The award-winning queer filmmaker Sebastien Lifshitz, whose day job is as a Professor at La Fémis the film and television school of PSL Research University new film CASA SUZANNA is his third documentary with transgenderism as the subject matter. Bambi, his spell-binding story Marie-Pierre Pruvot, an Algerian, born trans woman who had a long and prominent career as a dancer and showgirl in Paris in the 1950s and 1960s, under the stage name Bambi which netted him his first Teddy Award.
Little Girl in 2020 was the touching portrait of eight-year-old Sasha, who questions her gender and in doing so, evokes the sometimes disturbing reactions of a society that is still invested in a biological boy-girl way of thinking.
Now in Casa Susanne, Lifshitz takes a very affectionate look at the secluded resort in the Catskills in up state NY that in the 1950s and 60s was a discreet refuge for cross-dressing men and transgender women. It’s an unstructured story with two of the resorts’ original visitors, now both octogenarians recalling as much as they can of what this bolt-hole meant to them. Plus the other two taking heads, were children during the Casa’s heyday. One of them is the grandson of the owner Marie and her cross-dressing husband, and the other is a child whose father visited the place every weekend. She still seems to be struggling with how her father’s crossing manifested itself into making her childhood sheer hell.
Lifshitz brings them all back to the remote deserted buildings that are now derelict, and he uses them as the backdrop. They are all disarmingly charming, and even if their memories may play tricks of them, they do paint an intriguing story of how this group of professional and often wealthy could explore the feminine side of their nature. In this secure comfortable they could explore the possibility and likelihood and actually transitioning.
This is all set against the fact that this was all totally illegal, and even though the media gave Christine Jorgensen the star treatment when she returned to the US in 1951 after having the first (known) gender reassignment surgery in Casablanca, she was an exception and certainly not the rule. These men risked their freedoms, their jobs and lives if they were caught. The weight of the oppression was sometimes to heavy a burden for some who would end up taking their own lives
In the public’s perception, these self-styled crossdressers were just another deviant form of homosexuality, where in fact everyone in this documentary insists that all the men were heterosexual. LIfshitz may not confuse the question of sexuality, but he does muddy the water about the chronological order at times.
This writer is left wondering over two very particular aspects. You could see from the way they dressed that Casa Suzanna’s visitors were far from poor, and could easily afford staying there. But what about other people wanting to cross-dress or question their gender who couldn’t afford to escape their own reality that they were trapped in?
Also, they were a couple of references that coming out as either a cross-dresser or transgender was so much tougher than telling your parents you were gay.
This film, totally different than Lifshitz others, not only makes for such compelling veiwing does once again make a useful contribution to the continuing dialogue about the ‘transgender’ community. It’s all part of LGBTQ+ history that we need to know about, and remember, as it will help us to continue to keep moving forward
P.S. The film will receive its US premiere at DOC NYC on November 11 (it previously screened at the Venice, Toronto and London film festivals).
Review : Roger Walker-Dack
Editor in Chief : Queerguru Member of G.A.L.E.C.A. (Gay & Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association) and NLGJA The Association of LGBT Journalists. and The Online Film Critics Society. Ex Contributung Editor The Gay Uk &Contributor Edge Media Former CEO and Menswear Designer of Roger Dack Ltd in the UK one of the hardest-working journalists in the business' Michael Goff of Towleroad
Labels: 2022, Casa Susanna, cross dressing, documentary, Sébastien Lifshitz., transgender