While watching Alain Berliner’s Ma Vie en Rose, I was reminded of a fabulous story that aired on NPR last year about two boys from different families who each revealed to their parents they wanted to live as a girl. While one family brought their child to a specialist who urges patients to grow more comfortable with their biological sex, the other family saw San Francisco therapist Diane Ehrensaft, who encourages some families to allow their children to transition to their preferred gender. When asked in a related interview if “transgenderism” was manifested socially or biologically, Ehrensaft concluded: “I think that our gender identity is not defined by what’s between our legs but by what’s between our ears – that it’s somewhere in the brain. It’s pretty much hardwired.”
But in the face of neighbors’ collective scruitiny, can a parent’s love stand up to a narrow sense of comfort and a yearning for security?
Ma Vie en Rose begins as Ludovic Fabre’s family, having recently moved to a quaint Parisian suburb to accommodate the father’s new job, throws a small party to meet the new neighbors. Much to everyone’s surprise, Ludovic appears at the party garbed in their* sister’s old clothing and jewelry. Monsieur and Madame Fabre manage to rationalize the incident to the neighbors as some kind of jest, but as Ludovic continues to nix masculinity as an identity, they decide to take measures to quell their son’s desires.
Ludovic, like almost any child whose family decries them as less than normal, acquiesces to their parents’ wishes to live as a boy. Ludovic is reluctant to conform, and the attempt to match Ludovic’s personality with their genitals is half-hearted to say the least. While observing with almost scientific earnestness the other boys’ actions, Ludovic attempts to emulate man-boy machismo by playing “Cowboys & Indians” and grabbing their crotch. To Ludovic, this feels less like a declaration of masculinity than it is some weird act of vulgarity. Ludovic is further stymied when they attempt to kiss a girl playmate, to which she objects, “I don’t kiss girls!”
Once efforts to become a boy prove futile, Ludovic – who self-identifies as garçonfille – comes to the realization that being a boy was never God’s intention. This leads to a delightful fantasy in which God, while literally handing out chromosomes, accidentally gives Ludovic one too many “X” Chromosomes, and literally throws the wayward “Y” Chromosome into the garbage.
As Ludovic grows more convinced of their true identity and increasingly resistant to coercive change, it causes a considerable amount of frustration chez Fabre. The increased scrutiny coming from neighbors and colleagues compromises the job security of Ludovic’s father. As a life of normalcy grows distant, Ludovic’s mother quickly loses her patience. And so Ludovic’s family must come to a choice: accept their child or somehow force an unwanted identity upon them.
Ma Vie en Rose has a great deal on its mind, but it is seldom made explicit. The suburban neighborhood depicted in the film is designed with an impeccable quaintness; there is a narrowness to the way the everything has been constructed, from the cozy artifice of the neighbors’ homes to the clinical perfection of each family’s front lawn. This community depicted is less a physical space than it is a tacit promise of security; where normalcy can maintain itself comfortably and with little disruption. Ludovic – the lipstick-wearing, penis-denying, effeminate Frankenstein that they are said to be – is a perversion to this tranquility, and when Ludovic’s parents are forced to challenge their perceptions of their child’s identity, it comes at the expense of the comfortable life they have taken for granted.
However, Ma vie en Rose is not the predictable story of a lynch-mob versus some local gender-confused monster. Director Alain Berliner focuses mostly on the internal struggle between a child shaping their identity and their parents’ journey of acceptance. There are no monsters and there are no villains; only divergent perspectives and the unwillingness to listen. Berliner presents authentic characters who are at once compassionate and selfish, empathetic and bewildered, joyful and frustrated. Ludovic’s story is a hopeful one; it believes that familial love can indeed prevail, even if a family member might need to leave their sense of comfort behind to support a loved one.
Ma Vie en Rose is the third film that has been selected for the U of M’s International GLBT Movie Festival, and it is the first one I could actually see having the power to change people’s minds and hearts. It is so far, and by far, the festival’s strongest selection.
Click here to read a summary of the U of M International Film Festival, followed by a brief review of their first film.
Stay tuned for a review of the Argentinean film A Year without Love, which will be showing on Friday, on the University of Minnesota’s Minneapolis Campus. The time and location of the screening will be announced soon.
*While Ludovic’s feelings about their gender identity are made clear in the film, it is never made explicit, as far as I know, that they identify exclusively as female. I do not want to make that assumption, and chose to refer to Ludovic using gender-neutral pronouns.