Diversity in the competition program
FROG CATCHER depicts queerness in the 19th century.
Questions about gender and gender identity are increasingly finding their way into public discourse. Queer people are becoming ever more visible in public, be it in the media or in politics. And despite a backlash of far-right and conservative opinion in recent years, a steady increase in awareness of these issues can be observed in society. This year it is particularly evident that this subject is also becoming more and more important to young filmmakers.
Many of the films in competition agree on one point: their desire to see outdated norms of gender identity thrown overboard. Regardless of national boundaries, they question prior certainties about gender or dispel them altogether. At the same time, however, they also deal with the conflicts of identity that some of the protagonists are struggling with, and likewise the question of how political circumstances affect or even inhibit the expression of one’s own sexuality.
Some of the films revisit the past to a greater or lesser extent. FROG CATCHER, for example, tells the true story of transsexual frog catcher Jeanne Bonnet, who lived as an outsider in 19th-century San Francisco and met a tragic end. One of the city’s laws forbade women to wear men’s clothes, leading to Jeanne being derided as a “man-woman” for wearing pants.
Looking even further back into the past — though in a radically different way — is the glittering pink film ELAGABALUS. With a considerable dose of exaggerated theatricality and a penchant for camp aesthetics, it recounts the debauched life of excess lived by Roman Emperor Elagabalus, who ruled in the 3rd century AD and for whom a terrible end was prophesied. Lots of bare skin, dance interludes, and retro ’80s pop music make the film a queer reinterpretation of theater from classical times.
The half-documentary, half-fictional film THE DRAGON WITH TWO HEADS conveys impressively what it means when your sexual orientation prevents you from being able to live in your own country. Director Páris Cannes and his brother Jürgen are gay twins. Both fled from the increasingly homophobic climate in their home country of Brazil. One has been living legally in Brussels, the other as an illegal immigrant in Berlin. This film was shot in 2018, shortly before Jair Bolsonaro, who aggressively speaks of a need to fight “gender ideology”, came to power. For queer people, his rise has meant even more difficult and dangerous living conditions in Brazil. According to the film, more than half of the homosexuals murdered each year are killed in Brazil. Nevertheless, THE DRAGON WITH TWO HEADS is not intended to be an unsettling documentary. In dreamy scenes, the brothers demonstrate again and again that they are not letting the terrible conditions in their homeland get them down.
The documentary film FEMININE HIP-HOP shows the importance of music as a means of communicating people’s needs. This film takes a look at the female and in particular the queer hip-hop scene in Montréal. Three artists talk about their passion for music and about what making hip-hop signifies for their own identity — because it always means having to resist transphobia and homophobia.
The film DRIFTING takes a completely novel approach to the subject of gender identity. In China, the parents of an unnamed young man raise him as a girl under the country’s one-child policy, while their actual daughter is hidden away at her grandparents’ home in the countryside. The protagonist realizes during his youth that there is no place in Chinese society for someone like him, whose upbringing prevents him from fitting into either category, “man” or “woman”. Only when he “drifts” in a parking lot in his father’s car can he give free rein to his anger.
Two of the films illustrate that queerness can also be seen as part of a normality that does not need to be questioned. One of them is the film KID, in which a homosexual in his late twenties realizes that his friends have grown up, but he has not. Alongside his job as a teacher, he spends his time partying and engaging in fleeting sexual encounters. Although his sexual orientation is openly revealed, it is never used as a possible reason for him to be abandoned while the others in his clique get married, move in together, or start a career abroad. He is simply a child who does not want to grow up. In L’HOMME JETÉE, a dock worker is drawn to a sailor and his hard life on a freighter. In milky blue images, director Loïc Hobi tells of the strange allure of life at sea, where tough male rituals and binge drinking are as natural as homosexual desire.
Although the films deal with the subject matter in very different ways, they have a common thread: queerness as a commonplace phenomenon and a desire to see it accepted as unquestionably normal — even in films. For love knows no boundaries, not even of gender.