The global pandemic has restricted us greatly to our homes. While we wait for the promise of vaccine availability, we can spend our time bingeing some fascinating cinema from around the world. Here are some of Gaysi’s picks to keep you entertained this week. Happy streaming!
The Oscar-winning Chilean film A Fantastic Woman is not an easy watch. The protagonist Marina is a trans woman whose stability is shattered after her partner’s untimely demise. She is interrogated by cops who unrepentantly misgender her on inspecting her ID. Her partner’s relatives make no bones about their transphobia towards her. She is wrongly perceived as a sex worker by a detective and is suspected of killing her partner in self-defense. She is made to undergo a humiliating medical examination to prove her innocence. Marina is told in no uncertain terms to keep away from her partner’s funeral to add to her humiliation. Such incidents are not a far cry from the trans community’s realities. Our identities are frequently and often violently dehumanized.
A Fantastic Woman is not merely a narrative of suffering, though. It is also the story of a woman who continues to fight against odds and assert her autonomy in a world hell-bent on killing her spirit.
I was overjoyed to see a trans actor playing the protagonist rather than let cis actors take up the role and get all the plaudits. Daniela Vega as Marina is an absolute revelation and gives a measured wallop of a performance. A Fantastic Woman is currently available for viewing on Amazon Prime India.
I am Jonas, a 2018 French drama, is an intriguing character study of the protagonist Jonas, a thirty-plus gay man whose troubled past continues to haunt him. The film cuts between Jonas’ precarious present life and his teenage days of discovering his sexuality. The adult Jonas (Félix Maritaud) finds himself in regular fisticuffs and run-ins with law enforcement. Fed up with his constant cheating, his partner kicks him out of their apartment. Interspersed with the present-day scenes are those from his younger days (portrayed by Nicolas Bauwens). We see the blossoming intimacy between a quiet and bashful Jonas and his headstrong and willful classmate Nathan (Tommy-Lee Baïk).
The narrative reveals the tragedy that marked Jonas’ adolescence quietly and unhurriedly as it braces to the climax, keeping its audience captive without playing to the galleries. Go check it out on Netflix.
Sahar Ghorishi’s two-part short film The Fall of the Standard of the Beauty invites Iranian youth diaspora to share the pressures of modern beauty ideals. It centers, in particular, on the nose. Nose jobs are widely prevalent among Iranians. The country has some of the highest rates of nose surgery in the world. Eurocentric beauty ideals and Arab culture’s own attractiveness standards compound the pressure. As queer desis, we can relate to this situation, being bombarded with (mostly unsolicited) advice from relatives, friends, colleagues, beauticians, doctors, media, and so on, with the clear-set agenda to get rid of any dhabba of any signs of queerness.
A ‘The Fall of the Standard of the Beauty’ comes as a breath of fresh air. It inspires us to be comfortable with our bodies and critical towards the toxic ideals imposed by society. While endorsing self-love towards one’s bodies, the film does not demonize those who consider plastic surgery and other body modification alternatives. Reclaiming our bodies on our terms is what is essential and is indeed what queerness is about. ‘The Fall of the Standard of the Beauty’ is available on Vimeo here and here.
There is something delectably charming about Caramel/Sekkar banat, a 2007 Lebanese film set in its capital Beirut, recently in the news for the terrible accidental explosion. Caramel was made around the time Lebanon and Israel were embroiled in war. However, its story moves away from the warn-torn bleakness that overwhelms mainstream narratives of countries in the ‘Middle East.’ Director Nadine Labaki gives a glimpse of residents’ everyday lives, capturing celebrations and struggles that mirror our own in many ways. The film centers on five Lebanese women of different backgrounds, ages, religions, and sexualities, whose lives intersect at a beauty salon. Each woman’s story is unique on its own terms. One (Nadine Labaki as Layale) years for the affection of a married man despite sensing he may leave her hanging forever. Another (Yasmine Al Massri as Nisrine) is soon-to-be-married who fears that her family may soon find out she’s not a virgin. Caramel also includes queer intimacy between two women, one working at the hair salon and a regular client (Joanna Moukarzel as Rima and Fatmeh Safa as Siham). While their narrative is muted compared, it is tenderly captured nevertheless. The salon amidst routines of plucking, waxing, and styling, becomes the meeting point for kindred companionship, intimacy, and solidarity.
Caramel reminded me of the relatively recent Lipstick Under My Burkha, which I also admired for its all-female cast, fleshed-out non-stereotypical representations, and bittersweet storyline. I really hope Indian cinema can come up with stories with queer characters that transcend the usual tropes and capture our lives’ magnificent diversities. Caramel is available on YouTube.