I cannot express how excited I was to kick off the International Contemporary Italian Film Festival with this dramatic biopic about Oriana Fallaci, one of the world’s most renowned and badass war journalists ever. Oriana was a beacon for generations of female journalists for she showed the world that women can do anything men can. She sat in the trenches during the Vietnam War; interviewed prisoners, generals, historic figures; wrote numerous books; worked on her own terms and demanded that the truths she found out were exposed to the world. With a woman like that with a life so chock full of adventure, you’d expect the biopic to be equally engaging, but unfortunately L’Oriana falls way short.
To begin with, it’s full of embarrassing overkill. It’s trying to reveal things about Oriana, but the manner in which it’s done is only interesting and effective if you’ve never seen a movie in your life. The overkill in this movie is almost cartoonish and laughable for its exaggeration and distracts the viewer from the story it’s attempting to tell. In one scene, Oriana is in the midst of enemy fire, hiding in the trenches with American solider in Vietnam. Awed by her firsthand view of the reality of war, she busts out her typewriter to write up her brilliant article.
First of all, who brings a typewriter to war trenches? As a writer, I understand the need to always have the tools of your trade at hand, but a pen and notepad would have been more sensible in that case. Similarly, when she interviews the soldiers, we hear the same old hackneyed sob stories we’ve been hearing from movie soldiers and veterans for decades. We’re meant to see Oriana’s passion at making sure she expresses through her words exactly what is experiences in real life, but this definitely could have been done in a more realistic way.
Similarly, in another scene Oriana visits an orphanage where the residing nuns are desperate for her to adopt one (or more) of the children. The scene is meant to illustrate the desperation in Vietnam at the time when orphanages were overflowing, as well as the national law that only girls could be adopted by foreigners because the boys could grow up to become soldiers–all very important facts that were necessary to show Oriana’s further inspiration to shout out the truth. But the sadly comical way in which the nuns literally shove babies into Oriana’s face is awful to watch due to the unimaginative way it’s delivered.
But let’s talk about Oriana Falcci herself. She was badass. With no formal training in journalism, Oriana basically just set out with her natural way with words and her gumption. She initially starts out wanting to write about women, to reveal what it’s like to be a woman in different parts of the world. She herself enjoys a wildly independent life where she works, has affairs, travels and is allowed the freedom of expression. She wants to know the similarities and differences between the way women in 1960s Italy and the women of the far corners of the world live.
So, she sets out to travel and lands first in Karachi, Pakistan, where she meets a terrified child bride on her wedding day. When asked why she’s afraid, the child reveals that the country’s laws say that her husband can divorce her and leave her with nothing if she doesn’t birth him a male offspring. As someone whose entire family was born and raised in Karachi, let me assure you that no such law has ever existed in modern Pakistan. There’s likely many cultural practices that encourage this sort of misogynistic behaviour, but Pakistan in 1961 was actually far more liberal than current-day Pakistan. This sort of misinformation does nothing to help those women who are actually oppressed, not just in Muslim countries, but everywhere.
This isn’t Oriana’s first bought of head-butting with Islam. Near the end of her life, she was in New York City for the September 11th attacks and wrote a piece about the downfalls of Islam which she alleged was at fault for the attack. This scene in the film is filled with excessive footage from the infamous day, and I don’t know if I was just pissed off at this movie by this point or just being too sensitive having been raised a Muslim, but it seemed to foreshadow the anti-Islamic tirade she writes just days before she dies.
I did some research afterwards and found out that Oriana Fallaci was actually a raging Islamaphobe and spent a lot of her career spouting bullshit, Islamaphobic slurs. She even was sued for some of the things she said! All this the film conveniently glosses right over and that is infuriating because what’s the point of making a biopic if you’re not going to show both the good and the bad of the subject?
If all this film was was exaggerated scenes and uncreative filmmaking, then I could forgive it. However, it’s not just that. It’s an unashamedly biased and the fact that it hides this controversial fact about its subject makes it suspect. I understand that there’s always liberties taken with facts in biopics, but this isn’t liberty taken with facts; it’s full-out omission of them. And these omitted facts are actually crucial to showing the sort of person Oriana Fallaci really was.
L’Oriana screens at Toronto’s TIFF Bell Lightbox on June 11 @ 7:30pm and at Colossus Vaughan on June 17 @ 7:00pm.
Sarah is covering the Italian Contemporary Film Festival which runs in Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec City from June 11-19.