Queen of Diamonds/The Great Sadness of Zohara

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Critically acclaimed for her radical feminist body of work, Nina Menkes’ Queen of Diamonds (Sun- dance ’91) is the second title in a quartet of films (alongside The Great Sadness of Zohara (1983), Magdalena Viraga (1986), and The Bloody Child (1996)), that Menkes produced, wrote, directed, and shot, all of which star her sister, Tinka Menkes.

Queen of Diamonds follows the life of Firdaus (Tinka Menkes), a Blackjack dealer in a Las Vegas landscape juxtaposed between glittering casino lights and the surrounding barren desert landscapes. Negotiating a missing husband and neighboring domestic violence, Firdaus’ world unfolds as a fragmented but hypnotic interplay between repetition and repressed anger. Shot with beautiful compositional rigor, Queen of Diamonds is a remarkable and demanding masterpiece of American independent filmmaking. (Nina Menkes, USA, 1991, 77 min.)

New restoration by The Academy Film Archive and The Film Foundation, with funding provided by The Hobson / Lucas Family Foundation. Co-presented with Eos World Fund.

preceded by:

The Great Sadness of Zohara

Alienated from her Orthodox Jewish community in Jerusalem, a young woman opens to the world of the spirit. Surrounded by dark sounds of the ‘Other Side’, she is drawn into remote and increasingly desolate regions of Arab lands. Her journey, like a mystical quest through her own inner landscapes, culminates in her return to Jerusalem. There, indelibly marked, she confronts her deeper loneliness and devastating sense of exile.

Zohara’s quest follows the stages of separation, initiation and return which Joseph Campbell made famous, but differs enough from the traditional model that the social and psychological significance of the journey is substantially altered. It involves no helpers, no perilous tasks, no union with the opposite sex and no reconciliation with father and mother figures. Furthermore, her return is not clearly victorious. As Annis Pratt found in her study of original works by women, a female protagonist whose quest results in rebirth or transformation has difficulty re-entering society, “she is met upon her ascent...with a forceful backlash, an attempt to dwarf her personality and reaccommodate her to secondary status.” (Nina Menkes, USA, 1983, 40 min.)

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