They get beaten up, beaten up, thrown down the stairs: female stuntwomen in the film embody pure sacrifice much more often than their male counterparts. The Swiss documentary «Cascadeuses» by Elena Avdija gets to the bottom of the victims’ stunts.
In real life, Petra Sprecher is extremely defensive and sharp – and not just when speaking. She worked as a stuntwoman in Los Angeles for years.
She started with the youth circus Basilisk in Basel. As a trapeze artist in Cirque de Soleil, she became a world star.
Later she went to Los Angeles and flew through the air as a stuntwoman in productions such as “Flight” with Denzel Washington, in “Pirates of the Caribbean” or in “Eagle Eye”.
A female victim is being sought
Soon, however, “Flying Acts” became rarer in Hollywood, and female victims were gradually sought for crime films: “Then you are the one who is raped, beaten, pushed down the stairs…” says Petra Sprecher.
Suddenly, the sovereign elegance of a circus artist is no longer required, but the convincing attitude of a victim. No straight knees, but credible dips.
Beaten up ready for a movie
The experience that Petra Sprecher had just a few years later in Los Angeles is the daily life of French stuntwomen, the “cascade”. Together with Petra Sprecher, you are at the center of Elena Avdiji’s Swiss documentary.
Elena Avdija recalls with a laugh that she originally started her film project out of fascination with the hard work of stuntmen.
But then she quickly realized that it was mainly female victims of violence. And that no one has yet noticed this distinctive side of the film industry.
Stunt women in the shadows
She was interested because of what remained in the dark, says Elena Avdija. Everything that is filmed so grandiosely for the cinema requires the stuntmen to remain in the blind spot: “Stunts are part of the magic of cinema. How they are made should remain invisible – that’s why stuntmen stay in the shadows. And in the shadow of the shadow there are stuntwomen.”
The question quickly arises as to who suffers the most violence and how the female body is depicted on screen, says Elena Avdija. In his documentary “Cascadeuses” he shows this with a chilling montage of sacrificial pieces in a whole series of European films.
The script determines the appearance of the body
Women are raped, beaten, dragged by the hair, run over or strangled. These are not scenes from extreme movies, but from normal movie and TV dramas.
Stunt women, of course, reinforce these body images through their heroic endeavours. That’s how the documentarian sees it. But there is the issue of empowerment. Stunt girls have no influence on the scripts, often not even knowing exactly what is needed until shortly before filming begins.
Control over how the female body is staged and generally represented rests with filmmakers and screenwriters, says Elena Avdija. He speaks in male form: “These are still male-dominated professions.”
SRF 2 culture, art in interview, November 17, 2022, 9:03 am