She Male Snails has invented gender
by Vladan Petkovic
11/07/2012 - A mix of essay, biography and literary adaptation, Ester Martin Bergsmark’s She Male Snails [trailer] tackles the issues of searching for sexual identity, personal development, loneliness and self-expression.
Having world-premiered this year at the Gothenburg International Film Festival, where it won the Nordic Vision prize and the audience award in the Nordic competition, She Male Snails screened in the Sarajevo Film Festival’s newly established non-competitive section, Kinoscope.
Based around imagined conversations between the director Bergsmark and transgender artist Eli Leven as they sit in a bathtub shaving and caressing each other, the film employs various visual techniques to describe Leven’s inner world and his relation with the world around him. These include scenes of a young boy dressing as a woman and dancing in front of a mirror, or an older, androgynous figure wandering, apparently pointlessly, through a snow-covered landscape. The bathtub scenes are very intimate and tender, with frequent detail shots of skin, mouths, fingers and body hair. The film’s form and visual style are much more provocative than its subject matter, but a subtle sense of humour prevents the film from being perceived as pretentious.
There is almost no dialogue in the film, as a voiceover reads the conversations of the two protagonists, as well as excerpts from Leven’s multi-awarded novel You Are the Roots That Sleep Beneath My Feet and Hold the Earth in Place. This is where the Swedish title of the film, Pojktanten, comes from, and it means 'lady boy' or 'she male'. It is a word for the gender Leven invented for himself, refusing to be identified as either a boy or a girl. “I am neither,” he says in one passage, “and I am happy with it”.
She Male Snails was produced and is handled internationally by Copenhagen-based Upfront Films.