Film Critique of “Before the Last Curtain Falls” (2014)

Film Critique of “Before the Last Curtain Falls” (2014)

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

Genre: Documentary

Synopsis

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 GardeniaBefore the last curtain falls 4 is performed. It also reaches into the pasts of the performers to gain insight on their hardships in light of their queer identity.

Review

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.

Works Cited

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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6 thoughts on “Film Critique of “Before the Last Curtain Falls” (2014)

  1. I really enjoyed reading your film review and I think you took a unique perspective on many complications found in LGBTQ societies. It is unfortunate that such a beneficial and confidence boosting play such as Gardenia ever ended because I think it could do a lot of good with youth today. I hope there are other programs such as this still in existence for youth to outlet their feelings in a safe place. The question “What is gay?” is very unique because I have never actually thought of an answer until now. It is difficult to define something that can either be taken as a broad or very narrow term. What is your definition of gay? It also makes me wonder how others in GNDS 125 would define “gay” as as well.

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    1. I believe that in a sense you have answered the question “What is Gay?” in your comment. You expressed that it is “something that can either be taken as a broad or very narrow term”. I think that queer identities lie on a spectrum; thus, they are hard to define. As I expressed in my review this contributes to destroying binary ways of thinking about sexuality.

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  2. I really enjoyed you review of the film, despite the fact that it was not what you intended on viewing I felt you still provided an in depth and though provoking analysis. I found it very enlightening that you brought up choice because it is so relevant and in my opinion looked over when regarding sex work. The women you referred to in this film wasn’t taking part in sex work for the stereotypical reasons we as a society think. She was doing so in order to pay for a necessary surgery. From this arises another issues as well, in that how is it that a surgery that has the potential to save the lives of individuals from a mental health stand point any different than that of a broken leg from example. Gender reassignment surgery for some individuals is the difference between feeling like a stranger in their one skin, to being a self assured thriving individual. Why is it that it is looked upon as lesser or a non-life saving behaviour, and what are the possible implications of this?

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    1. You have grasped my point exactly. Why would the surgery not be considering life saving when mental wellness is greatly impacted? Implications of not having the surgery result in an individual feeling trapped which may lead to further complications in mental and physical health.

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  3. I really enjoyed reading your film review. You have incorporated a wide variety of terms in a very effective manner and provided the reader with a number of key scenes. I like the idea of how on a couple of occasions you provided the reader with a couple of stories/quotes of how those trans-women and homosexual men view themselves and the struggles they face. I think that those stories clearly show that each human being regardless of gender, class or race is in search of internal happiness, love and acceptance. In order to achieve these qualities the first thing that you have to do is accept who you are and start to overcome your fears. You have mentioned that the queer community faces a number of binaries and misconceptions which is obviously evident, and I think that those issues are the root causes which in a number of cases prevent queers from forming a strong and confident identity.

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  4. I really enjoyed your blog review and it made me think about a lot of implications surrounding sex transition surgery. It’s awful that individuals who wish to have these surgeries have to go to great lengths to do so. They have to fly to unknown countries or engage in sex work. It should be a simple task which would make the individual happy but yet it’s such a complicated and deprecating process. I liked your point about choice and how, yes, people choose to do these things, but is it really choice if it means the difference between happiness or mental illness?

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