Ophelia Did Not Drown (Ofelia non annega) is layered with clips of performance art rituals, found footage documentaries, and vintage horror. Some clips reveal seedy aspects of Italian society, for example crowds of idle boys in the street, one of whom goes to bed in the arms of a heroic reclining granite goddess. Another boy wearing a makeshift habit creates havoc by performing a religious ritual on a town square while surrounded by people telling him to get a job.
Meanwhile, a statuesque woman in a red dress with a goddess-like figure strolls majestically onto a field full of sheep, attended by one of Fini’s vestal virgin Ofelias. The Ofelias originate in a stark white landscape where they are occupied with complex props–golden eggs stuffed with chiffon, a typewriter with thumbtacks for keys, beetles that look like jewels until the Ofelias begin eating them.
Though no Ofelias drown in this movie, there is water everywhere—“I read of the sea as sex … in a relentless search for love” says an invisible voice over generic footage of a canal. A bevy of young women in a forgotten old film take a midnight swim. Meanwhile, one of the Ofelias sucks the fingers of a hand made of dirty ice. A granite lion in a tourism video spews water from its mouth. Two Ofelias in white dresses drift in canoes as they are enlaced, veiled and somewhat trapped by red fishnet.
In addition to being a prolific filmmaker, Francesca Fini is also very active as a performance artist with formidable female energy that drives this film. The women in this movie work as hard as Fini (so-called “women’s work” is always hard work) putting on makeup in a used tire graveyard, typing as fast as they can, typing as fast they can while literally being bled, or risking their lives (some fatally) to get a job typing as fast as they can.
But Ofelia does not drown. Instead, she veils herself and walks among ruins, finally stopping to picnic on ice pops while the voice of Allen Ginsberg chants “holy holy holy.” It is a beautiful moment of Ofelia on her own, doing what she wants to do.
Sylvia Toy St. Louis is a middle-class black American housewife who greenscreens live-action and animated movies in her living room.