Venus, the new film by Montreal filmmaker Eisha Marjara had its world premiere at Festival du nouveau cinema to a sold-out audience at the temple for indie films in Montreal, Cinema du Parc. With the filmmaker and other members of the cast and crew in attendance, Venus brought us the story of an independent, professional, feisty, and sassy trans woman who chooses to live life on her own terms. In the process, she overcomes all odds: societal, familial, and personal, simply to assert her freedom to be able to live in her own skin. But Venus isn’t a heavy, melodramatic, preachy life lesson. It’s a sprightly ‘dramedy’ (a genre I am only now starting to explore) that looks at Sid and her intimate relationships, as the daunting reality of transitioning and surgery looms like a burden that weighs heavy.
Right at the outset, Sid (played with a lot of soul by Debargo Sanyal), is chased by a young Ralph (played brilliantly by Jamie Myers) who comes out to Sid as her biological son. Sid apparently dated Ralph’s mother Kirsten many years ago. Fast forward many years and Sid is now finally taking the leap and transitioning when Ralph shows up claiming the privileges of paternity.
Sid takes to the boy’s appearance in her life with a bit of frustration, a bit of denial and mostly just suspicious reticence. While Ralph is escaping the neglect of his own household, where his mother’s new husband, Max (played by Peter Miller), continues to be the cause of his strained mother-son relationship, Sid has been trying to move beyond Daniel (played by actor Pierre-Yves Cardinal), who had left her emotionally distraught.
In their separate attempts to escape the trials of their lives, Ralph and Sid somehow find comfort together. The coming together is not without hiccups, but the solace that’s found is heartwarming. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. As soon as the few early reels have rolled, we encounter intrigue and secrets between families, Sid’s South Asian origins and overbearing mother (the indomitable Zena Daruwalla) and papaji (Gordon Warnecke of My Beautiful Laundrette fame) take narrative centre stage and get thrown in the mix. And in all of this, Sid continues to work through the emotional entanglements that tie her to Daniel.
With oodles of Punjabi family charm (samosas included) and a love story that leaves room for personal reflections, Venus is both charming and hilarious. Not all films aim to speak to universal experiences, nor be the standard bearers of a social issue. By the filmmaker’s own admission, Venus is one trans person’s story that looks to explore life beyond the stereotypes, beyond the usual coming out and uniquely at unexpected parenthood. But the emotional highlight isn’t just the Ralph-Sid relationship, the real angst is left for Daniel and Sid to live through. Daniel and Sid are flawed in many ways, but Sid isn’t devastated by Daniel’s burden, which was very refreshing. I have to acknowledge that my South Asian tastes missed some over the top drama and crying, but then that wasn’t the story being told.
Rich in textured emotions, imperfect characters and a strong protagonist that stands tall against many odds, Venus is a delectable tale of self-discovery, both in our attempts to dig deeper for inner strength and transcending the boundaries that we set for ourselves.
Venus screened at the Festival du nouveau cinema on October 9th, and will be opening in cinemas in Spring 2018.
Filmmaker Eisha Marjara will be part of a panel of Diaspora Filmmakers at the 7th South Asian Film Festival of Montreal on November 28th, 2017 at De Seve Cinema at 3 pm, where she will be talking about Venus, with other filmmakers in attendance, followed by a Q&A. Details of the event are available here.