BFI LFF 2019: The Deathless Woman (2019)

Roz Mortimer’s The Deathless Woman blends fiction and documentary in a ghostly reading of our times.

Unearthing the Past

by Joel Whitaker

The Deathless Woman

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

The Holocaust is surely the most well-documented genocide in cinema. This is perhaps because of the sheer scale of the lives lost, the monstrosity of its perpetrators, and the complexity of its application. The Deathless Woman, Roz Mortimer’s latest film on the subject, chooses to home in on a specific aspect of the horror, the massacre of Roma people, and traces the violent discrimination of Roma peoples through to the modern day.

To do this the film sets us up with two guides. The Seeker (Loren O’Dair) is a researcher delving into the history of the massacre, searching for unmarked graves and other clues to the tragedy’s lost history. Our other guide is the eponymous Deathless Woman (Iveta Kokyová) who drifts and floats through the film’s landscapes, recounting the history of the genocide with quiet fury. These two guides allow Mortimer to blend fiction and documentary aspects, creating an elegiac, ghostly investigation into an oft-forgotten perspective of the Holocaust.

The film does not stick strictly to Nazi Germany’s persecution of Roma people, opening up to explore how violence against them is once again on the rise. The transformation of the Deathless Woman into a digital phantasm as she enters the internet to discover this modern persecution creates opportunity to inspect how this modern-day fascism is growing fast, and how the internet provides the perfect underground spaces for them to operate seemingly unopposed.

The Deathless Woman is a rallying call against the far right, warning us that history repeats itself, and that in order to protect minorities we must learn from our past mistakes and give voice to their concerns. Mortimer’s adaptation of the myth of the Deathless Woman here becomes vitally political, creating a harrowing and spectral account of the tyranny imposed upon the Roma, pleading for us to open our eyes to the evil that is once again rearing its head.

The Deathless Woman screens at the BFI London Film Festival on 6 and 12 October 2019.

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