“Laerte-se”, directed by Lygia Barbosa and Eliane Brum, is a biography and self-focused life narrative of transgender Brazilian cartoonist Laerte Coutinho.
Laerte, now 65, didn’t start crossdressing until 2009 and announced herself as a woman soon thereafter. The film has a lot of childhood 8mm reels of the boy Laerte who looks rather cis. His family seemed somewhat understanding. But Laerte says that as a man she was more reticent about homosexuality than gender change.
The film shows a lot of her cartoon work and paintings, and tries to convey her life narrative by metaphor in the cartoons. She says that conservatism is capable of progressive ideas but moves to slowly. Her cartoon activities were in support of the Left in Brazil, including some demonstrations in Sao Paolo. She has also covered professional soccer and likes to follow sports teams. While the film gets into political polarization sometimes, it never takes up something as dangerous as, say, the (radical Muslim) cartoon controversy in Europe (Jyllands-Posten and Hebdo).
But the personal side of her transgender experience becomes quite telling. As the film opens, she is hesitant to start the interview process with the filmmaker, as there is an exchange of emails about the utility of time. She says that sometimes transgender women who have completed the surgery believe they are “better” or more entitled that those who have not.
About 20 minutes into the film she talks about removing male body hair, and says doing so revealed a new person underneath. This observation seems more relevant because she is Caucasian (European Portuguese descent) than it would be if she were any other race. There is a shower leg shaving scene that reminds me of a bathtub scene in Sydney Pollack’s 1982 comedy “Tootsie” (Columbia) where Dustin Hoffman plays an unemployed actor who depilates and cross dresses to get work. Actually there is a similar in “Magic Mike” (2012, directed Stever Soderbergh (Lionsgate) where Channing Tatum’s character winds up explaining to his girl friend why he “shaves his legs for work”. And don’t forget what happens to Troy McClain when he “took one for the team” on Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice”. In fact, Serbian author Bazhe, who escaped the violence after an eldercare situation, explains his forays into cross-dressing in his 2003 book “Damages”. In fact, modifying one’s body to join the group used to be the point of hazing ceremonies, like the “Tribunals” at William and Mary in my lost semester in 1961, where “they” shaved the (freshman) boys’ legs. I played hookey on that one.
She gets into some ruminations about “the body” as I have. But I tended not to pay enough attention to my own appearance until I was old enough, 29, to come out a second time. (“My Second Coming” in my DADT-1 book). I was already going bald. I didn’t have the experience of other gay men of being “desired” for a CIS body. Ironically, I went bald in the legs in middle age. No I didn’t smoke or have diabetes. It all seems like a moral reflection.
Laerte has two cats, one of whom becomes a constant character in the film, demanding attention a lot.
The film (100 minutes) ends with a rather shocking nude scene of Laerte and one other woman not completely done with transition.
Sao Paolo long shot picture (Wiki).
Picture: “Lady Valor” Kristin Beck at gathering in Arlington VA December 2016.
|Director, writer:||Lygia Barbosa, Eliane Brum|
|Format:||1.85:1 (in Portuguese with subtitles)|
|When and how viewed:||Netflix instant play|
|Companies:||Netflix (first from Brazil)|
(Posted: Tuesday, May 30, 2017 at 1:30 PM EDT)