Argentine abortion battle hits screen at Cannes

Buenos Aires (AFP) –


Filmmaker Juan Solanas declares himself an atheist but says that if God did exist he would wear a green handkerchief, emblem of Argentina's pro-abortion movement and subject of his documentary that premieres at the Cannes Film Festival Saturday.

Solanas, 52, says the film was shot on the spur-of-the-moment when he became inspired by television reports of massive women's pro-abortion protests in Argentina.

He grabbed his camera and took to the streets of downtown Buenos Aires to get amongst them, "fascinated by so much talent, life and creativity in the Green Movement."

Months of protests to decriminalize abortion in Pope Francis' homeland culminated in a make-or-break Senate vote on a cold, wet night in February.

Having passed through Congress the year before -- despite strong pressure from the Catholic Church -- the abortion bill fell at the final hurdle in the Senate, defeated by 38 votes to 31.

- 'Anger, indignation'-

"That night I died from the cold, from the rain, I almost broke my camera," Solanas told AFP.

"I felt anger, indignation," said the director, son of the celebrated filmmaker Fernando "Pino" Solanas, who won Cannes' Best Director prize for his 1988 film "Sur."

"I grew up in an atheist family, although my paternal grandmother was very devout. I respect people's beliefs, but it is medieval and violent to impose them on people who don't think the same."

The resulting documentary, "Que Sea Ley" (Let It Be Law), is peppered with testimonies from women who took to the streets in a rage against Argentine conservatism.

"I'm not a guy who cries. I'm hard... but I was moved to see a wonderful, super-powerful women's movement on television."

"I fell in love. It was a shock. Women are incredible."

Those "heroines will be with me in France," he told AFP before leaving Buenos Aires for Cannes, where the film premieres in the "Special Screenings" section on Saturday.

Solanas -- maker of such features as the 2005 "Northeast" and the 2012 movie "Upside Down" -- is better known in France than in his homeland, having spent most of his life there.

In moving to France he followed in the footsteps of his father, who as a target for Argentina's military dictatorship had fled to the country to develop his film career -- leaving Juan with his mother.

"My mother and father were militants all their lives, they were going to kill him."

Now aged 83 and an opposition senator, the elder Solanas made an impassioned speech in favor of decriminalizing abortion on the night of the vote.

In Argentina abortion is only allowed in case of rape, a threat to the mother's life or if the fetus is deemed non-viable.

Various charities estimate that 500,000 illegal, secret abortions are carried out every year in Argentina, resulting in around 100 deaths.