[Atlanta Film Festival] Venus (2017) - Reviewed

Venus screened at ATLFF

After an auspicious short film trajectory and having received both the Jury Prize and the Critic’s Choice Award, for her documentary Desperately Seeking Helen (1999), at the München Dokumentarfilm Festival and the Locarno Film Festival, respectively, Canadian filmmaker Eisha Marjara debuts Venus, her first narrative feature.

Through a brief and promising, out of this world, prologue, which introduces Sid (Debargo Sanyal), as she expresses (in voice over) her feeling of uneasiness inside her own skin, we are granted the best couple of minutes we will get in the entire film.

Marjara tries to capture the feeling of a Xavier Dolan film, though overdoing the slow motion for effect, as her protagonist defiantly walks the eerily empty and very “stepfordy” streets of Montreal.

The story is definitely neither new nor original, it has already been executed, much more skillfully, in at least a dozen other occasions. There are a few advantages that Venus has over other similar tales though, for one thing it dispenses with all the details about transitioning and cuts straight to the chase, as it centers on the attitudes of the people that surround Sid towards her coming out.

Her stereotypically conservative Indian parents are mere cutouts of the characters they should be playing and their limited acting abilities do not make things any better.

The crux of the story is the appearance of a teenage boy that stalks Sid and reveals himself as her son. His reaction after meeting his father, “Transgender dad… so cool”, communicates a new generation gap through the difference in attitudes with the other supporting characters, specifically, Sid’s closeted boyfriend Daniel (Xavier Dolan alumni Pierre-Yves Cardinal), who is terrified of coming out and keeps her a secret from friends and family.

The overall trite situations and reactions, added to the mostly amateurish cast, make the melodrama take a deep dive to camp territory and though the movie is supposed to be a comedy (it does actually manage a few smirks), soap opera level campiness was most definitely not Marjara’s intention.

Surely one of the main points of contention, for those who like to complain about such things, is the casting of Debargo Sanyal, a cis man, as the transgered Sid, who, despite this glitch, delivers the best performance of the film, which in the end is not a saving grace.

Marjara’s lack of experience in feature narrative really peers through, revealing what seemed like a good short film idea dangerously overstretched to snapping point. There is actual promise in her filmmaking, this is merely a first strike. 

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-Manuel Rios Sarabia