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Gender identity gets starring role at Venice Film Festival

Transgender issues have taken centre stage at the Venice Film Festival with 'L'Immensita', 'Monica', 'Casa Susanna' and other titles

Spanish actress Penelope Cruz and Italian director Emanuele Crialese at the screening of the film L'Immensita presented at the Venice Film Festival 2022. Image via AFP

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Transgender issues have taken centre stage at the Venice Film Festival this year, with Italian director Emanuele Crialese, there to present his new film starring Penelope Cruz, even using the platform to reveal he was born a woman.

The revelation by Crialese came at a press conference for his new film, L'Immensita, which is inspired by his difficult adolescence.

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"I am never going to be like any other man... I was born biologically a woman," Crialese said.

He added that, despite his transition, there was still a "huge part of my character that is female".

In the film, Cruz's character attempts to protect her teenage daughter, who identifies as a boy, in a bourgeois household dominated by an abusive, unfaithful husband.

It is not alone at this year's festival in embracing artists who reject traditional gender roles or tackle issues around sexual identity.

Another film in the main competition, Monica by Italian director Andrea Pallaoro, stars a transgender actress in the leading role—a first in 79 editions of the festival.

Trace Lysette, known for her role in Amazon Prime series Transparent, plays a transgender woman who returns to Ohio after a long absence to care for her dying mother.

"It's very rare that you see a script where there's a trans character at the centre and the movie is told through her lens," Lysette told reporters.

"Usually trans characters are more a sidebar vehicle for someone else's story."

Besides exploring the title character's emotional and psychological world, the movie reflects on "the precarious nature of each of our identities when faced with the need to survive and transform", said Pallaoro.

 Themes of gender identity are also the subject of various documentaries in the festival.

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In All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, director Laura Poitras centres on the art and activism of US photographer Nan Goldin, whose early work focused on gay culture and volatile male-female relationships.

Meanwhile, a documentary by French director Sebastien Lifshitz, Casa Susanna, recounts the story of a clandestine community of cross-dressers in the conservative America of the 1950s and 1960s, relying on archival footage and surviving members of this "pre-queer" history.

"It's been a struggle for decades to try to break out of the archetypes," Lifshitz told AFP.

Prejudice against homosexuals in 1960s Italy is the premise of Gianni Amelio's film, based on true events and set to premiere on Tuesday.

Il Signore delle Formiche (The Lord of the Ants) tells the story of Aldo Braibanti, a playwright and poet convicted of submitting his student and lover to his will, a crime under the Fascist penal code that had never been invoked before and was later revoked.

In Three Nights a Week, French director Florent Gouelou offers up "a declaration of love" to the art form of drag, with his protagonist Baptiste discovering the Parisian world of drag queens and falling in love with one of them, Cookie.

"Through the character of Baptiste you see my own fascination and through the character of Cookie you see my own experience as a drag queen," said Gouelou.

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