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Slowly but Sure—Two Films Interpretation
by Marinell Haegelin

Story can never be underestimated in screenplays, and neither can post-production editing for its balance, tempo, and effect. Two films shown during the 35th Hamburg International Queer Film Festival illustrate this. A PLACE OF OUR OWN (EK JAGAH APNI), directed and crewed by the Ekarta Collective, is a drama about two unfairly evicted transwomen looking for a new home in a decent area of Bhopal, India, whereas O'PENING - XX+XY is South Korean director Soh Yoon Lee’s dramedy about an intersex teen starting high school.

The films’ advantage of measured pacing is being able to demonstrate societal undercurrents of stereotypical prejudices, discriminations, and oppressions specifically taking aim at transgender and intersex, and broadly at anyone that’s different. Camerawork can add emotional value with closeup to medium shots of facial emotions, minute physical movements, and longer, wider shots for background, backstory value.

Laila (Manisha Soni) and Rashni (Muskan) think they’ve found an apartment when the upstairs neighbor, having passed her earlier in the stairwell, wakes Laila banging on the door demanding sex. Conditioned and wily to such abuse, she stymies him by making a fictious phone call. On the other hand, Jae Yi’s (Ahn Hyun Ho) parents are loving, affluent, his/her uncle’s caring, although homelife’s unusual. Living in harmony are his/her mother (Shim Yi-Young) a doctor and father (Yoon Seo-Hyun), plus his partner Uncle (Song Yong-Jin). Excited at starting school, Jae Yi’s quandary is whether to go as a boy, or a girl. Born with reproductive anatomy, his/her parents decided to let their child make the choice. Now an adolescent, Jae Yi must decide.

Even dressed as a boy Jae Yi attracts the popular, athletic Woo Ram’s (Choi Woo Sung) attention and ardor; subsequently his perspective about what he thinks he knows is turned inside out. Se Ra (Kim Ji In), Jae Yi’s childhood friend and confidant, defends and supports Jae Yi, albeit with mixed emotions apropos Woo Ram. Although, listening to the other girl’s infatuation with Jae Yi casts her friend in a new light, and Se Ra’s emotions shift. Jae Yi’s emotions are in the balance as events escalate; as other students are involved, the teenagers come to terms with shifting viewpoints, discrepancies. However confounding for Jae Yi, it also helps deciding.

Laila’s tougher, conditioned from her professional work just as Rashni, cooking for a wealthy, conservative family is warily watchful. Sharukh (Aakash Jamra) patiently shuttles his trans friends in his taxi while keeping their best interest at heart. Nevertheless, they live life with gusto within the realm of a companiable community. Their strength’s in having close friendships, the desire to flourish, and resilience against daily indignities. Like one landlady’s prejudices are so extreme she bans their very presence in her building. A dishonest journalist, wanting a headline, poses as a prospective landlord and unbeknownst to them he interviews them. His story costs Rashni her job; inconsequential was putting her life in danger. Help arrives in surprising forms and unexpected places to replace that ugliness with love, adding to their stamina, fortitude.

The sedate pacing of A PLACE OF OUR OWN contrasts the simplistic storyline against the complexities of these major issues and unimaginable offensiveness, allowing audiences time to feel and assimilate the emotional roller coaster depicted. The cast’s characters intensify its authenticity by mirroring real-life identities; Manisha Soni and Muskan’s debut performances are impressive. The camerawork provides more insight into what it’s like living a marginal lifestyle, while filling pauses with nuanced, perceptive yet familiar humanness that adds rhythm and balance.

On the other hand, in the coming-of-age O'PENING - XX+XY the balance is precarious, primarily lost in its pregnant pauses that indeterminately linger. The beginning rushes by in a blur, then scenes dibble on, e.g., Woo and Jai playing basketball when Jai’s femaleness menstrual cycle begins. One’s inclined to speed up the film, while contradictorily wanting to learn more about the intersex/gender quandary prevalent in the early 21st century. * XX+XY is a 2022 made for TV film that’s shown in installments which explains a lot.