EIFF 2023: Orlando, My Political Biography
Philosopher Paul B. Preciado uses Virginia Woolf's novel Orlando as the jumping off point for this playful exploration of gender and identity
Orlando is a poet and aristocrat who can change their sex, found in the pages of Virginia Woolf’s fictionalised biography of Orlando's centuries-long lifespan. Woolf’s text is not just a satire of English literary history and a clearcut example of modernism’s subjectivity – it’s also very, very trans. Orlando, My Political Biography boldly attempts to unpack its genderqueer-ness in a contemporary context, but the result is less documentary and more paratext – a piece of criticism and philosophy that’s deeply entwined with Woolf’s words, their impact, and the inherent limitations of any queer writing from a century ago.
The singular preposition in the title implies the film is solely interested in the actualisation of its director, Paul B. Preciado, but instead the French writer and philosopher has assembled over two dozen trans and non-binary voices to express and perform the myriad shades of Woolf’s character. As we push through the different stages of Orlando’s life, trans people of every age explain how their gender identity and sexuality parallels or departs from Woolf’s text. It’s playful, inventive, and moving – and never compromises its theoretical fascinations.
As youthful, spirited passion clashes with entrenched societal prejudices and violence, the subjects react to the world trying to ostracise them with articulate and assertive resistance. The blurring of lines between characters inhabiting the role of Orlando and voicing their own testimony means that My Political Biography doesn’t quite maintain its confronting intimacy throughout, but the film sparkles with too much personality to ever fully lose interest. It’s an intimidatingly intelligent call to arms for gender autonomy.
Orlando, My Political Biography had its UK premiere at Edinburgh International Film Festival, with a UK release scheduled for Spring 2024