More films from the British Film Institute’s 26th London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival! Documentaries focusing on homosexuality in India, Pandronyne, and French transexuals, and a dark film about a murderous prostitute.
The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye
Director: Marie Losier
Starring: Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge
Influenced by the ‘cut-up’ philosophy of former mentors William Burroughs and Brion Gysin, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and his wife Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge decided to take their art in a new direction. Together, through plastic surgery, they would dissolve prescribed gender and become one identity, the Pandrogyne. Marie Losier’s documentary, borrows the couple’s own philosophy for stylistic approach, depicting this unique love story through an assembly of distorted archive footage, fantasy sequences, and interviews.
Though ostensibly a love story, Lady Jaye’s death in 2007 means the film is dominated by Genesis and his artistic life and work. Although it seems petty to complain about sexism in a film concerned with the breakdown of gender roles, Lady Jaye’s scant presence – she often exists as a mere haunting giggle – is the film’s inherent weakness. Losier constantly delves back into aspects of Genesis’ past and arcs these entangled narratives towards the present, but only once does Lady Jaye’s life receive the same treatment, as narrated by Genesis. We’re left with a much stronger sense of one half of the Pandrogyne, reflecting the project’s tragic curtailment.
Losier’s construction and techniques are enrapturing, however. She couples the often aggressive soundtrack of the ‘industrial’ music Genesis created with his bands Psychic TV and Throbbing Gristle, with quickened home movie footage. Or in one stunning reversal of this formation, a pacey montage of a Psychic TV tour is set to the softly building rhythm of a lo-fi musical piece, countering the manic images that flash by. As a piece of art The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye is a stunning interpolation of the philosophies that influenced Genesis’ own life. But its title seems ill-fitting. The film registers more strongly as a biopic of Genesis P-Orridge than it does a paean to his life with Lady Jaye.
Review by David William Upton
Girl or Boy, My sex Is Not My Gender (Fille ou garcon, mon sexe n’est pas mon genre)
Director: Sophie Retier
This documentary follows the lives of four trans men, Kaleb, Lynnee, Rocco, and Miguel, and takes the audience into their worlds and what being trans means to them. Kaleb chooses non-binary gender as a response to a system that forces gender upon them. Lynnee, who also identifies as non-binary but prefers male pronouns, has opted out of hormone replacement due to the impact on his liver. Rocco has fully transitioned and lives in New York with his girlfriend. And Miguel muses on what being male is.
Every story told in this film is moving, but the trouble is that it feels very familiar in terms of sensational attitudes – the exact reason why My Transsexual Summer drew fire from the community last year. There are the money shots – the discussions with Lynnee and Rocco’s girlfriends, discussions with parents, Kaleb’s group discussion about intersex and non-binary genders with other trans people in Paris, Miguel’s discussion of being a trans activist in school – the list goes on. We appreciate that these are all serious issues, but so much time is devoted to the philosophical debate over gender that we don’t see very much of how each individual lives their lives, and this is just as big a part of the discussion as the debate. However the documentary still manages to be eye-opening and informative.
Review by Jake Basford
Director: Sonali Gulati
Eleven years after her mother’s death, filmmaker Sonali Gulati returns to the ghostly house she once called home. She’d never revealed her homosexuality to her mother. I Am reflects upon the difficulties of alternative sexuality within Indian family units in a country where homosexuality was until recently a criminal offence. Gulati weaves her own melancholic reflections between interviews with other gay Indians and their families. Tragic stories and heartwarming acceptance mingle together, navigating a society still negotiating its attitude towards this subject.
Gulati realises a softly beautiful approach in her documentary. She contrasts the heteronormative society of India, reflected through a prevalence of advertising, with the Western world where the realisation of the new generation’s sexuality is often enacted. The interviews are frequently shifted to a voiceover of slowed, reflective imagery, moving them from the domestic space to the winding streets of India. Homosexuality is gradually infiltrating the wider Indian society, even if a palm reader has to produce a magnifying glass upon Gulati’s revelation of her sexuality.
I Am is a film that is dominated with reflections on a painful past, but Gulati is careful not to devalue the more positive personal narratives that she encounters. One interviewee, Piali, leaves Gulati craving the same sort of acceptance. ‘I feel closer to you in death than I did when you were alive,’ she says to her mother, who is manifested through faked archive footage and an affecting sequence where various women enact imagined responses. Ultimately, I Am is an emotional meditation on the importance of family in the realisation of self in a country where changing global values risk splitting generations apart.
Review by David William Upton[Divider]
Director: Gaël Morel
Starring: Stephané Rideau, Dimitri Durdaine, Béatrice Dalle, Mathis Morisset
Over-the-hill capricious prostitute Vassili (Stephané Rideau) is struggling to accept his age and growing pot-belly, while also carrying a dark passenger that ultimately lashes out in murderous and motiveless attacks on his clients. Into the midst of this turmoil, he discovers the boyish and tender Angelo (Dimitri Durdaine) who has just been attacked in a Parisian park notorious for both cruising and gay-bashing. The two develop a bond, both in work and in love, sharing clients and each other, and for a time everything seems settled. That is until Vassili can no longer repress his demons and viciously attacks and kills a client who he and Angelo are servicing. After a run-in with a previous client who was thought to be dead, the two accede to escape both from the hectic bustle of Parisian life and from Vassili’s demons for a quieter life in the countryside. Their journey re-unites the troubled protagonist with an old friend, Anna (Béatrice Dalle), who has settled in the countryside to raise her young son, also called Vassili (Mathis Morisset). The encounter draws out paternal feelings in the elder Vassili, and the audience cling to the hope that it might be the turning point. But can the violent and dispassionate anti-hero reconcile his dark past?
Director Gaël Morel takes a bold approach by depicting his anti-hero as a person who combines numerous negative stereotypes as a serial killer and a prostitute. It is a testament to the phenomenal acting talent of Rideau that he is able to portray these complex elements while still securing the pity and empathy of the audience, as he struggles to find happiness while suppressing his darker side.
The emotional current of the film is heavily sedated. The complex plot keeps the audience’s mind away from analysing Vassili’s motives and it is only upon leaving the cinema that you can truly appreciate the depth of feeling that the characters generate, which is an unsettling and unnerving experience. It’s a movie which lingers in your mind and haunts you long after you’ve left the comfort of your seat. This may not a film for those of a nervous disposition, but it is one that demands to be seen none-the-less.
Review by Tom Gorton-Clark
All films were shown as part of the British Film Institute’s 26th London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival (LLGFF). This took place between 23 March – 1 April 2012. To see more of our coverage, please visit our 26th London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival section. For more information about the festival visit www.bfi.org.uk/llgff.
Featured image: The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye.
All images are courtesy of the British Film Institute.