Review - Ma Vie En Rose
first published in the Melbourne Star Observer, Feb 1998
I had heard there was a boy in this movie who wanted to be a girl. For the first five minutes I was desperate to know which one it was; there was a party and kids were running everywhere; and the director, Alain Berliner knew we wanted to know and made us wait.
"It's just a stage he's going through; he's searching for his identity." comes the advice from a helpful neighbour. His mother wipes off the lipstick "Ludo (Ludovic) you're 7 and you've got to stop doing this". Even in Broadmeadows it was OK for my little brother who was five to run around in mum's high heels, a dress and lipstick. But it wasn't OK for me; I was eight.
I feel a little embarrassed talking about my own experiences of being transgendered, when the subject is "Ma Vie en Rose". But if I use that comparison to shed some light on the diversity of the transgendered and the relevance to us of Ma Vie En Rose it's worth it.
I was drawn in from the very start and I found myself trying to give Ludo advice. "Don't do that! That's really asking for trouble! No!?" ... but he didn't listen. Something to do with the cinema process I think.
A very special relationship develops between Ludo and Jerome, a boy his own age. Ludo has been watching the Pam and Ben show on television. He so wanted to be like the buxom Pam doll and to play getting married to Jerome. I wanted to be like my Auntie Barbara, who I thought was very beautiful; was that because we didn't yet have television in Australia?
The pressure to get Ludo to conform mounts and we enter Ludo's fantasy world; here Ludo is a girl. It's a magical place where the sky is always blue and everyone is happy. I had an intense fantasy life but maybe that is typical of all kids of that age. I loved my dreams so much that I hardly seemed of this world.
Ludo keeps dressing as a girl and he's been told not to. "You will be un garcon tout la vie! .... un garcon tout la vie!". Those words rang in my head. I must have stopped reading the subtitles. It seemed so cruel ... "a boy forever!". I started trying to encourage him again "Don't believe them! You can be a girl if you really want to. When I was seven, my mum told me, I could never be a girl and I proved her wrong". Ludo rebelled and tried to prove they had made a mistake; someone had lost one of his X-chromosomes; he was really a girlboy; his stomach aches were the onset of periods. I kept waiting for puberty when my breasts would sprout and everyone would realise they had made a mistake, I was so depressed when the wrong puberty happened.
A few years later when we had a television, on an occassion when I was discovered borrowing my mother's clothes, my father told me I had to butch up and I should watch the football on TV. Ludo's dad got him to play football and like Ludo I kept dressing as a girl but I learnt not to be caught. That why he was sent to a psychologist and I wasn't. That's why when I was in the 1st Broadmeadows cubs and they wanted one of us to be the Virgin Mary for the Christmas play I hid; I knew it would show on my face that I loved being a girl and it was only OK to dress as a girl if you were forced to do it and you really hated it.
Ludo was so desperate to be Snow White in the school play that he locked the real Snow White in the toilet, stole her costume and went on. This time the whole family was ostracised; it led to his father loosing his job and it was Ludo's fault; they couldn't pay the mortgage - Ludo's fault; their house was grafited - Ludo's fault; they had to live in a poorer suburb - Ludo's fault. The other parents successfully petitioned the headmaster to have this bent kid expelled from the school.
We dealt with similar situations differently both because of our cultural differences and our individual personalities. The most important cultural difference was my 1950's childhood and Ludo's 1990's childhood. And the most important individual difference was Ludo's much stronger sense of self. His strength in standing against his culture for what he believed in was inspiring.
I found all the characters were well cast especially Ludo; a wonderful performance by Georges Du Fresne. Ludo was so sure of himself that it made me ask was that possible in a seven year old. I have never heard of a seven year old with gender issues with such high self esteem, but it's certainly how I'd like to imagine the transgendered of the future. Which brings me to another point. So many of my friends have said to me "Have you seen the movie about the young tranny?" Well I'm not so sure. I wasn't convinced he was a young transsexual mainly because he was so in love with Jerome and I'd expect a transsexual of that age to be more interested in playing girls' games with girls than being in love with boys. I couldn't make up my mind if he would grow up transsexual, gay or a drag queen. I suspect a few people will disagree with me on that point.
It was cinematically very well crafted. It was shot and lit to enhance the emotional message of the script. I loved the shot of Ludo in the freezer and the dream sequences were beautifully over the top.
Ma Vie en Rose is excellent cinema. I'd love every trans-kid in Australia to see this movie; just so they can learn they are not alone ... and that loneliness can be overwhelming. Unfortunately it will probably have rather limited distribution because it is in French and because the ideas could "corrupt young minds". I recommend this film to all transgendered, all their friends, workmates and lovers and all health workers who work with kids with gender issues.
I was left with the very strong feeling that I really cared what happened to this kid.
© Copyright Julie Peters 1998