Director: Thomas Wallner
Writers:Thomas Wallner and Eva Küpper
Cast: Gerrit Becker, Richard Dierick, Vanessa Van Durme, Andrea De Laet, Danilo Povolo, and Rudy Suwyns
Gardenia began as a local theatre production in Belgium. With a unique and captivating premise of which the cast is comprised of ex-cabaret homosexual men and transwomen the show has been performed over two hundred times in twenty-five different countries. The documentary Before the Last Curtain Falls depicts the very last time Gardenia is performed. It also reaches into the pasts of the performers to gain insight on their hardships in light of their queer identity.
The documentary Before the Last Curtain Falls presents its story to the audience in an effortless timeline. The opening scene is packed full of extravagant eye shadow, fake eyelashes, and of course dazzling dresses; all the components of a cabaret show. In stark contrast, the first glimpse of the play Gardenia depicts the cast as men in suits and ties. The accountability that is displayed enforces the audience’s expectation of gender roles and the characteristics that accompany it. As the film progresses, the director Thomas Wallner transitions between scenes of Gardenia and looking into the lives of the cast. This creative style allows the audience to view the progression of the play alongside the downfalls and triumphs of the actors. The theatrical performance of Gardenia as well as the memoirs of the men and transwomen moves towards breaking the heterosexual matrix that is the performance of sex and gender.
The stories of the men and transwomen in the documentary are individually unique. However, all share similar themes of feeling like an outsider and overcoming their fears in search of love and acceptance. In society it is a common assumption that once one reaches an older age that they are confident and satisfied with their lives. Before the Curtain Falls rips down this perception. It is evident that although some of the men and transwomen have made peace with themselves, many still face obstacles blocking them from true happiness and self love. One man, during an interview, looked at the camera and asks the question “What is gay?” This question provokes thought about the binaries that constrict many people’s lives. The expression that sex, sexuality, and gender are not always separated into two opposite categories is apparent throughout the documentary. I believe that the director does an excellent job portraying the spectrum of queer identity.
The documentary uncovers varying aspects of expression. The men and transwomen in the documentary have found an outlet in Gardenia that allows them to express their agency. Many members of the cast describe theatre as a safe place. When the cast was young, they learned how to express their agency by being open with their sexuality or by accepting themselves as transwomen. Society was significantly less accepting than it is today, making their actions exceptionally brave. In an interview with one of the star transwomen they describe the process of transitioning from male to female. As described, they had to board a plane with a suitcase full of money and receive a surgery from a gynaecologist in a foreign country. This process caused risks to both her health and her safety. In my opinion, the director included this interview to imply the dangerous methods that had to be taken just so she could feel like herself. The woman then proceeds to explain that to pay for the surgery she earned money with sex work. This situation is a perfect example of the boundaries of choice. We may ask: is choice available when the sex work determines whether they may live their life as who they truly are? The issue that arises is that, yes, a choice was made to obtain the surgery. However, the concept of choice is diminished since the life of the individual may have been in danger without the surgery. As one woman expresses in the documentary when faced at a crossroads “You either kill yourself or accept who you want to be”. The documentary does an outstanding job of provoking thought in the audience.
Before the Last Curtain Falls was composed of many intriguing scenes. I believe the issue of heteronormativity that is apparent within the documentary and within society is expressed well in a scene when a man describes his mothers last words as “be who you are, but do not cut into your skin.” The man listened to his mother and did not proceed with surgery to transition from male to female. This scene was powerful to me because of the contradiction in the statement. Society provides the notion of acceptance yet, places a threshold on the acceptance once it succeeds the boundaries of comfort. This follows the theme of heteronormativity because the mother believes that the act of her son transitioning will change who he is. In reality transitioning into what one feels they are meant to be is more natural than suppression.
Overall, the Reelout Queer Film and Video Festival was a great experience. I attempted to attend In the Turn and The Dog. Unfortunately, both films were sold out at the door. Before the Last Curtain Falls was one of a small selection of films that I could choose from. I was impressed with the outcome of the documentary as it provoked thoughts on many issues while simultaneously providing light-hearted laughs. I believe Reelout is a great resource for the Kingston to learn and experience the LGBTQ community. One aspect I found intriguing was that the Canadian Cancer Society had an ad to promote health and safety amongst transsexuals. I believe this is extremely practical, as transmen and transwomen should have equal opportunities for health care without judgment.
Aulette, Judy Root., Judith G. Wittner, and Kristin Blakely. “Gendered Worlds. 3rd ed.” New York: Oxford UP, 2014. Print.
“International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam.” IDFA RSS. Press Materials, 2014. Web. 11 Feb. 2015.