Nobody Passes Perfectly

Nobody Passes Perfectly


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Whilst films about transgender people have become increasingly commonplace over the past two decades, the true diversity of transgender lives is rarely represented onscreen. It's still rare to see films - documentary or fiction - in which such subjects get to speak with their own voices rather than being cyphers in stories about the reactions of other people to their situation. It's also rare to see films about transmen - people born with female anatomies who experience themselves as male - and it's still more unusual to see a film which challenges our binary expectations of gender. Nobody Passes Perfectly does all these things, and as such it deserves to be widely seen even though it's not really all that strong as a piece of cinema.

Many of the problems this film has stem from an apparently conscious decision to be as plain as possible, to let the subjects speak without external commentary. Most of what we see is a succession of people talking to one another against static backgrounds with very flat lighting. This means that the film has to rely on the strength of what is being said to engage the viewer. It will no doubt intrigue many people who haven't seen this side of the transgender experience before, and it will cheer others who are very familiar with it but rarely see it acknowledged; however, there are places where it drags and where we wish we knew a little more about its subjects' wider lives in order that we might feel more involved with them.

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Refreshingly, the film avoids the trap of conflating the desire for maleness with macho posturing. It also does away with the notion of a man trapped in a woman's body, a myth which can be useful as shorthand for explaining things to outsiders but which isn't, ultimately, very good at expressing the feeling that one is in one's own body, it's just that that body feels wrong.

In fact, many non-trans people experience similar (if not necessarily as strong) feelings of dislocation when their bodies undergo sudden changes. One supporting character here explains how she feels about having put on weight, and how it has changed her relationship to her appearance. Meanwhile, another, who was born male-bodied, questions what it means to feel male, having never felt very strongly gendered himself. Should he have more of an interest in sport? Should he be more muscular? There's a lot here for non-trans viewers to engage with.

One of the most interesting areas of Nobody Passes Perfectly is its look at the complex latter-day identities which can confuse and sometimes conflict with trans experiences. What does it mean for a former lesbian to give up that identity on transitioning physiologically to male? What does it mean for his lesbian partner, who wonders if they will still be seen as queer, an important part of how she understands herself and their relationship? The film expresses very effectively the problematic nature of trying to adhere to other social conventions when challenging the gender system around which they're built.

Given that it has so much to say for itself, it's a shame this isn't more involving for the viewer, but it's still a brave stab at an underexplored subject, and it may do much to broaden the horizons of those who go to see it.

Reviewed on: 23 Oct 2009
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An intimate portrait of two people's lives including open discussion about issues of sexuality and gender.
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Director: Saskia Bisp

Writer: Saskia Bisp

Starring: Erik Hansen, Tomka Weiss

Year: 2009

Runtime: 43 minutes

Country: Denmark


Doc/Fest 2009

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