Baillie Walsh's "Mirror, Mirror" is a grimly disturbing documentary that probes the life of Consuela Cosmetic, a black transsexual who died of AIDS in March l996, during the film's post-production. Offering an uncompromisingly candid look, docu demystifies such relevant issues as gender, sex and daily survival as they pertain to a "deviant" minority that's often misunderstood and misrepresented in the media. Though laced with humor, overall downbeat tone, along with a gruesome onscreen operation of breast removal, might restrict theatrical potential, but docu should be shown in festivals and other venues open to challenging nonfiction fare.

Baillie Walsh’s “Mirror, Mirror” is a grimly disturbing documentary that probes the life of Consuela Cosmetic, a black transsexual who died of AIDS in March l996, during the film’s post-production. Offering an uncompromisingly candid look, docu demystifies such relevant issues as gender, sex and daily survival as they pertain to a “deviant” minority that’s often misunderstood and misrepresented in the media. Though laced with humor, overall downbeat tone, along with a gruesome onscreen operation of breast removal, might restrict theatrical potential, but docu should be shown in festivals and other venues open to challenging nonfiction fare.

Born in l958, as Floyd William Bradford, Consuela Cosmetic was a fair-skinned black male who devoted virtually his entire lifetime to altering his physical appearance through female hormone therapy, silicone injection, plastic surgery and whatever else it took to create the credible illusion of a female. But Consuela never took the crucial final step of gender-changing surgery; for most of his life, he functioned as a person with both breasts and penis. In fact, advertising his unique attributes, he managed to make a decent living as a nightclub performer and an aggressive hustler; many men were reportedly intrigued by his peculiar combination of biological traits.

Among docu’s most harrowing sequences are Consuela’s comments on how AIDS has not only ravaged his peers, but also destroyed the notion of self-worth and other values associated with transsexualism. The central figure comes across as a sensitive and witty person whose chief concern was to live with dignity and at peace with himself.

Helmer Walsh, who has directed some impressive musicvideos, keeps his subject on a tight rein, never letting him digress from his focused concern, even when the remarks are entertaining in their own right. Consuela’s contributions while at his best and worst add considerable energy and humor to the film’s intimate, often moving portrait. In large sections, Consuela, too weak to walk around, is seen lying in his bed.

“Mirror, Mirror” doesn’t provide the light, entertaining look at drag queens and transsexuals that prevails in such movies as “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” and “To Wong Foo,” but it’s far more substantial, and often quite illuminating, in its observations about the day-to-day reality of a minority still misperceived by mainstream society.

Mirror, Mirror

(DOCU B&W/COLOR)

Production

A Premiere Heure production. Produced by Patrice Haddad, Baillie Walsh. Executive producer, Patricia Allard, Lilian Saly. Directed by Walsh.

Crew

Camera (B&W/color), Tony Mitchell, John Mathieson, Walsh; editor, Murphy Birdsall; music, Kevin Mooney; sound, Annette Danto, Glenn Bloom; line producer, Claire Barnier. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival, Sept. 11, l996 . Running time: 85 MIN.

With

With: Consuela Cosmetic, Gena Germaine, Hector Xtravaganza.
Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more