Clara (Penelope Cruz) and Felice (Vincenzo Amato) move their family, including their three young kids, to a new apartment building. It’s the 1970s and the city of Rome is in flux. New construction attracts wealthy families and transient workers who live almost side by side. On the other side of the reeds outside the new apartment building, Adriana (Luana Giuliani), who now goes by the name Andrew, meets Sara (Penelope Nieto Conti), a young Romani girl. Sara accepts Andrew as a boy and they form a tender bond despite the social expectations that threaten to keep them apart. At home, Andrew’s family is falling apart. Felice cheats on Clara and beats her. He also refuses to accept Andrew’s identity as a boy. Clara escapes her tumultuous marriage by tapping into her inner child and connecting with her children through music and play. Throughout it all Andrew struggles to shed his identity as Adriana and be embraced as his true self.
Directed by Emanuele Crialese, L’Immensità is a heartfelt coming-of-age story that treats its subjects with great reverence and care. It’s as much a story about a preteen coming into his identity as it is about a grown woman’s struggle with adulting. There are a handful of musical numbers that, while not really necessary, add levity to the film. Cruz and Giuliani both deliver strong performances. The audience is given enough context about the characters’ situation and the social atmosphere of their given place and time while still maintaining an air of mystery.
L’Immensità is an autobiographical story about director Crialese’s own upbringing. When this film premiered at the Venice Film Festival, Crialese revealed that he is a transgender man and that Adriana/Andrew’s story is his own. While I would have liked to have learned more about Andrew’s trans journey, I also appreciated the delicate handling of the matter. It’s an important part of the story but not the film’s main focus. L’Immensità reminded me a bit of Céline Sciamma’s film Tomboy (2011) which also explores gender identity in a similar way.
L’Immensità was screened at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
Sandra Pankhurst was an incredible woman. She lived through so much trauma in her early years, more than anyone should bear. Sandra knew how trauma could effect people and was inspired to start her business: Specialized Trauma Cleaning Services in Melbourne, Australia. Her team specializes in all kinds of cleaning, in particular hoarding cases and trauma clean-ups after suicides, murders and other sudden deaths. Having to deal with the death of a loved one is already such a burden, Sandra felt that she could help people by taking on the responsibility of cleaning up the aftermath. When she began her business in the 1990s, trauma cleaning was not an available service and she saw a crucial need that she could fill. Sandra and her team never judge or meddle. They’re just there to provide a valuable service.
Directed by Lachlan McLeod, Clean takes a two-prong approach telling the story of Sandra Pankhurst’s difficult life journey as well as that of her business. The subject of trauma cleaners is a fascinating one and anyone intrigued by the subject will find the documentary very rewarding. Sandra herself was charismatic and endlessly interesting. So many aspects of her life are explored including her traumatic adoption story, the search for her birth mother, her journey as a transgender woman, her health struggles and her triumphs as a business owner and public speaker.
The documentary feels disjointed, depends a bit too much on reveals and leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Sandra was fiercely private in regards to some aspects of her life so there are some things that the filmmakers just couldn’t show. With that said, the filmmakers show a lot of respect for their main subject Sandra as well as her cleaning team and their clients. While the film might leave viewers wanting more, it’s still well worth a watch.
Clean had its world premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.
“The need to transition was like this awful noise, this endless ringing in my head.”
It’s been over 15 years since Kris (Pooya Mohseni) and Naomi (Lynn Chen) have seen each other. After their break-up, Kris transitioned to become the woman she always knew she was leaving Naomi hurt and confused. Kris now faces the challenges of being a woman in the tech world and seeing her dream of becoming a parent slip away from her. Naomi has abandoned her career as a performance artist and pursued the traditional route of getting married and children. She struggles to understand Kris’ transition. Years later the two reunite, confronting the past and who they are today. The two must heal their deep divide and reconcile with themselves about they truly want in their lives.
Through conversation, See You Then chronicles the story of two women as they unpack years of hurt feelings and confusion to better understand each other and themselves. It’s easy to become emotionally invested in these characters. We live in a time when society is questioning what it means to be a woman and a transgender women. See You Then offers perspective and understanding to add to that conversation while bringing all the relevant emotions to the surface. The film is directed and co-written by a transgender woman, Mari Walker, and stars a transgender woman, Pooya Mohseni. Lynn Chen and Mohseni offer first-class performances.
See You Then revels in its simplicity giving viewers an opportunity to do a deep dive into an important and relevant social dynamic.
See You Then had its world premiere at the virtual 2021 SXSW Film Festival.
Michael (Ari Damasco) travels back home to visit his estranged parents in the rural countryside. His mother (Olga Sanchez) and father (Jerry Carlton) are still coming to terms with Michael being their transgender son who previously went by Michelle. Michael and his father travel into the city where his father tries to initiate Michael into what he considers the standard right of passage into manhood.
In France Michelle is a Man’s Name is a quiet yet powerful short film about identity and the cruelty of our gender binary culture. Directed by Em Weinstein, the film explores themes of acceptance, understanding and the pressure of societal norms. I was particularly struck by Damacso and Carlton’s performances. They play well off each other. The tension between the two is palpable but so is the unspoken love they have for each other, even if it leads to the father’s misguided actions.
In France Michelle is a Man’s Name was screened as part of the virtual 2021 Slamdance Film Festival.
Writer/director Martin Rodríguez Redondo’s feature film debut Marilyn tells the story of a young man struggling with his sexual identity in a society that refuses to understand or accept. It’s based on the true story of Marcelo Bernasconi, now Marilyn Bernasconi, a transgender woman whose crime became a media sensation over a decade ago. To reveal that crime is to spoil the ending of the film so implore you, if you don’t know the story do not Google before you watch the film.
Set in rural Argentina, Marilyn stars Walter Rodriguez as Marcos, the son of a lower class family who runs a farm on land they rented from a wealthy landowner. When his father dies suddenly, Marcos, his mother and his brother are left in charge and struggle to keep the farm going. Marcos steals women’s clothes and jewelry and on the night of the carnival transforms himself into Marilyn. This is where he is truly free to be himself. He has the support of his best friend Laura (Josefina Paredes), but others, including the son of a landowner, Facundo (Rodolfo Garcia Werner), who rapes him after Carnival, and his mother tries to deny him his freedom of expression and his sexuality. Marcos is facing immense pressure to live life according to gender norms. What will it take for Marcos to be free to be Marilyn?
Marilyn is a raw, spare and harrowing film. It lingers, allowing the viewer to really appreciate Marcos/Marilyn’s struggle. Rodriguez brings a sensitivity to the role that makes it feel genuine. Redondo shows great promise as a feature film director. The film ends abruptly at the aforementioned crime and it was Redondo’s intention not to make this a true crime film and he says “there’s no rational way to understand a crime, it was necessary to respect that mystery…”
Ultimately the we understand what led Marcos/Marilyn to the point of no return. However, the film holds the viewer at arm’s length. We’re with Marcos/Marilyn the whole time but we don’t really get to know this character all too well.
Overall the film felt unique in that it wasn’t a coming-of-age story, a coming out story or a story about transition. It focused solely on the struggle. We know after the movie fades to black that there lies a much bigger story to tell on the horizon.
Marilyn opens in L.A. at Laemmle Music Hall today. It will be available through Breaking Glass Pictures on DVD/VOD on April 30th.