Synopsis

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 the Filmmaker

After studying film and philosophy in Paris at Ecole Normale Supérieure (Ulm), La Sorbonne and University Paris Diderot in partnership with la Cinémathèque française, Anouk Phéline has furthered her education in visual arts at UCLA. 

She is now a Ph.D. candidate in cinema history under the supervision of Antoine de Baecque (ENS, Paris) and Elena Dagrada (Unimi, Milano). Her research focuses on the making of Roberto Rossellini’s Journey to Italy (1954) in relation with the artistic tradition of the trip to Italy. 

Haunted by the beauty and violence of Los Angeles, she directed there her first experimental short film BEAUTY FEAR VIOLENCE (2017). In this visual essay, text, images and sound collide to raise an obsessing issue: the experience of fear. Her latest films are available here: https://vimeo.com/anoukpheline

More from the Filmmaker

This film was born out of an unsettling experience that made me doubt myself, mistrust the authorities and wonder about women’s rights.

One evening, as I was alone in my apartment, I heard a brief yell ripping up the night. Did I dream it? Was I sure it was a woman’s voice? Then it started again, and again. And again. It was a woman screaming in pain. She was so close, close enough to feel her pain in my bones. Just next door – but where exactly? – someone was beating her up. 

What could I do? I felt strangely paralyzed. Although I had seen similar situations in films I realized it didn’t help. In films, you are used to watching the victim from the point of view of her aggressor. In films, you expect women mostly women to suffer and die because that makes for a good story… until it doesn’t?   

Real violence has nothing to do with a thrilling spectacle. It is just an ordinary experience of helplessness and despair. Violence against women or “domestic violence” as we euphemistically say, is an everyday story of injustice and gender inequality. Not so much suspense, really.

So what did I do? I thought about knocking on a neighbor’s door in order to try and act together. But I didn’t dare: why had none of my neighbors reacted yet? Were they used to it? Were they just pretending not to hear? I thought about looking for the apartment myself and to go save her. But I’m a five feet tall, 105 pound, young blond girl. I didn’t dare.

When individuals fear to stand up against brutality, society as a whole should, right? I thought no woman could be harmed with impunity as long as someone would bear witness. 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 known 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. I also felt that our society in spite of vocally claiming women’s rights, only wanted to close its eyes to their violations.

So I made a film. Not to reenact violence in a realistic way but to document my feelings as a witness. A film that would like to reconsider the meaning of empathy. A film about saving ourselves from bystander’s apathy, collectively.

Since then, I have also designed a photo-video installation presented here: https://www.anoukpheline.com/beautyfearviolence