Eye For Film >> Movies >> Instructions For Survival (2021) Film Review
Instructions For Survival
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
There's a tendency by many people outside the LGBTQ+ community to assume that once basic rights have been granted to its members in a country then that's it: they are recognised, respected by the organs of the state, and safe. Even in places like the UK and US, that's naïve. In Georgia it's very far from reality. Although it's no longer illegal to be gay in this East European country, and trans people are theoretically protected from discrimination, to live openly is to be at constant risk, and there are all sorts of barriers which make it difficult just to get by.
Nobody would look twice at Alexander if they met him in the street. He blends in perfectly, and all he wants is to be able to get on with life like any other man, but his situation is complicated because he's trans. This makes it hard for him to find employment, access reliable medical care or marry the woman he loves. Not having met the state's surgical requirements (which not every trans man wants and which, like any lengthy procedure requiring anaesthetic, entails risk), he is unable to change his ID, which means he constantly has to deal with clashing identification in a country where ID cards are needed for all sorts of mundane things. He is trapped, unable to move on with his life, and he and his girlfriend Mari dream of moving to another country where they will be free to be themselves.
The rather conventional structure of Yana Ugrekhelidze's film, which follows the couple over several years, serves to highlight the ordinariness of its subjects and the Kafkaesque nature of the invisible prison woven around them. It reflects on the dangers faced by trans people both locally and internationally but never sensationalises the issue. Over time, we get to know the couple and those around them, including Alexander's mother who, in her dee love and drive to protect her son, embodies all the traditional values of Georgian motherhood. The support she has shown him since childhood is his rock and a reminder to all parents of just how much difference love makes even if one can't solve all of one's child's problems.
As this likeable family try to make their way, the film touches on other social issues and highlights the difference between how the state represents its family values and how all sorts of people actually live. A hit at this year's Berlinale and also screening at Inside Out in Toronto, it's a salutary lesson in why the struggle for equality matters in day to day life. Alexander may eventually get his happy ending but there are many more people out there like him for whom the dream of a safe, ordinary life fees much further away.Reviewed on: 04 Jun 2021