A sensitive photo of a Polish transgender woman – The Hollywood Reporter

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With its enigmatically titled title Woman Of… (Game z..), Malgorzata Szumowska returns from magical satire It won’t snow again to social realism, recounting a journey lasting half a lifetime, of sacrifice, sorrow and suffering.

Written and directed in collaboration with regular cinematographer and creative partner Michal Englert, this is a rare close-up of a transgender woman making difficult choices in a majority country. A Catholic who is still legislatively and socially hostile. The film’s compassionate perspective and moving performances make it a clear window into gender recognition in a disempowered environment.

Woman Of…

The bottom line

Not always the calmest, but exciting and heartfelt.

Place: Venice Film Festival (Competition)
Casting: Malgorzata Hajewska-Krzysztofik, Joanna Kulig, Mateusz Wieclawek, Bogumila Bajor, Jacek Braciak
Director-writers: Malgorzata Szumowska, Michal Englert

2 hours 12 minutes

Like many dramas focused on a very specific community and developed out of extensive interviews, Woman Of… it doesn’t completely escape the feel of a production project that ticks all the boxes needed in a narrative that isn’t entirely accidental. However, that doesn’t make it any less direct or moving, not only in the main character’s determined path through hardship to personal liberation, but in the various stages of gradual acceptance by the people around her. the heavy love

There may be some resistance among LGBTQ gatekeepers to the casting of a cis woman in the lead role. But the directors say that acting schools in Poland are still completely bilingual. Trans consultants who consulted on the project reportedly agreed that the part wanted an experienced actress, also as a safeguard against the possible stigma after such public disclosure.

Transgender and non-binary people were involved in character development and are given visibility on screen in delightful scenes that highlight the vital role of support groups.

Solidarity can also be seen in the political background, with the union and workers’ rights movement of that name, which accelerated the transition from an oppressive regime to a democratic government, seen here in the 1989 celebratory street march.

The title of the film aims to evoke the films of Andrzej Wajda The Iron Man and Marble Man, documenting an increase in labor mobility. Transformation therefore becomes a double issue, even if persistent homophobia and transphobia mean that equal freedom is not extended to all.

The script changes the timeline at the beginning, starting with scenes from the main character’s childhood and adolescence. Still appearing masculine in those younger years and identified by the birth name Andrzej, the role is played from adolescence with an androgynous sensibility, a coat of blond hair and live streams of sexual energy by Mateusz Wieclawek.

The charming opening features a group of excited young girls in mid-flight through a bucolic field, shouting Andrzej’s name and laughing after the child runs off in one of their blankets at First Holy Communion and a tree pluck up. He then jumps to teenage Andrzej’s physical examination for military service, where painted nails prove a blessing in disguise, even if they invite mockery.

Lit in warm natural light and making interesting use of slow motion, the visual aesthetic feeds a lively, erotically charged picture of the protagonist’s early years of romance with and eventual marriage to free-spirited nurse Iza (first performed by Bogumila Bajor and later. by Joanna Kulig, the publication of Pawel Pawlikowski Cold War). Their union produces two children.

The directors know movie theater flags for A beautiful woman and Veronique’s double life gives a cheeky acknowledgment of the main character’s first experiments with sexual expression while the action jumps a little awkwardly from 2004 back to 1989 and then 1992. Diagnosed with low testosterone by a doctor quick who advises some kind of hot patrons, Andrzej admits that he feels “this pulls in the other direction.” But in the following years, the appearance of a mustache and cut more masculine hair appears to resist that pull.

Most of the story unfolds from 2004 to the present day, with Malgorzata Hajewska-Krzysztofik entering the main role, gradually named Aniela. Choosing to focus the drama on a woman moving into middle age in a gossipy provincial city adds a lot to the paths of what is to be a drama of courage and survival.

Aniela’s frantic search for gender identity in foreign magazines and at an Internet cafe leads to a frustrating odyssey of medical and legal careers that map the daunting bureaucratic obstacles that stand between a transgender person Any polish and advanced hormone therapy or surgery.

Iza learns about her husband’s transition process only after finding a notebook documenting 15 years of personal experience. Divorce is a legal requirement, causing her to be hurt and angry. But as good as an individual character study, the real strength of the Woman Of… it is like an unconventional love story. It is the slow melting of Iza as she comes around to accepting the person who has been at the center of her life for decades where the film draws much of its emotional power.

Kulig is wonderful in conveying the allure of a marriage that has been spent but the mutual loyalty that endures. Iza’s openness has a dramatic effect on others, such as Aniela’s brother Marek (Jacek Braciak), and in the end, even her bitter parents, whose rejection of her for years is just one of many obstacles. The more positive responses of Iza and Aniela’s children provide beautiful moments, even if these relationships are not overdeveloped.

Without histrionics or grand speeches, and with subtle degrees of physical transformation, the amazing Hajewska-Krzysztofik constructs a quietly heroic character as Aniela, characterized by a raw vulnerability that nevertheless hides steadfastness and unapologetic dignity in the face of every humiliation or injustice that is thrown at her. .

And there is plenty of both – being duly fired from work and denied housing, moving into sex work and receiving an unfair prison sentence from an impartial judge – conviction for a minor offense. Just by telling a visiting priest in prison that she is not living in the truth represents her own form of prison.

Szumowska and Englert know better than to connect things too quickly because there are no gender recognition laws in Poland yet. But the kindness and sensitivity of their final scenes reverberates to make this a touching portrait of hope and hard-edged self-knowledge that may even help move the needle on LGBTQ rights in one of the most marginalized member states. -passive in the European Union.

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