(*homocinematically inclined)

Friday, March 27, 2015

Reverend's Reviews: Its a Trans' & Dog's Life


One of the more remarkable depictions to date of a transgender person's journey, Sophie Hyde's 52 Tuesdays, is opening this weekend at the Quad Cinema in New York City. It is also newly available for viewing on demand via Fandor. Hyde, an Australian, won the Best Director-World Cinema Dramatic award at January's Sundance Film Festival for her achievement here.

Billed as "Boyhood meets Transparent" but compressed from 12 years to one, we encounter James (beautifully played by gender non-conforming actor Del Herbert-Jane) during weekly sessions with his therapist as well as interactions with his struggling family members. You see, James is in the process of transitioning from female to male with varying degrees of support from his 16-year old daughter, Billie (Tilda Cobham-Hervey), Billie's father and educators, and others.

While she publicly vocalizes an unwavering acceptance of her mother-to-father's endeavor, Billie secretly begins to act out in inappropriate ways. She experiments sexually with a coupled young man and woman, going so far as to record their encounters on her camera phone. All hell breaks loose for all concerned once this is discovered. As 52 Tuesdays makes crystal clear, transgender conflicts don't only impact the individual experiencing them within him/herself but those people closest to them. As James pointedly remarks to Billie at one point, "Its not just about the physical."

Sensitively written by Hyde and Matthew Cormack and naturalistically performed by an excellent cast of non-professional actors, the film explores numerous issues related to gender, sexuality, parenting and family life. It also raises big philosophical questions (literally) including "What is an authentic life?" and "How do you know what really matters?" If these aren't thought-provoking enough, Hyde incorporates news footage of concurrent real-world events (with global warming a particular concern) that places the intimate story within a much larger context. Make a date with 52 Tuesdays.

Also opening today in NYC before rolling out in Los Angeles on April 3rd and then nationally is White God, winner of the Un Certain Regard jury prize at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. This parable about abandoned and abused dogs who organize to terrorize the Hungarian populace serves as an effective metaphor for political tensions in Europe past and present.

In Kornel Mundruczo's film, all dogs of mixed-breed heritage have been deemed unfit and their owners must pay a hefty fine to keep them. Those dogs whose owners are unwilling or unable to pay are rounded up and sent to shelters to await their fate. Any parallels to Naziism, social engineering, concentration camps and ethnic cleansing are wholly intended.

Young Lili (Zsofia Psotta) makes the innocent mistake of visiting her divorced, dog-intolerant father with her beloved mixed-breed Hagen in tow just as the new law takes effect. Her father acquiesces to Lili's tearful pleadings not to turn Hagen over to the authorities by dumping him on the street to fend for himself. Hagen falls in with a pack of fellow strays but, despite their best and cinematically exciting efforts to avoid it, they are eventually captured. He is then adopted by an unsavory man who trains him for underground dogfights (fortunately, most of the film's brutality takes place off camera). Such abuse plants the seeds of revolution in Hagen and hundreds of other dogs who come to accept him as their leader.

White God suffers at times from a scattershot tone, being cute and comedic one moment, dark and disturbing the next, and is occasionally too overt or preachy with its metaphorical approach. Its marauding former pets and unresolved ending, though, reminded me most of Hitchcock's The Birds. That's certainly not a bad film to aspire to while crafting a needed cautionary tale.

Reverend's Ratings:
52 Tuesdays: B+
White God: B

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

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