Machine Gun Molly

How does one not want to see a film called that? How does one not want to be called that? 😀 This is a Quebec film from the late 90s that I rented recently and rather enjoyed. It’s based on the life of a real bank robber, Monique Sparvieri who robbed banks in and around Montreal during the 60s. While I was watching it I realized how rare it was to have a film with a female anti-hero, a female lead, a woman as the center of the story and not have it revolve around whether she’s going to marry that guy. Oh sure, they exist. But they’re fairly uncommon. Having a woman at the center of the film is a minority situation to begin with, but to have her doing something exciting, adventurous, dangerous?

So the first thing I liked about the film was that it was about a woman who didn’t spend the majority of the film worrying about whether some boy loved her. The second thing I noticed was the lack of female nudity. Now this is a Quebec film, you understand. Nudity, in general, is less of deal in Canada than in the States, I think. Regardless, this film didn’t actually show anybody’s breasts. It also had sex scenes that didn’t make me squeamish, or make me wince, or make me want to huck the remote at the tv. Usually, in a film, somewhere in a film, there’s a scene that degrades a woman. It’s often kind of out of the blue and is rarely necessary to the plot. Oftentimes I’ll be watching a film, enjoying it, then there’s this little shot, or this little scene that reminds me that I am a member of the sex class. It’s so pervasive it’s like film makers watch the final edits or read the final script and think to themselves “something’s missing… what is it… oh yeah! Crass misogyny! Let’s throw in some strippers and have some close-ups of their tits. Or, let’s have one of the characters be a sexist asshole to some random woman. No, no, it doesn’t matter who! Let’s just get a dig in there somewhere. I mean, otherwise people won’t think we’re manly men making a manly film!”

Or something.

But Monica la mitraille didn’t have that, as far as I can recall. Oh there were sexist men there, have no fear. But it seemed more of the stuff she had to deal with rather than some kind of winking by the film-makers to the men in the audience. I think that this is connected to their choice to not have nudity. By the way, this wasn’t exactly a film for pre-teens; people are shot, a woman is beaten (off screen), banks are robbed. But no nudity. And there’s at least 3 sex scenes that I recall. No, four. This film can illustrate how one can film a sex scene without objectifying your female actors. And no, I don’t actually believe it’s possible to show female nudity in a patriarchy without objectifying her. How do you show a naked woman having sex in a culture where women are the sex class without turning her into an object? I think it’s impossible, though some might have come close.

Anyways, robbing banks! Shakesville had a post not that long ago about how the news was discussing female bank robbers, portraying them as merely desperate for cash to feed their kids  and certainly not getting off on the thrill of the crime! Oh noes! Well, this film doesn’t do that at all. Quite the opposite. It is clear that the film makers believed Ms. Sparvieri robbed banks for the sheer thrill of it, also, hey, money. We see her stagnating in this Feminine Mystique prison of suburbanity, arguing with her husband to let her in on the jobs he was doing. We also see her arguing with her husband and the other thieves as to the best way to go about the deed. “I’ll drive the getaway car!” she insists. 

And drive she does. She’s always driving, this woman! Which is awesome. How many here have noticed that when men and women are in a car, it’s usually the man who’s driving, even if it’s her car? I think this happens less with the younger generation, but have a look at the drivers around you next time your out and about. With mixed-sex people in the car, who drives? American Beauty even uses the woman driving as one of the ways in which Annette Benning emasculates Kevin Spacey. But not this film. Here she drives, she drives well, she drives all the freaking time. And the men don’t mind! She’s just the driver *shrug* she just drives. There’s a lot of other ways in which this woman is in control in this film. She is brave and defiant and smart.

But also, this is where things can be a bit problematic. As always, no film exists in a vacuum but rather is a part of the cultural milieu. A milieu in which virtually no strong woman goes unpunished. Here, she is punished ostensibly because she’s a criminal; she robs banks, shoots at cops. This isn’t a criticism of the film itself but rather a comment on how women are portrayed in general. I finally get to see a strong woman (and she’s kind of bi!) but she’s also kind of a shitty mom (despite clearly loving her kids), she cheats on her husband(s), she robs freaking banks. She’s a criminal. Not exactly a hero, despite our culture’s love of robin hooding bank robbers. As such, it’s one more in a long list for the strong woman = bad woman trope.

Still, Molly is a good name for defiance, eh?

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One Response to Machine Gun Molly

  1. Ooo sounds good! I’ll have to rent it!

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