I was going to start my post, "The election of Hillary marks the ascendancy of the Strong Woman."
That was before November 8 around 10:30 P.M.
Trump may have triumphed, but the figure of the Strong Woman with the steely resolve exemplified by Hillary stands un-vanquished. Cause for celebration. As someone who came of age in the 50s, I had few or no models of strong women. The three badass women rebels of my current novel, "Wild Girls" disdain the roles assigned women in the hidebound 50s, yet in fact, most women were helpmates, subservient, dilletantes.
Today, reflecting the new reality, strong, saber-wielding women woman have powered their way into popular culture. "Star Wars" offers the indomitable super-heroines Leia Organa, Padme Amidala, and Hera Syndulla. In "Rogue One" actress Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso embodies the newest female powerhouse.
The strong woman also dominates art and crossover films. In the triptych "Certain Women" by Kelly Reichardt, she's best embodied in the first panel by Laura Dern, a lawyer struggling to hold the course, while she's hassled by a lunatic client in the same moment that her boyfriend dumps her. Somehow Dern nails just the right expression of disbelief at the shit thrown at her and knowledge that she'll power through.
If you crave a respite from post-election angst, you'd do well to escape into Otto Bell's stunning documentary "The Eagle Huntress," set in the wilds of Mongolia. Aisholpan, a girl of thirteen, aspires to tame a golden eagle, a species which the Kazakh nomads of the region use to hunt, releasing it back to the wild after seven years. Predictably, this occupation is an all-boys club, yet Aisholpan's parents, as enlightened as any couple in Park Slope, encourage her natural ability.
Tapping drone technology, the filmmaker transports you to the pristine expanses of the Altai mountains, where Aisholpan daringly abducts a golden eaglet of her own to raise and tame. She's wondrous to behold, this mighty adolescent in her belted brocade coats and fur trimmed hats with curving flaps (that may start a fashion craze). Her radiant smile, broad, wind-stung cheeks, and brimming confidence make you feel good about humankind, a sentiment in short supply these days.
At the opposite end of the wholesome spectrum is Isabelle Huppert, the original Iron Woman, unflappable even in the direst circumstances. Even after she's brutally raped in her own living room in broad afternoon in Paul Verhoeven's "Elle." At Cannes it became known as "the rape movie." "Sick," I overheard a woman say at the NY Film Fest.
While it's true that Verhoeven ("RoboCop," "Fatal Attraction") is not known for his delicacy, taste is somehow beside the point here. A savory mix of cheesiness, grotesque humor, and, uh, feminist critique, "Elle" entertains as it shocks. You know there's mischief afoot from the get-go, when after the assault, Huppert fails to run screaming to the police. Instead, she matter-of-factly runs a hot bath and gets herself checked out by the medics. The plot is serpentine, with several sleazy sub-stories hatched by Huppert's job as a producer of porny, sci-fi video games, but the through-line is her search for her assailant (complicated by red herrings that don't quite conceal the obvious perp). And then - after a second assault -- her appropriation of the experience as something she may or may not enjoy, and her complicity in re-staging it.
What's so damn refreshing is a portrait of a woman who flat-out refuses the role of victim. Even though, by every recognizable norm, she has, in fact, been victimized. But Huppert, with her incomparable, cold dead-pan, insists on taking charge of what she has endured, turning the tables not only on her attacker, but all norms and expectations. Though not for the faint of heart, "Elle" is a tour de force of je m'en foutisme, a thumb in the eye of all our preconceptions about feminine decorum, of all the woe-is-me-stories about victimized women.