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Review

Review: Tranny Fag (Dir. Kiko Goifman and Claudia Priscilla, 2018)

In the traditional Portuguese Tranny Fag translates as Bixa Travesty, a little less confrontational than the English but that’s just not the style of the documentary’s subject Linn da Quebrada – the self proclaimed “tranny fag”. Residing on the outskirts of São Paulo, she is marginalised economically before even considering the fact that she’s black and transgender, struggling to exist amid poverty and in a world that, for the most part, doesn’t comprehend her.

Rather than shy away from the public eye, Quebrada is taking the Brazilian funk scene by storm, alongside her partner-in-crime Jup do Bairro. Their songs – (performed throughout) providing a back story of sorts for the 27-year-old – contain abrasive coarse lyrics which pull no punches and berate society and the expectations it places on women, what it means to be a woman like her, and dismantling the patriarchy one bridge and chorus at a time. Her words are a weapon intent on holding the world accountable and paving a way of acceptance and understanding without inciting hatred.

As a subject, the singer-songwriter and spoken word artist is fascinating and inspiring. She’s pre-op and has yet to start hormones, consider breast implants or remove her facial hair because as far as she’s concerned she’d be pandering to society’s ideal of womanhood. Quebrada – who also co-wrote the script with directors Claudia Priscilla and Kiko Goifman – is a “black fag doll. Neither man or woman” embraces nudity, here and in her stage shows as an attempt to undermine, even recondition the collective mindset associating gender with genitalia and highlighting the façade of gender performance.

A real turning point in the documentary which jumps from talking head to music gig almost exclusively is the footage made during Quebrada’s treatment for testicular cancer, the physical effects and the profundity it had on the way she controlled her body. The scene which shows her literally pulling the lustrous locks of hair from her head, chemotherapy having ravaged her immune system is particularly powerful and in keeping with her persona, completely transgressive. This and the scenes with her mother offer a rare intimacy which is needed in an otherwise repetitive and prosaic documentary. The static camera and simplistic editing coupled with the pulsating combative stage performances start to feel isolating.

Tranny Fag is a LGBTQIA+ positive, important and transgressive, if slight, profile of a bold and beautiful artist who is unapologetically her confident self. She espouses her ideas and beliefs provocatively, is always interesting, and determined to not only stand out but belong in an accepting world.

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Review

Review: Tag (Dir. Sion Sono, 2017)

When watching any film by Japanese filmmaker Sion Sono, it is safe to say no two films are ever the same. He can turn his hand to all forms of genre cinema and yet doesn’t conform to any. From his last, gang rap musical in Tokyo Tribe to the gritty noirish neon of Guilty of Romance through his masterpiece, the epic romantic opera Love Exposure to the wonderfully weird hirsute horror Exte, one is always guaranteed an aural and visual experience of radical proportions and Tag, which would make an excellent companion piece to Sono’s 2001 feature Suicide Club, is no different.

Opening on the road with two coaches full of schoolgirls on a class trip all – except Mitsuko (Reina Trendl) who’s writing poetry in her journal – engage in a playful pillow fight as girls are prone to, apparently (it also sets up the recurring motif of falling feathers). A supernatural event then leaves her as the only survivor and she’s stranded with only her legs to carry her. This invisible perpetrator chases her to a lake, leaving more victims in its wake, where Mitsuko can wash off the majority of the blood spatter covering her stark white school uniform. She replaces the outfit with a second variant of a uniform and takes refuge in another all-girls school where everyone seems to know her despite never being there before. It isn’t long before death and chaos follows Mitsuko and she is, once again, on the run to the next reality and the next uniform, this time with a different face as she races to survive.

Tag offers up some interesting and philosophical musings about life, death and destiny as Mitsuko (in a couple of guises) spends the majority of the film running away yet, towards something. Participating in the human race has us all running from/towards death and experiencing the absurdity of life; a concept which is taken very literally here but then, thankfully, subtlety has never been Sono’s forte when combining his arthouse sensibilities with bloody action and horror. Yet, this film seems to take some cues from mainstream culture like Alice in Wonderland via seventies comedy horror classic, House.

