A young woman goes home alone at night and thinks about death. Then come the screams. But what is a scream? And who is prey? This visual essay depicts a film noir Los Angeles ruled by violence against women.
About Anouk Phéline
After studying film and philosophy at Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, La Sorbonne Paris 1 and University Paris 7 in partnership with la Cinémathèque française, Anouk Phéline has furthered her education in visual arts at UCLA.
Now a PhD candidate in film studies at ENS Paris, her research focuses on the theme of urban drift, representations of the city in French New Wave cinema, and relations between film and photography.
Haunted by the beauty and violence of Los Angeles, she directed there her first experimental short film, BEAUTY FEAR VIOLENCE. Text, image, and sound collide in this visual essay raising an obsessing issue: the experience of fear.
This film was born out of an unsettling experience, one that made me doubt myself, mistrust the authorities, and wonder about women’s condition.
One evening when I was alone in my apartment, I heard a brief yell ripping up the night. First, I wasn’t sure of what I had heard. Did I dream it? Was I sure it was a woman’s voice? But when that haunting yell started again, there was no doubt left. It was a woman screaming in pain. She was close, close enough to feel her pain in my bones. She was just next door, in the building across the alley, thrown down, and beaten up.
What could I do? I felt strangely paralyzed. Although I had seen similar situations in films, I realized it didn’t help. I realized that in films you were almost always watching the victim from the point of view of her aggressor. I realized that in films you expect women — mostly women — to suffer and die because that is a good narrative ingredient!
But real violence is not a thrilling spectacle. It is just an ordinary experience of helplessness and despair. And violence against women, “domestic violence” as we euphemistically say, is just an everyday story of injustice and gender inequality. Not so much suspense, really.
So, what did I do? I thought about calling out loud at the window, with a deep voice pretending to be manly: “Stop that or I’ll call the police!” But I didn’t dare. I thought about going and knocking on a neighbor’s door so that we could act together. But, why had none of my neighbors reacted yet? Were they used to it? Were they just pretending not to hear? So I didn’t dare. I thought about going myself to that apartment to save her. But I’m a five foot tall, 105-pound young blond girl. I didn’t dare.
When individuals fear to stand up against brutality, society as a whole should, right? Isn’t it what the police was made for? Protecting our safety. I thought no woman could be harmed with impunity as long as someone would bear witness and call for help. I was wrong.
When I called 911, no one wanted to write down my deposition nor the address of the incident — that was not urgent enough. When I called the local police, they refused equally — that was urgent indeed, 911 had to deal with it!
I tried a few times. The screams ceased. Silence and dark remained.
That night, I felt more powerless than ever. I measured how difficult it is to escape that moral paralysis know as “the bystander effect,” which makes you less likely to help someone in need when there are other people around, because you think THEY should act. But I also felt that our society, as much as it was pretending to be concerned with women’s rights, only wanted to close its eyes to their violations.
So I made a film. Not a film that would try to reproduce in a pseudo-documentary or realistic way the scene of violence I witnessed. A film that would document my feelings as a witness. A film that would reconsider the meaning of empathy. A film about saving ourselves from bystander’s apathy, collectively.