Freshest of all at GIFF was She Male Snails, a remarkable film, neither fiction nor documentary, in which director Ester Martin Bergsmark explores his both-male-and-female-nature and the brutality of a society which refuses to accept difference.
Gorgeously shot, this movie felt like a fabulous dream that I never wanted to wake from.
(OutFest picks 10 films you don’t want to miss)
For its bold imagination, provocative storytelling, striking imagery and unshakable emotional impact, the Outfest Special Programming Award for Artistic Achievement goes to Ester Martin Bergsmark, director of SHE MALE SNAILS.
(Jury’s motivation OutFest)
A visual semi-experimental tone poem, a mood piece and an entrancing mix of documentary and dream-like fiction.
Using bold colors and sound, the film is first and foremost an ode to life and individuality that survives and stays strong not despite but exactly because of the drab and dull surrounding universe.
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Being “trans” means not matching one’s physically or genetically assigned gender; both Leven and Bergsmark identify as trans and share memories of the violence and cruelties they experienced growing up as an in-between person. Much of their discussion unfolds in voiceover as they languidly pose naked together in an old-fashioned bathtub, shaving each other’s legs.
Exploring the interaction between who a person wants to be and what they are expected to be, Bergsmark stages stylized versions of a fantasy world, showing a person caught between two genders who creates a third in order to survive. One strand, shot in brightly saturated color, shows a young boy stealing away to a private space, putting on makeup and dressing as a girl, then dancing wildly in what looks like some sort of sexual abandon. Another features soft-focus shots of an older figure, dressed in trailing women’s clothing, moving slowly through a field.
References to St. Sebastian also abound, including shadowy night scenes of a thin, androgynous person in female attire going into the woods with a beefy older man, who produces a large knife and ties the other to a tree. Sebastian is also the name of Leven’s alter ego in his literary prizewinning novel “You Are the Roots That Sleep Beneath My Feet and Hold the Earth in Place,” passages of which he quotes during the film.
Black-and-white homevideo footage of a younger Leven reveal that he has long made his struggle for identity public. The Swedish title, “Pojktanten,” comes from the trans identity he crafted, and translates roughly as “she male” or “lady boy.”
Mixing digital formats of variable quality, the craft package has a handcrafted look that suits its experimental nature. A 10- 15-minute trim would improve the pic’s assembly. (Alissa Simon, Variety)