Vanishing Vaginas, Diving Dildos: Albertina Carri’s The Daughters of Fire
Albertina Carri's Las hijas del fuego (The Daughters of Fire) celebrates a queer philosophy of consent, community, and coming together.
Dressed in skin-tight black lace embroidered with pill capsules, a lone figure sits outside on a red velvet armchair. Unhurried, they put on some headphones and start to part their legs. They masturbate openly, indulgently, their orgasms uninterrupted by the fly-on-the-wall camera and its unwavering gaze. After some time, their movements slow, their hands retire, and the credits roll. This final climax of Argentinian director Albertina Carri's The Daughters of Fire (Las hijas del fuego, 2018) sears a queer cinematic philosophy of consent and community, of horizontality in sexuality and spectatorship, into the minds of its public.
Alongside Lucrecia Martel, Lucía Puenzo, Julia Solomonoff, to name just a few, Albertina Carri has been heralded by critics as a pion(qu)eer of LGBTQIA+ Argentine cinema. Her third feature film, The Daughters of Fire, maps a polyamorous queer escapade across Argentine Patagonia after long-term lovers Violeta (Viole) and Agustina meet Carmen in a local bar. Together, they embark on a voyage to Agustina’s mother’s house, adopting childhood friends and hitchhikers alike along the way. Living as one in a minivan, a mobile haven adorned at the windows with handcuffs and whips and knitted vulva trinkets, they flee the police looking for Carmen; they threaten an abusive husband; they feature as protagonists in Viole’s developing feminist porn film. They sow seeds of consent and goce (pleasure) to cultivate a feminist community that thrives on sex, wanderlust, and liberation.
The sxsterly bedrock of The Daughters of Fire might be best articulated via Sophie Lewis’ rallying cry in Full Surrogacy Now: ‘Let’s hold one another hospitably … and multiply real, loving solidarities …. let us build a care commune based on comradeship’. Lewis’ elevation of community, comradeship, and consent arises similarly in Carri’s film, as the director neither exploits nor essentialises her subjects; instead, they live and love unbound by the straitjacket of normative configurations of gender, sexuality, ability, class, ethnicity, nation, at the very least. The protagonists are experienced by others, on- and off-screen, as bodies unmarked by heteropatriarchal stamps, as bodies representing Lewis’ ‘queerer, more comradely modes’ of being. A sequence in which the group urinates together in a line, their laughter mutual, endearing, encompasses the film’s emphasis on shared safety and togetherness. They offer queerer modes of not only being lovers, but of being loved.
Reciprocity in power and pleasure spills out of the minivan and into the off-screen realm, as the director usurps those traditional asymmetries between protagonist and spectator so famously theorized by Laura Mulvey in her essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema (1975). Carri’s protagonists are anything but the passive objects of a dominating spectatorial gaze; rather, they tease and taunt the patriarchal gaze and grope. Some way into their journey, Viole, Agustina, and Carmen park up and strip off to film a mountainside sex scene. In a post-sex moment, their three tousled heads come together to kiss and the camera is excluded from their embrace. ‘We’, the spectators, wait behind them; we are left out. Their pleasure, in this moment, is theirs alone.
Whether shared or secret, ‘goce’ is reserved for the pleasuring bodies on screen. When the spectator first encounters Viole, she crouches naked on a marble bathroom floor, masturbating with a pink dildo. She neither performs for the viewer nor invites their participation. In this scene, the film’s first sex scene, the camera moves above, behind, below, and opposite Viole’s tensing, writhing body, then to her face as it scrunches and opens with climax. Travelling from rolling eyes to parted feet, the camera rests at ground level, fixated on the shimmering plastic penis as it emerges and recedes. After Carri’s indulgence in shots of Viole from all angles, the camera focuses on the dildo’s to-and-fro. Its entry into a crevice unmet and unmeetable by the spectator emphasizes the inability of both to enter all but Viole’s vagina. The camera, the spectator, penetrates everything but what Viole calls ‘[su] agujero generoso y pedigüeño’ (‘her generous, craving hole’). For the spectator of The Daughters of Fire, the vagina is the vanishing point.
Resting on the ‘real, loving solidarities’ of mutual consent, respect, and horizontality (hierarchic or otherwise), Carri’s queer understandings of sexuality and spectatorship bloom and thrive further in the final group sex sequence. Shot in Agustina’s mother’s house, the camera moves from visual foreplay outside—sex toys, fetish clothing, BDSM apparatus; participants aligned and displayed, stilettoed and gagged—to the sexual acts inside. In lowly-lit bedrooms, their walls bare, furniture scarce, pale bodies mingle and merge. The quickness of hands juxtaposes the slowness of limbs, witnessed simultaneously by both the camera in motion and a masked waitress on rollerblades, a platter of dildos on her arm. Tailing the waitress, the spectator’s gaze is emphatically voyeuristic; snaking from room to room, they are a mere onlooker: an attendant bound to a camera dolly. As spectators separated from the action by the screen, our participation is clearly, queerly, unsolicited. The protagonists’ pleasure, we are told once more, is irrevocably theirs.
Making the vagina vanish is no accomplishment; nor is turning the penis to plastic. What makes queer herstory, then, is the ‘real, loving solidarities’ of Carri’s protagonists, bound not by hierarchy or patriarchy, but by fluffy handcuffs and silky hogties. At its very core, The Daughters of Fire is a manifesto for ‘queerer, more comradely’ ways of being, for a queer love that rides and reposes upon consent, community, and coming together.
Elly Walters is currently reading for an MSt in Women’s Studies at the University of Oxford. She likes sequins and rainbows. She sends you love and sunshine. Find Elly on Twitter @ellywltrs.