Keeping the cast predominately women until the very end leads us through a womanhood of sorts: adolescence, love, laughter, and freedom to marriage when everything, or so it appears, ceases – the Groom with the animal head who resides in a black coffin certainly signifies as much – cue more carnage. This then culminates to a meta end and one which can also be read as a deliberate and timely response to the GamerGate controversy. However, as Mitsuko battles the new realities and does finally enter The Male World, it all goes way beyond a 2014 harassment campaign. It’s a largely silent and grim place where, surprisingly, women are decorative objects and all for the playing pleasure of a wizened old man (astutely cast Japanese heartthrob Takumi Saito under convincing prosthetics). He is the personification of patriarchy bending the world to his will, playing with his dolls and twisting reality to suit.

Tag, (inspired by Yusuke Yamada’s Riaru Onigokko) is a highly intelligent and exhilarating ride. The creativity and aesthetic of Sono is the driving force behind this provocative and surreal little tale. It is a bloody riot yet beautiful in its macabre weirdness, not least in those first five minutes – only in something so very artificial and unconventional can reality resonate even louder. It is a shame that there are no extras on the disc as a featurette or director commentary could shed more light on the inspiration for it, however, the not knowing is also what makes Tag such a pleasing experience. You, just like Mitsuko, get to choose and decide its fate.

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Blu-ray Review

Blu-ray Review: Peppermint Soda (Dir. Diane Kurys, 1977)

Growing up is never easy and when you’re a girl on the cusp of womanhood, it can be worse (trust me). You fight the naïvety, loneliness and quiet rebellion of adolescence, face the ups and downs of school and try to balance a tumultuous home-life having never really gotten over your parents’ divorce – as is the premise of Peppermint Soda. Everyday battles include struggling to have a relationship with an overwrought mother who, not only, has a radically different one with your sister but seems to have little room for you outside of her new boyfriend and recent Psoriasis diagnosis.

It’s about a year (1963) of stolen kisses, summers on the beaches of Normandy and winter skiing trips, the loss of innocence, first love, as that awkward boy pays attention, and you finally get your first period. Music punctuates your daily life. Being curious and suspicious of sex is a given and rebelling in any small nylon way you can, desperately vying for the attention and affection of said older sister who must see how fragile you are; how angry and frustrated you are by everything, your altogether sullen nature when not bursting into tears but then, she has her own issues to deal with…

Peppermint Soda [Diabolo menthe] is arguably the first of its kind – a female-helmed and led film which deals explicitly with girls and growing pains, sisterhood, and its unbreakable bond. There have been many male-led dramas, not least The 400 Blows (1959), to which this film owes its final shot yet films such as this and À ma soeur [Fat Girl] (2001), Tomboy (2011), The Wonders (2015), Mustang (2015 and Divines (2016) are particularly important because they are framed and written by women and depict how girls see themselves, and not only validate their existence in a largely non-sexualised way but tend to encapsulate beautiful storytelling within a very small window of adolescence and puberty.

Based upon director Diane Kurys’ own youth, this delightful film largely takes place within the classrooms and corridors of the Lycée Jules-Ferry. The teachers at which are sarcastic, cruel, sadistic and mean-spirited or a laughing stock held together by frayed nerves. The whole place has a surreal edge to it, and its characters. Keep an eye out for Mme. Clou (Dora Doll) the gym teacher who dresses in an Adidas tracksuit, neck towel, full face of make-up, fur coat and hair turban.

For all of its lighter moments, there are heartbreaking ones – played out against elements of the political climate in 60s France – few of which are resolved. Peppermint Soda is light on plot and is edited together like several vignettes, and while Anne (Eléonore Klarwein) is very much the main character, there are moments which veer into Frédérique’s (Odile Michel) subjectivity and it’s seamless. Both sisters exhibit a maturity which can dissolve, more noticeably by the former, into a petulant childishness which strikes a chord, we’ve all been there, and it’s what makes this story so universal and timeless. The siblings are together and yet totally separate as they advance into adulthood and realise that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Friendships are forged, broken and lost in an instant.

Frank, funny and painfully realistic, Peppermint Soda is deftly directed, charmingly written, and a triumphant portrayal of the edge of adolescence, and who doesn’t love to be reminded of that time. Merde!