Review of intersex issue film ‘being impossible’

Further to my efforts to transfer my work on Twitter to my WordPress account, this was a review of a film that I watched at the Barbican in London, November 2019.

‘Being Impossible’ is a film about a young intersex woman called Ariel.  Made with Venezuelan/Colombian money, the director, Patricia Ortega, also comes from Venezuela.  

Approximately 0.001% live births per year are babies born with ambiguous genitalia and thus in the character of Ariel the rarest form of intersex variation possible is depicted.  

According to Wikipedia, filming was marred by electricity cuts, rampant hyperinflation and street protests during filming in Caracas, Venezuela.  It was released in October 2018.   Given that context, one of the main themes, that Ariel’s mum is receiving chemo for breast cancer following mastectomy, feels very much like propaganda at a time when most people in Venezuela can’t get their hands on ordinary painkillers.  

The mother’s sick body is depicted as hyper-non-binary, emphasising her baldness and lithe long limbs with a grey/green colour palette which adds to the alien-like androgynous look.  The depiction of the terminal ill body was empty of any warmth and matched by an unreadable character, which we are encouraged to believe is foul in nature.  

The other propaganda element is the treatment of the subject of intersex people itself.  Opening shots are of Ariel on the toilet in pain, interspersed with shots of her having sex.  Immediately there is ambiguity whether the moans are from pain or pleasure.  

Mother tells Ariel to see Dr Clemencia (the doctor who mutilated her at birth) about her sex-pain problem.  Vaginal stenosis is diagnosed and she is given a vaginal dilator to work with.  Cue multiple tease scenes in which Ariel uses said dilator, but are the moans of pain or pleasure?  Sometimes we see bleeding and Ariel’s pain stricken face, but we also see erect nipples and panting.  

We finally learn that Ariel was born with female chromosomes and ovaries but an enlarged clitoris was shaved down and a vagina created.  At no point does Ariel have any consciousness or express any knowledge of menstruation, despite being way past the normal age of menarche.  

Throughout the film ‘real’ intersex people talk to camera, one claiming that they were cut open at 4 years of age to find out whether ovaries were present (ovaries can easily be detected on ultrasound).  

The final troubling thing is a lesbian love triangle plot.  Ariel falls for Ana, the machinist who replaces her mother at the sewing factory.  Another girl at the factory falls for Ana too, but becomes jealous when Ana rejects her.  When said jealous girl confronts Ana with homophobic abuse in the ladies loo, Ana responds by forcefully kissing her on the mouth and pulling at her hair whilst pushing her into a toilet cubicle.  Much like the mother, she is very much an alien-like unsettling presence.

Technically the film has real flare but it lacked any human warmth or humour as per usual for creative work inspired solely by queer theory.  

After there was a panel discussion on intersex issues, which I wrote about in a separate article.