A Deal With The Universe

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

A Deal With The Universe
"The film cuts through al the intellectual debate around these subjects to remind us of the human experiences at their core."

Receiving a lot of attention in LGBT circles and not much elsewhere, A Deal With The Universe will doubtless have slipped under the radar for many people. It's true that it's technically poor - it's a first piece of work by a director with little training - and it looks rough. But the story it tells is a powerful one and it's very well constructed. It's especially difficult to know what to keep in and what to leave out when telling one's own story. Jason Barker exercises excellent judgement and the result is a film that gradually builds to a strong conclusion.

Jason and his partner Tracey have been trying for some time to have a baby. Because Jason is trans they're using donor sperm, but several attempts get them nowhere. There seems to be a problem with her eggs; the good news is that Jason can provide a back-up supply. Then Tracey develops breast cancer and it becomes apparent that pregnancy is not going to be an option for her. Only one option remains for them to have a child who is biologically theirs (and though it's not mentioned in the film, adopting with a history of serious illness can be difficult). Jason will have to stop taking testosterone and try to get pregnant himself.

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For the avoidance of doubt, Jason - even without his medication - is not somebody who looks particularly feminine. The idea of being visibly male and pregnant is daunting - he knows the kind of hate that's out there and besides, he's a private kind of person who doesn't like fuss. Though he copes remarkably well with coming off his hormone treatment (a process that can have deeply unpleasant psychological effects), it clearly adds to his stress - and stress makes getting pregnant more difficult.

As we follow the couple through literally dozens of pregnancy attempts, it's impossible not to be awed by their fortitude and ingenuity. Jason acknowledges that some people think of what they're doing as selfish - some even disapprove of him having a child when he's trans - but he's not interested in arguing. Instead he simply demonstrates, by offering viewers intimate access to their lives, how much this matters to Tracey and him. Whatever else you may think of them, it's impossible to deny their devotion to becoming parents or the love they have to give. The film cuts through al the intellectual debate around these subjects to remind us of the human experiences at their core.

The film is illustrated with home video footage going back years. Around the pregnancy attempts and the story of Tracey's cancer, we see a great deal of day to day life, getting to know the couple's home and friends and cats. We see what the desperation for a baby does to them: the intense research into scientific and medical issues and the adoption of all manner of different mystical approaches because hey, who knows, they might work, right? The unpolished nature of the footage makes all of this feel rawer and more immediate than it might otherwise have done; there's no distancing cinematic gloss.

An intensely personal, challenging film that anyone who has ever wanted a child will be able to relate to, A Deal With The Universe isn't the sensational story viewers might expect from its subject matter, but finds its own magic in the most ordinary of places.

Reviewed on: 11 Dec 2018
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The filmmaker documents 15 years of his life, including aspects of his transition and his subsequent pregnancy.
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Director: Jason Barker

Writer: Jason Barker

Starring: Jason Barker, Tracey Barker

Year: 2018

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: UK

Festivals:

Flare 2018
Sqiff 2018

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