Venus

****

Reviewed by: Jane Fae

Venus
"Venus is delightful. Gentle. Lyrical. Funny."

To begin, Venus is delightful. Gentle. Lyrical. Funny. And, when it comes to depicting the everyday trials and tribulations of a trans woman, authentic, in a way that 99 per cent of similar tales are not. It is a story of coming out, though not quite as you might expect.

At the beginning is one coming out, by Sid (Debargo Sanyal), a trans woman, who breathes deeply before taking the plunge into the world of “real life experience”. Which means coming out to friends, to work colleagues and family and starting to live full time as a woman.

Copy picture

But Sid has a secret that even she is unaware of. Some 15 years previously, she became parent to Ralph (Jamie Mayers), who has now come looking for her. Add in another rekindled relationship, with Daniel (Pierre-Yves Cardinal), a former on-then-off-now-on-again boyfriend and the stage is set for a simple story of readjustment: as the world re-adjusts to Sid; and as Sid re-adjusts to the world.

The easy path for this sort of story is high drama. Parental screaming and shouting and Sid ordered never to darken their door again. Sid shown as victim of unreasonable violence out on the street. In essence, East Enders transported to the softer lusher climate of somewhere suburban and American.

Or perhaps Canada, as the location information in the closing credits suggests.

The point, though, is while such drama can be centre stage to trans life, the truth is far more mundane. A great many trans people just get on with the everyday much as they always did, brushing off the insults of street kids, but otherwise integrating, after a little fuss, back into work, family and other circles. And there are many in the trans community who feel that constant over-dramatisation and tragedising of trans narratives does them a disservice.

Whereas what we see here is pretty much business as usual. Sid's parents are Indian: Sid's mother (Zena Darawalla) is upset at Sid's decision to transition not so much for the tired old reasons of transphobia and homophobia with which we such dramas are frequently laced, but because she wants to be a grandma. And on meeting Ralph, produced rabbit-like out of the hat as “instant grandson”, she is sold.

Ralph finds his missing parent, at the same time gaining two grandparents and an introduction to samosas and curry that will do his cholesterol levels no good whatsoever in later life!

Meanwhile, the real drama is centred not in Sid's coming-out, which is a logical, reasonable next step for her, so much as in Daniel's failure to come out, to family and friends and therefore the hypocrisy at the root of his relationship with Sid.

There is a beautiful pictorial quality to the scenes here: a suspicion that the team responsible for the camera work spend their non-film days taking landscapes. The music, which punctuates the action as celebration as much as background, is well chosen and different.

And there is the humour. The film is rich in one-liners. “Put one foot after the other and never forget to breathe”, advises one friend on Sid's first morning out.

“Are you still Indian?”, asks Ralph during his first stumbling conversation with Sid.

Or, as Sid attempts to put Ralph off: “you are white and scrawny and I am brown and beautiful. There is no chance I could be your father.”

There are plenty more where that came from.

The one issue that will perhaps hold this film back from full acceptance among trans audiences is the old chestnut about who to cast for significant trans roles. Sanyal's portrayal of Sid is sensitive, authentic and for his efforts he picked up an award for best trans performace at the Kiel Transgender Film Festival 2018.

But that suggests that he is not trans. Or if he is, he is not out as such: and that is an issue. We are long past the days of black parts being delivered by white actors in blackface: we don't (mostly) hand out native American parts to those who have no claim to such heritage (Johnny Depp in The Lone Ranger is one recent, perhaps controversial, exception).

And with the growing visibility of trans people in everyday life, the ask for more trans parts to go to trans people is getting louder. That said, this a lovely, likeable film from Quebec writer and director Eisha Marjara.

Reviewed on: 16 May 2018
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Venus packshot
A transitioning woman discovers she has a teenage son.

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A Fantastic Woman
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