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‘Orlando, My Political Biography’ Takes a Collective Approach to Joy



From the very start Preciado expresses love and admiration for Woolf and her novel, but he also critiques some of her choices; he’s enraged, for one, that Orlando is an aristocratic colonialist. Even so, for the most part he expresses palpable tenderness toward Woolf, a quality that suffuses “My Political Biography” as he loosely re-creates Orlando’s narrative trajectory and plucks characters, episodes and sentences from the book. Along the way, Preciado draws attention to the construction of identity and that of the movie itself, fusing form and subject. While he’s peering behind the scenes (and as crew members drop in and out), he also introduces a chorus of other voices, including that of trans pioneers like the American actress-singer Christine Jorgensen and those of his trans performers.

Preciado’s most provocative conceit is that he shares the role of Orlando with 20 other trans and nonbinary individuals of different ages, hues and shapes. While Preciado largely remains offscreen, other Orlandos enter and exit, introducing themselves to the camera, talking about their lives and — with both naturalism and charming, at times goofy, theatrical flourishes — playing out scenes from the novel, their words mingling with Woolf’s. Like her Orlando, his travels widely (if on a shoestring budget), undergoes metamorphoses and weaves through the centuries. One Orlando (Amir Baylly) wears a magnificent headpiece and shows off his legs; another (Naëlle Dariya) preens in a billowy wig festooned with tiny ships.

By sharing the role of Orlando, Preciado shifts the story from the individual to the collective, taking it out of the private realm and into the public sphere. This communitarian shift from me to we also allows Preciado to attenuate the familiar documentary binarism (and power dynamic) in which there is one person who films and another who is filmed. Everyone is invited to this party. As Woolf writes, Orlando had “a great variety of selves to call upon”; Preciado similarly calls on a multiplicity of selves, at one point introducing a sweet-faced, pink-haired Orlando (Liz Christin) who visits a psychiatrist, Dr. Queen (Frédéric Pierrot), as other Orlandos chat in the waiting room sharing stories, hormones and laughter.

Liz-Orlando’s mother has sent her to Dr. Queen for dressing like a girl and speaking about herself in the feminine. When the doctor asks Orlando how she believed herself “authorized to wear a skirt as a young man,” she answers that she’s not a man. “So you’re a woman?” the visibly confused shrink asks, brow furrowing. “I wouldn’t exactly say that either,” Orlando says with a Mona Lisa smile. The visit to the psychiatrist’s office takes place fairly early on and while the doctor’s bafflement is played for obvious, somewhat uneasy laughs, his inability (or refusal) to truly see Liz-Orlando has a sharp sting that lingers for the rest of the movie.