Festival of the Femme Fatale


A Re-Claiming



The Femme Fatale is a feminine trope reiterated in art, film and literature.

In line with feminist thought, she sits in a negative binarised relationship to the traditional woman. She is her opposite in all things. Traditional woman is characterised as good, a faithful wife and devoted mother whereas the Femme Fatale is barren, seductive, independent and threatens the patriarchal distribution of power. She is the biblical Eve and despite her transgressions from the garden onward, in the end, come curtain time, she is dealt a terrible fate and order is maintained. 

So enough, we thought, it is time to challenge such narration as it limits and reduces woman to the simplistic binaries of good and bad. 


This is not a new idea, it is a fundamental  principle in feminist thought. However, what is new, is an attempt to re-claim the transgressive potential of the Femme Fatale in a public program and see where it leads. This is what we aimed to do.  

The question asked - is the Femme Fatale just a patriarchal construct or does it hold transgressive potential?



Films were chosen that defied traditional representations of the Femme Fatale. For instance, the film Salome, released in 1925, was based on a non-heteronormative narrative with a female director whom it was rumoured was the head of an underground lesbian network at the time.


One of the main issues, even in feminism is that despite the critical approach to patriarchal cultural products , an emphasis is placed on such depictions. So, in selecting films and speakers, we wanted to reveal the hidden aspects of the Femme Fatale and present its continual negotiation and resistance. 



Since Eve, defiant women have had a bad reputation. Labelled Femme Fatales these women have been used to maintain a conservative patriarchal line in film and the real-world. Throughout the month we will screen classic Femme Fatal films and hold a talk that re-claims and re-imagines this image of woman.


Alicia Byrnes (The University of Melbourne) will examine the Femme Fatale through a Feminist lens in classic and science-fiction film. Followed with real-life accounts of female inmates from historian Trevor Poultney (Melbourne Gaol) the talk will end with a 15 minute Q & A.

First Film: 7/ 02/ 2018: Pandora’s Box at Richmond Theatrette from 6 – 8 pm.

In this acclaimed masterpiece of German silent film, we see the rise and inevitable fall of Lulu (Louise Brooks) an amoral but naive young woman whose insouciant eroticism inspires lust and violence in those around her.

Second Film: 14/02/2018: SALOME at Fitzroy Meeting Room 1 from 6 – 8 pm

Salome, the daughter of Herodias, seduces her step-father/uncle Herod, governor of Judea, with a salacious dance. In return, he promises her the head of the prophet John the Baptist.

Third Film: 17/ 02/ 2018: MATA HARI at NFZ Seminar Room 1 & 2 from 2- 4 pm

Mata Hari is a 1931 semi-fictional account of the life of Mata Hari, an exotic dancer and courtesan executed for espionage during World War I.


The relaxed lecture series that Alicia and Trevor led was a huge success. Trevor's narrative approach was well-researched and provided a unique entrance into the lives of three historic cases of female inmates at Melbourne gaol.  Alicia added a strong academic edge to the event overall and demonstrated how current science fiction film departs from tradition.

The point, perhaps overall, is that the Femme Fatale holds transgressive potential and the event  

revealed various counter-narratives in film, from academia and lives of various women that circumscribe this man-made image and enable us to re-claim it as our own.  


And, we had a-lot of funning doing it!