Flying: Confessions Of A Free 

Flying: Confessions Of A Free Woman


Reviewed by: Chris

What does it mean to be free? Can you make a list of rights? Is freedom doing what you want without harming others? Or is it a feeling..? If you've lost it, can you get it back?

Filmmaker Jennifer Fox starts her six hour epic documentary with vague ideas and a determination to get on track. Her life is a mix of 'liberated' and 'fucked up'. She's successful in her job. She has a nice boyfriend. She's also doing long-term deep 'n meaningful with a married guy. And yes, she's totally open with everyone about everything.

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But Jennifer, forty-something and Jewish, has the advantage of living in a fairly 'free' society. When she starts exploring women's situations in other countries, her search for freedom takes on very different perspectives. Even as she goes through crises of miscarriage and conscience in her own life, her problems are dwarfed by women whose daily lives include rape, prostitution, female circumcision, sexual abuse and near slavery.

"Men talk about what they think; women talk about what they feel. That's the difference!" Confessions of a Free Woman is a film written in the language of feelings. A different language. The language of women. Fox gets involved with women who are in desperate circumstances. With women who are, or become, her friends. She treats all as equals. The shared emotions are a bridge of understanding for us as we watch spellbound.

The film's title perhaps evokes Erica Jong's famous novel, Fear Of Flying. Both works address the complexity of relationships. Desire. Love. Dependence. And 'freedom'. But Fox is skin-flayingly autobiographical. When stuff hits the fan, it's real. And we experience it with her. Fox and Jong have used a common symbol of flying to evoke the sense of freedom. For Fox, it hearkens back to childhood. She would practice take-offs and landings with her father - who had a small two-seater plane. She idealises her father as 'free'. As a man, he could do "anything he wanted".

Jennifer follows in dad's footsteps in many ways, but then she hits a time in life where different perspectives are kicking in - with a harshness. Her best friend has a brain tumour. She herself doesn't know if she wants a child. And are her 'freedom-based' relationships really satisfying?

Flying evolves in a very female-orientated way. Jennifer has always been acutely aware of her gender in terms of freedom. Being/not being controlled by men. One of her main techniques is to 'pass the camera' during group conversations. She addresses problems women face in an archetypally female way - by talking about them, and sharing emotion. While it succeeds in this to an extent that is almost groundbreaking, the film will divide audiences equally.

Men may need to make a bigger jump to understand women in the way women do. Arguably, though, it is worth the effort. Women still don't have parity even in the West. In some countries, they are little better off than livestock. In purely scientific terms, this is a massive loss to humanity. A loss of potential. Even before we get on to human rights, by failing to appreciate the value of others, we devalue ourselves, whatever the gender. It just so happens that women have often got a very short straw. So there is a good case to suspend traditional judgement and let the film speak in its own language before finalising your opinion.

And here's why you may feel it is an effort. Fox is an accomplished filmmaker, but her marathon voiceover has the tone of someone talking to a child or young student. (Is it a mistake commonly made by women who have been patronised? To then patronise? A vicious cycle, but one that was exploded by feminist philosopher Radcliffe Richards in the Nineties). Secondly, her narcissistic self-analysis can be like Woody Allen without the comedy, Sex And The City without the glamour, or Ally McBeal without a decent script. It takes her six hours of film (and several years of her life) to see what friends and family can see in five minutes (She falls in love with the wrong people - duh! I've done that too, but did you really want to know?). Thirdly, she argues from the particular to the general (the erroneous logic of, 'because this example is true, it must be true for all cases'). Such flawed, quasi-philosophical ruminations would be laughable were they not accompanied by so much anguish. Fox's grand exploration lacks any visible academic basis and it is tempting to believe she is a bit up herself. The most interesting part of the film, the lives of other women, is dealt with far too superficially. It is easy to see her as a wide-eyed American, flying in for a three-hour tour of the horrific Asian brothel, then telling us her amazing facts as if she was the first person to discover them.

But for all its many flaws, Flying: Confessions Of A Free Woman is a considered triumph of filmmaking. It stays with you the way trivial events shared with close friends stay with you. So even the flaws work. Jennifer Fox puts herself through ordeals on camera. She exposes her private life in a way few people could bear. Remarkably, she can be experiencing dire personal struggles yet still the professional in her captures it on film. Then we have (after equally impressive editing by Nils Pagh Andersen) a lengthy work that is asking you to spend the best part of a day to watch it. That is brave.

And this reviewer is grateful that he was convinced to do it.

Reviewed on: 16 Aug 2007
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A woman undertakes a quest to discover the nature of freedom.

Director: Jennifer Fox

Writer: Jennifer Fox

Starring: Jennifer Fox

Year: 2006

Runtime: 353 minutes

Country: Denmark, USA


EIFF 2007
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