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Orlando, My Political Biography
Orlando, ma biographie politique

Directed by Paul B. Preciado
Produced by Yaël Fogiel and Laetitia Gonzalez
Cinematography: Victor Zébo
Editing: Yotam Ben-David
Music: Clara Deshayes
Runtime: 98 min
Release Date: 14 September 2023
Aspect Ratio: 1.78 : 1
Color: Color

Transgender feminist writer and philosopher Paul B. Preciado's debut feature is as non-binary as its subject matter. It's part documentary, part art film, part personal essay, and part open letter to the late great Virginia Woolf, whose 1928 novel Orlando: A Biography is considered the first trans novel. Preciado's narration explains how the story of Woolf's aristocratic hero—who is born a male English nobleman, undergoes a mysterious change of sex in his sleep around age thirty, and lives for centuries from the Elizabethan era through contemporary times—speaks directly to transgender folks throughout the decades of the twentieth century. He tries to imagine what Woolf would think of the visibility and cultural effect of the non-binary today.

Over twenty trans and nonbinary actors play the part of this movie's Orlando, reading passages from the book that intertwine Woolf's text with their own modern, personal details. At first, since these episodes are shot simply, often on soundstages or small sets, each new actor feels like they are auditioning for the role using their personal story as well as their level of familiarity with the novel and Woolf's own life story. But we quickly come to see they are each telling one aspect of the narrative in a synopsized form. Archival footage of Christine Jorgensen, the first American to publically come out as having had a sex change operation, Coccinelle, the famous 1960s French transgender night club singer, and other early gender nonconforming activists is added to the mix, as is a full-on dance number, lines of poetry, text, and other forms of creative expression.

Making a film so deliberately uncategorizable as this, Preciado underlines his points and themes without undermining his premise. I can't say everything about the movie works, but that, too, seems part of the point. In the world this picture imagines, nothing is ever finished or perfected; everyone is on a journey, and all paths should freed from the many obstacles placed in the way by centuries of rigid dogma.

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Exploring how Virginia Woolf's 1928 gender-shifting protagonist has spoken to generations of trans folks, Paul B. Preciado's personal essay/poetic documentary/art film is as non-binary as its subject matter.