Venice Film Festival: the diversity of gender identities in the spotlight

Transvestites, drag queens, actors and transgender roles: whether in competition or in its parallel sections, the Venice Film Festival, the dean of film festivals, is putting the diversity of gender identities in the spotlight this year.

For its 79th edition, the Mostra is offering for the first time in competition a film with a transgender actress in the main role, Monica. Trace Lysette, known for her role in the Transparent series on Amazon Prime Video, plays a transgender woman who, after twenty years of absence, returns to Ohio at the bedside of her dying mother.

For Italian director Andrea Pallaoro, his character’s journey explores “Monica’s emotional and psychological world while reflecting on the precarious nature of each of us’ identity as she grapples with the need to survive and transform.”

A new generation that thinks differently

In this modest film carried by the interpretation of Trace Lysette, the filmmaker, who had offered in Venice the prize for best actress to Charlotte Rampling for her role in Hannahexplore “the complexity of human dignity and the profound consequences of rejection”.

In another film in the running for the Golden Lion, The immensity by Emanuele Crialese, it is a teenager, Adriana, who calls herself Andrea (male name in Italian), dresses and does her hair like a boy. Accepted as such by her mother (Penelope Cruz), she must face the more conformist vision of the rest of her bourgeois family in 1970s Rome.

“The visibility of transgender people is still exceptional in mainstream cinema”, notes French director Sébastien Lifshitz in an interview with AFP. But he wants to be optimistic by betting on “the new generation”, who “thinks differently, wants to rethink the masculine-feminine and no longer wants to feel under the diktat of certain injunctions to conform”.

Get out of archetypes

A perfect illustration of this trend is the 26-year-old French-American star Timothée Chalamet, who landed on the Lido red carpet on Friday September 2 wearing an improbable and sensual lamé red jumpsuit with an open back.

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“And I actually hope that this impulse, this desire, will lead to a greater diversity of roles and subjects in cinema”says Sébastien Lifshitz, himself in Venice to present a documentary, Casa Susannawhich traces in a moving way the birth of a community of transvestites in the very conservative America of the years 1950-60.

“It’s been a struggle for decades to try to get out of archetypes”, he observes, his documentary showing the path traveled since the time when these identities had to be concealed at all costs or risk being ostracized from society. Thanks to archival footage and testimonies from living members of this small circle, Sébastien Lifshitz succeeds in bringing to life an unknown episode of “Pre-Queer History”.

A fight against stereotypes

The fight against rejection and stereotypes is at the center of the film by Frenchman Florent Gouëlou, Three nights a week, presented on the Lido at the opening of Critics’ Week. We see Baptiste, a thirty-year-old in a relationship with a woman, discover the Parisian world of drag queens and fall in love with one of them, Cookie.

Refusing voyeurism, Florent Gouëlou, himself a drag queen, wanted “to make a declaration of love to this form of art by taking the point of view of someone who discovers it”. “Through the character of Cookie, you also see my own experience as a ‘drag'”, he told the presentation of the film alongside his actors.

This edition of the Mostra therefore marks a new step forward in the representation in cinema of the diversity of gender identities. Last year, the release of the film A Good Manwith Noémie Merlant in the body of a man who becomes “pregnant”, also went in this direction.

In 2020, it was Sébastien Lifshitz, already him, who contributed to this movement with the documentary Little girlon the journey of young Sasha, born in a boy’s body and expressing her trans-identity.

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