Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"In its quiet, observational way, Sediments gets closer to the experience of what it means to be trans than any number of more direct interrogations."

Creative people, in every field, have to make a living, which requires visibility, building reputation. In order to mine a subject thoroughly, however, it is sometimes necessary to disappear. The presence of Adrián Silvestre can barely be detected in this documentary, so freely do his subjects speak and behave on camera. We see what he wants us to see – his editorial choices, his themes – and yet the work feels entirely natural, spontaneous, embedding us within a group of women who scarcely seem aware that they are being observed.

These women are Yolanda, Cristina, Tina, Lena, Saya and Alicia, travelling together to stay in a large house on the outskirts of a small village in the Spanish province of León. They are all natives of the country, and all transgender, but their ages and backgrounds vary considerably. Some of them barely know each other and so there is a process of becoming acquainted which provides an entry point for the viewer and makes sense of the increasing intimacy which develops as their visit goes on. They don’t all get along, but their sometimes volatile arguments mean that we hear different perspectives on every issue they discuss, and strike a blow against stereotyping.

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Spain is, according to research, the safest place in the world to be trans, and the film is refreshingly free from sensationalism, with nobody in the village treating them as unusual beyond the fact that they are clearly city folk and therefore a little bit exciting, and little bit frivolous. Enjoying a few tourist activities, they embrace that, showing no particular concern with being taken seriously. They go walking in the woods, visit an enormous cave, eat dinner in a café where attempts are made to fix up Alicia, the youngest, with a waiter who says that his interest is dependent on which football team she supports. Closer to the house, they wander in the fields where plump chestnut horses graze alongside cows with tinkling bells.

In between adventures, they share their stories with one another. Yolanda talks about her childhood as an orphan, ending up in sex work because no-one would employ her, and a history of abuse and illness which left her unable to speak without a voice prosthesis. There’s no simple happy ending to this, but she does have humour and an admirable toughness. Others talk about gender related surgery and discuss their experiences of bullying. It’s telling how easily the conversation shifts from intensely traumatic experiences to the lovely weather. Later they argue over definitions of womanhood, Simone de Beauvoir, the nature of science. The sun shines and the gentle rhythms of country life unfold around them.

Nothing is forbidden here. In one scene, one of them gets changed in front of the camera, casually disrobing, even taking off her wig, which is something which many trans women would be terrified of doing. The complete lack of sensationalism in how this is shot means that if you didn’t doubt her gender beforehand, you won’t afterwards. Towards the end the women indulge themselves with ‘magic cake’, made with chocolate, mascarpone and marijuana, before playing a game of Never Have I Ever which gets gloriously out of hand. There are painful confessions, there’s dancing, there’s a good deal of silliness and a lot of heart.

In its quiet, observational way, Sediments gets closer to the experience of what it means to be trans than any number of more direct interrogations. Naturally, just six women can’t represent everyone, but the nature of their conversations makes that clear. On a visit to church, we see two of them admiring a spectacularly attired holy Virgin, a vision of the divine feminine, yet here the femininity we see is humble, earthy, commonplace. The final scenes, at a village festival, reinforce a very pragmatic, rural perspective on what it means to be human.

Reviewed on: 06 May 2023
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Sediments packshot
Just as the Earth is, our inner selves are made up of many layers that make up our identity and tell the story of our existence.

Director: Adrian Silvestre

Writer: Adrian Silvestre

Starring: Alicia de Benito, Lena Brasas, Cristina Millán

Year: 2021

Runtime: 89 minutes

Country: Spain

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