the streets of Paris. Uncomfortable to say the least! One passing American tourist makes the sardonic comment, “And this is what they call equality for women?”
Charlotte did not intend to make an amusing film and was surprised that viewers found many of the situations presented comical. In a short eighteen minutes she has managed to convey all sorts of ambiguities that surround the wearing of the face coverings by Moslem women, an issue of some political import in France where Islamophobia — the fear that the rapidly growing Moslem community intends to ultimately highjack French culture and impose Islamic law — has become a highly controversial political football with a drive to ban the full facial covering in all public places. Whatever one’s position on this touchy issue may be, Charlotte takes us behind the veil in a way that touches on other issues as well; what it is like to be an obsessive white foreigner in fear of being deceived in the Parisian real estate game, and the ways in which people vacillate between acceptance and rejection of Islamic female attire.
Other films such as “Gentleman’s Agreement”,1947, in which Gregory Peck poses as a Jew in order to expose Antisemitism in the United States have dealt with the issue of racist stereotyping, but Ms. Schiøler has managed to show as much in a brilliantly conceived 18 minute short as it took Elia Kazan to expound upon in a 118 minute full length feature film back in those early postwar days.
Schiøler, a very capable actress as well, plays the main character, an obsessive Danish woman disguised as a Moslem, with absolute conviction — a character that is after all her alter ego. This is a film that deals in ambiguities and double entendes.
The original Danish title “Slør” can mean either a veil or a shroud, but also something like slippage in a steering wheel. The intentional orthographic slippage in the English title, “By any means A-VEIL-able” conveys the idea that a veil can be made available for more than religious reasons, in this case as a practical disguise to achieve a slippery goal. The photography is brilliant as is the assured direction of all actors — such that they seem to be real passers-by in a cinema verité study. Since this is basically a reenactment of an actual series of events in the Parisian experience of the Danish director it also presents us with a finely drawn line between documentary reality and imagined fiction. An interesting reality show touch is that the director's real life mother appears in the film as her “fictional” Danish mother in the only scene which requires extra sub-titles because it is spoken in Dansk. The mother incidentally is also a completely convincing actress in her brief moments on screen, a natural talent or skillfull direction? — or a little of both... All in all Charlotte Schiøler’s deft cinematic approach to a very touchy subject in France is an excellent short film that is both thought provoking and entertaining at the same time, and just has so much to say in its highly compact running time that one cannot help but wonder what she will be doing next, hopefully at feature film length.