Review of films: Lola and the Sea and animated short

Another film festival, another film celebrating gender identity and body modification. Spoilers.

About the films

Lola and the Sea
Mya Bollaers makes her stunning acting debut in this tender tale of a captivating young trans girl skater, Lola, who is struck by the sudden loss of her mother at a pivotal moment in her life. Micheli’s stunning cinematography captures the dusky streets of Belgium and the haunting beauty of the sea, as Lola goes on a journey of self-discovery with her estranged father, to honour her mother, in this vital trans coming-of-age story.

+All Those Sensations in My Belly 
Before the feature, we screen this entrancing and poignant hand-drawn, animated short, which explores a trans woman’s emotional landscape.

Warning: the films contains instances of transphobia, such as deadnaming and misgendering.

From the blurb on the Barbican website

Lola and the Sea

Set up

We first meet Lola as he dresses in the morning, tucking his penis away ready for the day ahead and inserting pads into his bra. We learn that he is in a homeless shelter.

A visit to the gender identity clinic lets us know exactly where he is in transition. Lola is 18 years old. The endocrinologist who is monitoring his hormone treatment (oestrogen gel and anti-androgen pills) tells him that he now has a slot for surgery in five weeks’ time. Surgery will cost about 5,000 Euro.

His mother has died recently and he wants the ashes, so he goes to his father’s hardware shop and takes them back. As he leaves he throws a brick through the main storefront window (i.e. causing an approximate amount of damage as the cost of the surgery).

His father comes to the shelter in pursuit of the ashes and the road journey begins.

Father and ‘daughter’ bicker

The relationship between the two isn’t really like that of a father and son, nor father and daughter. Lola dominates and the dad is sort of tarred with being an example of ‘toxic masculinity’ or ‘cis het normativity’, as they would put it.

When Lola says he needs the toilet, the dad tells him he can do it at the side of the road. Lola gets out of the car and in retaliation at the ‘outrageous’ suggestion picks up a pot full of pink paint at the side of the road (handy) and throws it over the front windscreen of the car.

Tarts with hearts

After this act of vandalism, Lola happens upon a strip club/brothel. The madam immediately warms to him, believing that she has a new ‘girl’. When the father walks in moments later, Lola flirts with a disgusting john to antagonise him, calls him a ‘dickhead’ and then punches him in the face when he demands Lola returns to the car.

Lola and his dad end up staying the night in one of the brothel’s rooms for the night. I breathed a sigh of relief when Lola announced he was sleeping on the floor.

Before they settle for the night, the father and the madam have a heart to heart about his parenting skills. The madam is a deeply contented soul who imparts her pearl of wisdom to the dad; it’s right that his child has told him to fuck off, he deserves it. Also, always believe your children.

In the morning the madam and one of her girls dance in the kitchen together during breakfast. Lola smiles, trying not to laugh at them. It’s all very look how funny life can be! (Or, look at much fun prostitution is!) When the dad enters the room the dancing girl almost literally goes boo-hiss at him and he has trouble standing for some unknown reason (the punch from the night before?). The only adult is literally emasculated at every turn.

Inappropriate laughter

They hit the road again, the windscreen covered in pink paint, the road ahead barely visible. Many in the (rather full) cinema audience laughed out loud at that bit, but all I could see was a car which wasn’t roadworthy and therefore not believable.

Another uncomfortable moment was when the dad reveals that as a young man he wanted to be a PE teacher. Lola ridicules this idea and him personally. I sensed the audience was encouraged to laugh at this too, and therefore directly contradicted its own moral sanctimony.

Plot twist

Anyway Lola learns that the mum had saved a load of money for him to have his surgery, and the dad learns that the mum had been secretly very supportive of him having the surgery. The dad hands over the money to him (remember he still has a large storefront window to replace) and Lola doesn’t even say: Thanks dad! Nor, I shouldn’t take this money given you have a storefront window to replace, costing approximately what is in the envelope. This can’t really be amnesia on the filmmakers’ behalf given that a real window was really smashed and formed part of their production budget.

A bit of lip service to balance

The dad questions Lola about his impending decision to have surgery. The dad tells him that everyone when they’re young experiences confusion and discomfort about their bodies, why not wait until you’re 25?

‘Whether I have the operation or not, it won’t change the fact that I’m already a woman,’ Lola tells him. The dad asks why do it then. Lola says that it will mean that he is ‘fulfilled’. (Somewhere a cash register is going kerching!)

Particularly ridiculous is the dad’s question as to whether Lola will now be a lesbian. It simply doesn’t ring true. What father, especially one which is supposedly so toxically ‘masculine’, wouldn’t be worried above all else, that he had a homosexual son? As it turns out Lola is exclusively attracted to men only; the dad doesn’t say anything to that. I suspect it was put there so that they could neatly gloss over that chemical and surgical castration is sometimes a means of correcting male homosexuality. Rather the suggestion is that the toxic male is actually concerned about Lola being a ‘lesbian’. Those are just some of the mental hoops you have to jump through watching the film.

Utterly ridiculous hyperbolic violence

Throughout we are tantalised by a flashback of Lola as a 9-ish year old boy on the beach. The clip is put on repeat and towards the end we see the full context. That context being that Lola was subject to an extreme beating by a group of boys of a similar age. Poor Lola lies on his front coughing up blood and actual pieces of bloody gooey tissue – where the hell has that come from? A conversation with the father makes clear he has no knowledge of this episode.

Yet again none of the grown ups where able to fully think through what the consequences of such a horrific beating would really be, i.e. hospitalisation with broken bones and organ damage at a minimum, with a significant break in schooling and police investigation.

Ending

As with all road movies the end of the trip is the end of a spiritual journey for them both, having grown emotionally, seeing themselves anew. Of course, Lola is ready to set upon a new journey with the wad of cash he has in his hand for surgery to make him ‘complete’. I will say something nice, it was well acted and shot (OK, two things), but other than that complete rubbish.

All those sensations in my belly

All Those Sensations in My Belly is short animated documentary about the real life of transgirl Matia, who relates the story about her experience of transition process with a specific focus on complexity of finding true love with a heterosexual man.

From YouTube description

This animation was a real surprise being visually beautiful with an interestingly unstable protagonist and each mood change reflected in the art. There was a coherence between the story being told and what we saw on screen and quite unlike the art normally favoured by ‘queer’ cartoonists (which sets my nerves on edge). I really enjoyed watching this.

The story is also nuanced enough to allow the audience to have their own interpretation of the story, rather than dictate or signpost us to what we must definitely think, which is norm for artists invested in queer theory.

My interpretation: Matia is a young man who can’t or won’t accept his own homosexuality and is trying to escape reality. It’s a film reflecting the auteur’s own self-deception.


Thank you for reading! Sign up to my blog by going to the bottom of the page.

Please share on other forums if you liked it, as I only do Twitter and Gettr.