52 Tuesdays (Kino Lorber, NR)

52 Tuesdays_75This is an outstanding first film and offers a fresh perspective on the process of gender transition.

 

 

 

52Tuesdays 500

Sixteen is a difficult age for many teenagers, but Billie (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) has more to deal with than most. Her mother (Del Herbert-Jane) is undergoing gender transition from female to male (and changing her name from Jane to James in the process) and needs time to herself. As a result, Billie is sent to live with her father (Beau Travis Williams), with the agreement that she and her mother will spend part of every Tuesday for the next year together (hence, the film’s title).

Mirroring the form of the film, director Sophie Hyde shot 52 Tuesdays over a year’s time, with all filming taking place on Tuesdays. This approach produces a film made up of a series of short episodes, with the breaks in action serving the same purpose as the spaces between the frames in a graphic novel, emphasizing the discrete nature of each brief episode. Hyde makes no attempt to smooth the transitions between each Tuesday, and in fact emphasizes the disjunctive nature of the episodes with title cards and references to news events and seasonal activities.

52 Tuesdays is much more about Billie than it is about James, with the latter’s gender transition largely treated as a background event in Billie’s life. Like most teenagers, Billie is mainly concerned with her own interests, chief among them exploring her own identity and sexuality. In this she is aided by a more mature couple at her school, Josh (Sam Althuizen) and Jasmin (Imogen Archer), and experiments sexually with both.

Billie also keeps a video diary, which allows her to tell us directly what she is thinking and feeling, an approach that seems unnecessarily on the nose in relation to the relative subtlety of the rest of the film. More disturbing is the footage Billie captures of her sexual experimentation with Josh and Jasmin (this film has a 15 certificate in the UK; were it rated in the U.S., it would probably get an R), which she edits into an art project of sorts.

Although Billie gets far more screen time, the emotional heart of the film comes in a sequence just past the halfway point, when James explains to his girlfriend how he came to be where he is in his life. This speech is largely presented as voiceover to a montage of scenes from her past life, and supplies most of the back story previously lacking in the film.

52 Tuesdays is the first feature film for its director and also the first film for most of the actors. Most of the latter acquit themselves well, in particular Cobham-Hervey and Herbert-Jane, while a few betray their inexperience and lack of range. During the filming process, the actors only got the script they were to shoot that week (Matt Weiner used the same system on Mad Men), which has the benefit of keeping everyone in the present moment rather than allowing them to anticipate the story’s conclusion.

The pace of 52 Tuesdays can be annoyingly slow at times, and at almost two hours it can test even the most sympathetic viewer’s patience. Still, this is an outstanding first film and offers a fresh perspective on the process of gender transition. It’s also a perfect festival film, and as such has been showered with awards, including Best Director in the World Dramatic Cinema category at Sundance and a Crystal Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Extras on the disc include a making-of featurette (8 min.) focusing on the last segment of the film, a blooper reel (7 min.), 5 deleted scenes, and 2 extended scenes. | Sarah Boslaugh

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