Review: ‘Erik(a)’

No one watching footage of Erika Schinegger winning the 1966 World Cup in women's skiing will have had any doubt she was really a he. But as Kurt Mayer's absorbing docu "Erik(a)" makes clear, not even the subject himself was aware. Despite some unnecessary filler, docu's fascination transcends Austrian borders and could be popular on Euro cable.

No one watching footage of Erika Schinegger winning the 1966 World Cup in women’s skiing will have had any doubt she was really a he. But as Kurt Mayer’s absorbing docu “Erik(a)” makes clear, not even the subject himself was aware. Born with his genitals inside — like a reversed glove, a doctor helpfully explains — Erika was a national hero until a sex test took everyone by surprise, and Erik set about claiming his rightful gender. Despite some unnecessary filler, docu’s fascination transcends Austrian borders and could be popular on Euro cable.

Always a sporty child — “She never was a mummy’s boy,” comments his giggly mother — Erika thought she was perhaps a lesbian until the Olympic Committee’s saliva swab test proved she was a man with very frumpy hair. At 19, he underwent corrective surgery, emerging as a lonely guy with a macho attitude. Ex-teammates are supportive, though more discussion of society’s automatic assignment of gender roles would have been welcome. Visuals are pro, incorporating well-edited newsreels and home footage; odd spooky, electro music is unnecessary, although Klaus Nomi’s “Simple Man” is the perfect closing song.

Erik(a)

Austria

Production

A Kurt Mayer Film production. (International sales: Austrian Film Commission, Vienna.) Produced, directed by Kurt Mayer. Screenplay, Hanne Lassl.

Crew

Camera (color/B&W, DigiBeta-to-35mm), Helmuth Wimmer; editor, Charlotte Muellner-Berger; music, Olga Neuwirth. Reviewed at Turin Gay & Lesbian Film Festival (competing), April 24, 2006. German, French dialogue. Running time: 83 MIN.

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