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BERLINALE 2023 Encounters

Review: Orlando, My Political Biography


- BERLINALE 2023: Paul B Preciado applies his sharp, militant mind to Virginia Woolf’s work, resulting in a delightful, hybrid work full of metamorphoses and gender identity crash-tests

Review: Orlando, My Political Biography

"Being trans means seeing the other side of the decor and realising it’s been constructed… It’s a journey, not a route. It’s about taking possession politically speaking, and it’s in our imaginations that this political force exists." There was a great deal of curiosity surrounding the directorial debut of Spaniard Paul B Preciado, one of the keenest minds currently studying gender and body politics (notably the author of Countersexual Manifesto, Testo Junkie, Pornotopia and Dysphoria Mundi). The least we can say is that the hair-raising, super-inventive, intelligent and funny movie Orlando, My Political Biography [+see also:
interview: Paul B Preciado
film profile
, unveiled in the 73rd Berlinale’s Encounters competition, doesn’t disappoint. It won’t come as a surprise to hear that the film pays subtle tribute to Jean-Luc Godard by way of its explosive and incredibly subjective form, which straddles documentary and fiction film, and which is rich in telescoping, layering, tracing and audacious, symbolic links, all injected with a healthy dose of humour, which fits wonderfully with the Swiss master’s usual line of attack. Because when your life is spent fighting the normative binary Empire, it’s natural that the cinematographic representation of this reality is equally alternative, like an uprising of wildflowers nonetheless encompassed by free yet highly structured thinking.

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But what exactly is this work? It’s an adaption of Virgina Woolf’s novel Orlando, published in 1928 and charting the destiny of a noble Englishman who changes sex over the course of four centuries. It’s a story which Paul B Preciado takes a hold of in order to tell it, film it and transpose it into the modern-day world (replete with tongue-in-cheek aristocratic ruffles) by making the main character multiple ("I don’t want to be another, I want to be others"). So many modern Orlandos who follow one another and gradually reveal their journeys towards gender transition. Between initial impressions of his character ("his heart full of torment, loaded with spice and languor") and social complications, an obligatory visit to a psychiatrist ("I’m a living body trapped in the normative – Where do these ideas come from? – Reading poetry") and a quest for testosterone (a hilarious sequence, "don’t be taken in by Freud, Lacan, Dieu, the State, the corporations …"), a descent into darkness ("surviving violence to tell our story and telling our story to survive the violence"), sexual transition, and the transphobic nature of institutions and identity papers ("I’m not a Missus or a Mister, I’m Orlando"), Paul B Preciado extrapolates Virginia Woolf’s tale with intellectual agility and cinematographic creativity. He throws himself into his endeavour wholeheartedly, hitting the target and ultimately offering up an artisanal, philosophical, modern, and highly appealing vehicle for his activism ("my change was part of a planetary mutation"), with Virginie Despentes making a last-minute guest appearance as a judge ("by the powers confided in me by Virginia Wolf and literature, I award citizenship and non-binarity"). The message ("I demand respect for my person and for all others like me") is conveyed in well-communicated, playful good humour, while the messenger proves hands down that he’s a first-rate filmmaker and artist.

Orlando, My Political Biography is produced by Les Films du Poisson in co-production with 24images and Arte. International sales are entrusted to The Party Film Sales.

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(Translated from French)

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