GAZE: ’52 Tuesdays’ review

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Eileen Leahy checks out 52 Tuesdays, which screened at the GAZE International LGBT Film Festival.

The closing film of GAZE 2014 was the Australian drama 52 Tuesdays (Sophie Hyde, 2013), a coming-of-age story, filmed every Tuesday over a year. 16-year-old Billie’s close relationship with her mother is put to the test when she discovers her mum’s transgender identity and is asked to live with her father for a year while her mother undergoes gender reassignment treatment. Mother and daughter agree to meet every Tuesday, hence the central theme of the film which explores the changes Billie, played beautifully by Tilda Cobham-Hervey, undergoes in her own life, mirrored by her mother’s transition from female to male.

The gender-transition storyline is a useful lens through which to explore the separation of mother and daughter, bringing to the foreground that period in both parent and child’s life when the bond begins to stretch for each of them and thus paints a compelling portrait of mother(as well as daughter)hood. Billie’s mother, Jane, becomes James, but does not stop being Mum thanks to a powerful performance from Del Herbert-Jane, who manages to be utterly convincing as a male without sacrificing the believability of her deep maternal love for her child. And moving alongside this story, almost unnoticed, is a beautiful rendition of a daughter’s relationship to her father, in a perfectly understated performance by Beau Travis Williams playing Billie’s dad, Tom. The fact that Billie’s mother being a man takes nothing from her father’s masculine presence in her life, suggests that parental connections, rather than being based on gender, are, in fact, relationships built over years.

There is so much that is interesting in this film. Issues of representation, the relationship between filmmaker and subject, along with ideas of power and control, for example, are broached in the mirroring of James’ video diary of his transition by Billie’s video art project detailing her sexual experimentation with two friends, Jasmine (played by Imogen Archer) and Josh (played by Sam Alhuizen). The videos, in both hiding and revealing secrets, also manage to show the complex layering of intimacy and autonomy at the heart of this story, and serve as a means by which both mother and daughter learn the boundaries of their changing relationship to each other.

The film has picked up a number of awards, including at Sundance (for director), Berlin (best film) and Melbourne (audience award), and boasts a range of qualities that make it particularly interesting: the collaborative approach of its production, experimental techniques in its scripting and performance, its use of a non-professional cast and, as a first feature from director Sophie Hyde, new work from an emerging star. It is well worth watching beyond the confines of the LGBT circuit for its portrayal of complex family dynamics, its treatment of a variety of issues central to cinema and as a powerful work of cinema in itself.

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