Family In Transition

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Family In Transition
"Family In Transition is an intimate film that develops into a much broader vision."

When Ofir Trainin's documentary opens with a shot of a trans woman putting on make-up in front of a mirror, you could be forgiven for thinking that we're in for a retread of all the old clich├ęs. Instead, what unfolds is a film full of surprises that goes beyond depicting one person's transition to look at the wider social impact of questioning gender in a society where male and female roles are still very differently and strictly defined.

The woman at the centre of it all is Amit. Like many people in her generation, she lacked the language to describe how she felt during her early years; then, when she reached her teens and might have been ready to speak up, she was drafted into the Israeli army and it all seemed impossible. When she fell in love with Galit, a new set of complications presented themselves. The couple married and had three children. it was only in her forties, unable to bear it any longer, that she broke down and told her wife the truth.

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Many families are devastated by news like this. When we meet her, Galit is determined that that won't happen to hers. The children, part of a generation with a very different perspective on such things, don't really seem to see what the fuss is about but recognise their parents' distress. The two girls joke about the ridiculous, convoluted way adults communicate. The oldest of them is possessed of a formidable intelligence and force of personality. One rather feels that the adults need to step back for a moment and let her tell them what to do.

If there's one area where Galit has an advantage over many other women in her situation, it's when it comes to sex. She remains attracted to Amit's changing body and isn't uncomfortable with the different way people perceive her sexuality. Quite the contrary - and therein lies the rub. Developing a consciously queer identity gives her a new perspective on life. For the first time she becomes aware that despite being female she has a right to wear what she wants, go where she wants and keep the company she wants.

Amit affirms the identity she has always had and proves quite resistant to certain forms of change, seeing no reason to give up the socially dominant role she enjoyed before transitioning. It's Galit who is really changing. Even Amit's example reinforces her new awareness that there are different ways to live as a woman. This is the development that the family must learn to deal with if they are to make things work.

Trainin has extensive co-operation from all the family members in making this film. Although there are no interviews with extended family members, we see them at special events and it's clear that they have accepted Amit for who she is. Strangers in the street shout abuse but seem uncertain how to frame it, trying to use gay slurs for Amit and lesbian slurs for Galit as they walk arm in arm. The older daughter explains that she's been picked on at school - or, worse, pitied - but she thinks the experience of learning to stand up for herself has made her stronger.

Then there's the background detail. Israel formally recognises transition but many aspects of the law have yet to catch up. These issues point to much more deeply ingrained sexist and heterocentric ways of thinking that impact every citizen's life, trans or not. Galit's new alertness to them sees her questioning the very society of which she is a part.

Patient, observant and richly rewarded for its efforts, Family In Transition is an intimate film that develops into a much broader vision. Galit's acceptance that Amit is female is only the first step in casting aside the narrow definitions that have restrained her all her life. Moving forward into a dizzyingly open future takes courage but ultimately brings rewards. Meanwhile, the film explores the changing nature of the concept of family and reveals the bonds that really matter.

Reviewed on: 12 Nov 2018
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The story of a family in Israel and the impact on them of the father's decision to transition.

Director: Ofir Trainin

Writer: Ofir Trainin

Starring: Amit Tsuk, Galit Tsuk, Amit Tsuk, Galit Tsuk

Year: 2018

Runtime: 60 minutes

Country: Israel

Festivals:

DOC NYC 2018

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