Karolina Bielawska’s first feature-length documentary, Call Me Marianna, delves into the life of a middle-aged and attractive woman who previously used to be a man. This is not a regular story of a transsexual but rather one about loneliness, hope, and the price one has to pay for being ‘different’. What we see early on in the film is that Marianna lives alone with her cat and is confined to a wheelchair, and working on a theatre play with two actors.
Alienated by her mother who still calls her by her male name, even Marianna’s ex-wife and children have distanced themselves from her. Polish law requires Marianna to sue her parents in order to undergo gender reassignment, and so she begins the legal battle of self-determination. When the days to the operation loom over her, Marianna kindles an unlikely romance with a sweet old man who accepts her for what she is, but she remains confronted with the idea of losing what she holds dearest to her – her family – and she must face the chilling reminder of the sacrifices one takes to be themselves.
The cinema verite approach of documentary filmmaking works both to bring us closer to Marianna and to give us an insight into the problems that trans people face. For instance, the situation with her parents is, to say the least, expected in intensely Catholic Poland, but the fact that Marianna has remained a very religious person really is not. Karolina Bielawska loyally accompanies Marianna in her fight for the right to be herself. The director follows her every step, becoming an important participant in her life. She proclaims, “This film (…) is not based on my observations, but on the relationship that has developed between us. To some extent, her life became a part of my life. This is her struggle for acceptance, love and dignity, in which I have participated”.
This multi-award-winning documentary is an intensely sympathetic and powerful account of one individual’s struggle to gain acceptance even in the midst of profound physical hardship. It is a touching, at times troubling documentary on a topic that will not get old any time soon. Marianna’s subtly narrated drama is a lesson in empathy and tolerance.
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