52 Tuesdays ****
Starring: Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Del Herbert-Jane, Mario Spate, Imogen Archer, Sam Althuizen, Beau Travis Williams Directed by Sophie Hyde
52 Tuesdays first appeared at Sundance alongside Boyhood. And that's not all these two films have in common. Just as the American Boyhoodwas shot and developed with the cast over a long period of time, so too was the Australian 52 Tuesdays... albeit just a year, rather than twelve. Committing to shoot every Tuesday for a year, with each and every day appearing in the final cut, this was a film that evolved with its stars, its storyline complicating itself as the lives of its characters and actors slowly intertwined. The film follows Billie (Cobham-Hervey) , a fifteen year old girl who goes to live with her father (Williams) after her mother (Herbert-Jane) comes out as transgender. Visiting her new Dad every Tuesday, their relationship finds stability in what they think are the sureties ahead in the transition, but as elements start to veer from what they expected, so too does the solidity of their relationship. As Billie begins to experiment with her sexuality with some older friends, she finds that where she could be "herself" as a child is not the same as she can as an adult.
52 Tuesdays is a dense but rewarding film. While exploring the effects of transitioning on a family, it doesn't let its central issue saturate its narrative. Seen through the eyes of a young woman, the effects she experiences of this change expand far beyond her home life. As her mother arrives at who she really is, Billie embarks on her own personal discovery, with the fluidity of her own identity as uncertain as her relationships back home. But just as gender identity itself is a wholly personal issue, so too is this a wholly personal story. This is not the film that will represent the stories of all transgender men, but solely an account of one character's experiences. In a Q&A after the screening, director Sophie Hyde expressed her regret that transgender representation in film has been so limited until now, because neither this nor any film ever could embody the personal journeys of all transgender people. Nor, she said, should they try. At its centre, Tilda Cobham-Hervey and Del Herbert-Jane give subtle and nuanced performances, with their journeys as different as they are parallel. As cracks appear in their relationship, so too do their deep-rooted insecurities, which had been held together by their love for each other. Through the nature of the film's development, their performances become all the more authentic for their increasing real-life maturity. But as the layers of their characters peel back, I couldn't help but wonder if the beginning of the film couldn't have benefited from the depth we witness at the end, which could only have come from shooting out of sync and therefore undermining the film's unique selling point. But then its structural trope isn't its only USP.
While ubiquitous issues surrounding transgenderism are all present - coming out, other people's reactions and the transition itself - these are not the focus of the drama. For a topic that has so little representation on film, it is refreshing to see the film's bold intention to exist as a narrative piece, instead of deliberately pioneering itself as trans* iconoclasm. That being said, the issue of gender is treated with great dignity, while clear attention has been paid toward accuracy and respect. But as the film asks us to look forward and identify who we are now over who we've always been, it also examines whether film itself captures or traps the moments it records. While Billie's mother records the stages of her transition, Billie's own recordings on her video camera of her friends become a dangerous documentation of what should have been transient moments. So as the characters react to what has been filmed of their lives, we watch their reaction... within a film. It couldn't be more postmodern if it tried. Aesthetically, 52 Tuesdays embraces stark realism, while its cinematography makes no attempt to glamorise the Antipodean sunshine. But while the credibility of its gimmicky structure is maintained, it is also its stumbling block at times too. Just as Boyhood struggled under its own weight due to the sheer scope of its vision, 52 Tuesdays bows under the same pressure. Even though several of the titular 'Tuesdays' receive only a few seconds of attention, all 52 still feature. So with 52 episodes appearing in just under two hours, it doesn't always succeed in maintaining pace. However, as a character study, an exploration of trans* issues and as a fascinating story, it ticks each box adeptly. And whether it wants to be or not, its topic makes it a landmark piece of Queer Cinema.
Available to download, stream or buy on DVD.