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OPEN UP TO ME – NOOR: Highlights from Fringe! Queer Film & Arts Fest 2014
November 12, 2014
One of the most laudable qualities of world cinema is its uncompromising way of telling stories no matter how nitty gritty the subject might be. There are no flamboyances or extra star quality to make you believe that things will be okay no matter what, like most Hollywood endings do. This past week, East London has been the home of the 2014 Fringe! Queer Film And Arts Festival that once again showcased fresh and interesting filmmaking voices worth discovering.
Gender and sexuality issues occur many a time as a featured theme throughout world cinema. In this day and age – in the Western world – society wants to believe that they accept everyone for who they are. However, everybody has an opinion about something that is not the ‘norm’. Transgender comes under that scope which is the theme of two films from the festival you can already discover through video on demand this week.
OPEN UP TO ME
Open Up To Me (Kerron Sinulle Kaiken) hails from Scandinavia and centres on Maarit, a beautiful transgender woman who knows what she wants. Leea Klemola plays her with a grace and stubbornness that opens your eyes to the reality of transgender people. Maarit fully understands the circumstances she is in which leads to difficulty getting a job alongside the comments of the townspeople, but she does not give up on what she believes is her right to have a normal life.
Maarit meets a man by posing as something she is not. However, the story does not spin in the direction that you think it will. Sami (played by Peter Franzén) is more confused by his love life than Maarit is by her own which comes into play quite elegantly. This man is a soccer coach and health teacher who cannot please his wife, sexually or otherwise. He wants therapy. Maarit gives it to him, before coming clean about what she is. Sami does not know what he wants whereas Maarit does.
One thing leads to another, and despite Maarit attempting to protect her heart, she gives into temptation and falls for the married guy. This is obvious from the moment the two meet. However, what I didn’t see coming was how cool Sami is about Maarit’s past as a man. He does not seem to care that she was a he before surgery. It’s refreshing to see the acceptance of minority gendered people on screen, even if it is only a story.
They begin an affair. It is obvious that she has more feelings for him than he does for her. Nevertheless, there is a mutual understanding between the two which, during the most passionate and charming scenes, acted by Klemola and Franzén with such extraordinary honesty, made me believe that transgendered people can and will lead “normal” lives if they find that special person.
Amidst the love affair, Maarit is accused of having something to do with the death of a teenager in her old town where she is the topic of gossip. She visits her daughter, which is awkward to watch as the teenager does not speak to her and leaves the room when her mother returns to throw Maarit out. The father-daughter relationship only grows with fondness towards the end of the film.
Klemola believes that this is the most important relationship in the film, as they begin to rebuild it. The actress says of the matter, “Being a good person doesn’t have anything to do with your sexuality.” One of my favourite scenes is the one where the two share pizza and joke about Maarit’s mascara running. There is a “Dad” thrown in there for a good measure of irony.
The story is of a genuine, extraordinary journey through which a woman who was once a man is accepted for who she is now and not what she was. Director and screenwriter, Simo Halinen, creates this piece beautifully through a series of scenes filled with an honesty that cannot be broken despite the confusion that some characters feel.
Transgender-themed stories have spread across Asia as well. Noor is a documentary-styled film inspired by true events of the lead actor’s life, also named Noor. He is a headstrong man who is searching for the love of a woman after being heartbroken by another. His body, however, is as smoothed-skinned as a woman’s which leads to the confusion of many Pakistani men as they assume Noor is female.
The first half of the film, directed by Çagla Zencirci and Guillaume Giovanetti, is set at Noor’s workplace: a male dominated truck centre. He makes tea and sweeps the ground – stereotypical female duties – as well as helping with the mechanics: a man’s job within the Pakistani community. He seeks the advice of his boss, Baba, who tells him to go to the mystical lake where the fairies live and God will grant his wish. You can already see how an element of spirituality and culture is a peculiar motif throughout the rest of the film.
Noor’s journey is sparked by an attempted assault at the hands of a drunken truck driver. The driver almost gets his way. Noor fights him off and steals his truck. A pinnacle moment of the film is when Noor discards of his old, dark grey shirt. He puts on the stolen white shirt of the truck driver that symbolises embarking on a new journey – his journey to find the love of a woman since that is all he wishes for.
Throughout the journey, Noor meets a variety of new people who show him respect and encouragement. His first encounter is with a deaf musician who plays the traditional drums. The musician teaches Noor how he hears the music through the beats and states that it is God’s wish that he has this talent. There is a montage of a scene when Noor is dancing to the heavily played drums with his hair down without his headscarf which made me wonder whether he was dancing as a man or as a woman. As a female, he used to be a dancer. It is unclear as to whether he is completely comfortable in his own skin as a transgender man, or whether a part of him enjoyed dancing as a woman. Perhaps it is a mixture of both.
The majority of the filming is handheld which gives the effect of reality and persuades the viewer to feel as though they are also embarking on Noor’s journey, sitting in the passenger seat of the truck. It also opens the eyes to the sheer underdevelopment of Pakistan which plays a huge role. Instead of relying on advanced technology and the internet to find out what is right from wrong, the people of Pakistan trust in their belief, faith and customs to attempt to find out who they are.
Again, similarly to Open Up To Me, Noor doesn’t have the ‘perfect’ happily ever after kind of ending. Alternatively, it provides an authentic real-life account for the audience to think about on their way out of the cinema which is what good films are all about: not just entertain, but provoke.
Open Up To Me and Noor are now available on demand at filmdoo.com