Orlando, My Political Biography is a fantastic, award-winning documentary film by Spanish philosopher/director Paul Preciado. The documentary is a homage to trans/non-binary lives and Virginia Woolf’s classic 1928 novel, Orlando, A Biography. The original novel is based on the wild family history of Woolf’s lover, the aristocratic poet and novelist, Vita Sackville-West. The core story is about a male thirty-something poet, Orlando, alive during the reign of Elizabeth I, who falls asleep for a week and then wakes up as a woman. She then survives for hundreds of years without aging and meets key figures of English literary history along the way. It’s considered a feminist/trans classic.
Preciado’s experimental film, essentially a letter to Woolf, applies this story to a contemporary, multi-generational group of 26 trans and non-binary people, aged from 8 to 70, each of whom plays Orlando during a different part of Woolf’s story. They re-enact scenes and recite passages from the book as well as sharing details of their own gender journeys in life. The boundaries between reality and fiction are blurred and the result is captivating. Preciado, himself a trans-man, and passionate feminist, tells us that every trans/non-binary person is themselves an Orlando. We hear stories of how the cast has to struggle with governmental departments, families, psychiatrists, pharmaceutical companies, outdated laws, and an unforgiving public on a daily basis, just to survive. These challenges are, however, presented in a super-creative, heart-warming, poetic manner, often with solutions, in an environment of strength, beauty, and power. Imaginations have run riot, and combine seamlessly with excellent casting, striking lighting, inventive cinematography, and an excellent soundtrack. Archive footage of pioneering trans women such as Christina Jorgensen and Coccinelle are added to the mix, as is a cameo appearance by French artists Pierre and Gilles. Random, funny scenes include the waiting room at Dr. Queen’s surgery, a visit to a gun store, and a dance scene involving the Goddess of Hormones, the Goddess of Gender Fucking and the Goddess of Insurrection. We are reminded that we all change and evolve in many ways throughout our lives, and for many trans/non-binary people, their gender journey is just another part of their evolution. We also see that every person’s journey is unique, and to try and put the spectrum of the trans/non-binary experience into a box would be fruitless. A unique, playful, heartfelt piece of film-making.
Queerguru’s Contributing Editor Ris Fatah is a successful fashion/luxury business consultant (when he can be bothered) who divides and wastes his time between London and Ibiza. He is a lover of all things queer, feminist, and human rights in general. @ris.fatah