×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

I Am a Woman Now

"Being an old woman was never part of the fantasy," observes one of the subjects of "I Am a Woman Now," Dutch docu helmer Michiel van Erp's affecting look at five European men who were reborn as women in a Casablanca clinic more than five decades ago.

With:
With: Jean Lessenich, Corinne van Tongerloo, Marie-Pierre Pruvot, April Ashley, Colette Berends. (Dutch, French, German, English dialogue)

“Being an old woman was never part of the fantasy,” observes one of the subjects of “I Am a Woman Now,” Dutch docu helmer Michiel van Erp’s affecting look at five European men who were reborn as women in a Casablanca clinic more than five decades ago. The quintet of sex-change pioneers are now older, wiser and — in most cases — happier, their life experience adding a welcome new perspective to a subject that’s become a staple of the nonfiction circuit. This beautifully shot widescreen docu has been a sales success since its IDFA premiere last fall.

Pic opens with Belgian Corinne van Tongerloo visiting the grave of “miracle doctor” Georges Burou in Casablanca. The French surgeon, who died in the 1980s, started performing sexual reassignment operations as early as the mid-1950s. A prim old lady now, van Tongerloo, a former nudie dancer, sees her trip to Morocco as a pilgrimage to her second place of birth.

Altogether feistier is English rose April Ashley, whose gray hair sports more than a small hint of purple and who sips champagne throughout her interviews, her regal poise and wit counterbalanced by sobering tales of an extremely difficult childhood. Initially coming across as rather perky woman, Dutch beautician Colette Berends reveals a more troubled side as she rather casually recounts how she decided to leave her much younger b.f. of many years because of the age gap and her fear of becoming an old woman.

Also struggling with the onset of her twilight years is Jean Lessenich, a German who was also operated on by Burou but who has since gone back and forth between taking female and male hormones, the latter at the insistence of her Japanese g.f. of 20 years, now deceased. Though it doesn’t quite wade into the waters of a documentary such as Marcus Lindeen’s “Regretters,” about two older male-to-female transsexuals who lament their decisions, Lessenich’s story does suggest that gender identity is not clear-cut for all transgender people, and may be a lifelong search without a definite answer for some.

But the other subjects, including Frenchwoman Marie-Pierre Pruvot, or “Bambi,” one of Burou’s very first patients, feel their lives has changed drastically for the better, as directly suggested in a scene in which Ashley meets Burou’s son and thanks him for his father’s work and courage. Their post-op youth is also vividly brought to life through memories, pictures and Super 8 footage, notably when some of van Erp’s subjects meet in a French villa to reminiscence about the good old days. As they reveal their struggles with themselves and the people around them, the film beautifully suggests these individuals’ process of coming to terms.

Van Erp (“A Funfair Behind the Dikes”) casts a respectful and sensitive eye on his protagonists throughout, with one exception: The presence of the camera during a revealing conversation between van Tongerloo and one of her girlfriends, which has the whiff of a more sensationalistic and voyeuristic reality-TV approach that doesn’t jive with the pic’s overall sensibility.

Musical choices are key in the docu’s subtle and continuous modulation in celebrating these women’s uniqueness as well as their much-desired normality, with French chansons alternating with Louis Ter Burg’s Muzak-like score. Beautifully framed widescreen lensing makes good use of shallow focus.

I Am a Woman Now

Netherlands

Production: A Cinema Delicatessen release of a De Familie presentation and production, in association with VPRO. (International sales: Cat & Docs, Paris.) Produced by Monique Busman, Michiel van Erp. Executive producers, Jean-Marc van Sambeek, Inge Schapendonk. Directed, written by Michiel van Erp.

Crew: Camera (color, HD, widescreen), Mark van Aller; editor, Hinne Brouwer; music, Louis Ter Burg; sound, Rob Dul. Reviewed at Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival (Stories to Tell), March 15, 2012. (In 2011 Intl. Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam -- competing.) Running time: 86 MIN.

Cast: With: Jean Lessenich, Corinne van Tongerloo, Marie-Pierre Pruvot, April Ashley, Colette Berends. (Dutch, French, German, English dialogue)

More Scene

  • Ron HowardBreakthrough Prize, Arrivals, NASA Ames

    Ron Howard Talks New Luciano Pavarotti Documentary

    If one is an anomaly, two are a coincidence and three are a trend, then Ron Howard might strictly become a music documentarian after “Pavarotti” hits theaters. The documentary about the world-famous Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti comes on the heels of Howard’s “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week” and “Made in America,” a look at [...]

  • Cara Delevingne poses for photographers upon

    Cara Delevingne to Be Honored With Hero Award at Trevor Project New York Gala

    The Trevor Project will honor Cara Delevingne with the Hero Award at its upcoming TrevorLIVE New York gala. Delevingne has supported The Trevor Project‘s efforts to end LGBTQ youth suicide rates, in addition to using her platform to speak out about mental health issues, women’s rights and animal conservation. On screen, she has acted in [...]

  • Kristen Stewart'JT LeRoy' Film Premiere, Arrivals,

    Kristen Stewart: 'Charlie's Angels' Reboot Is 'Woke' but Still 'Funny and Weird'

    “Charlie’s Angels” has made the jump to 2019. Kristen Stewart, who stars in the Elizabeth Banks-directed reboot as one of the Angels, says the classic ’70s franchise has been updated to modern times without losing its pulpy action. “At one point I think we said it was woke and grounded, and everyone was like, ‘Wait, [...]

  • Robert De Niro

    Robert De Niro Slams Trump Administration at Tribeca Opening Night

    The 18th annual Tribeca Film Festival opened with Roger Ross Williams’ documentary “The Apollo” at the iconic uptown venue which performers and Harlem community members call “home.” “You can feel the history, the echo of the entertainers,” Tribeca Film Festival co-founder Robert De Niro said in a speech before the film. “In this administration, during [...]

  • Lilli Cooper Tootsie

    How the 'Tootsie' Musical Was Updated for the #MeToo Era

    Turning the beloved 1982 comedy “Tootsie” into a 21st century musical already seemed like a challenge when work on the adaptation began back in 2016. Then the #MeToo movement revved up — and the writers knew they couldn’t tell Dorothy’s story for a modern audience without it. “It’s different than it was when the movie [...]

  • Ralph Fiennes attends a special screening

    Ralph Fiennes on Directing Rudolf Nureyev Biopic: 'It's Been a Very, Very Long Road'

    Ralph Fiennes celebrated his latest directorial outing, “The White Crow,” on Monday night in New York City. The Sony Pictures Classics film tells the story of legendary dancer Rudolf Nureyev. “It’s been a very, very long road. We were mad. We were mad to take on this subject of Rudolf Nureyev. Mad. Completely mad,” Fiennes [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content