> Orlando, My Political Biography – moving and insightful commentary on Virginia Woolf novel (documentary review) - SNACK: Music, film, arts and culture magazine for Scotland

Orlando, My Political Biography – moving and insightful commentary on Virginia Woolf novel (documentary review)

This moving, insightful documentary bends time, genre and convention with its commentary on Virginia Woolf’s novel, Orlando, via the voices of over 20 trans and non-binary people. 

The first film from acclaimed writer and activist Paul B. Preciado, Orlando, My Political Biography explores how Woolf’s central character, Orlando, has grown beyond its literary roots to underpin the experience of all contemporary trans and non-binary people. 

This multi-generational collective of new ‘Orlando’s’ – adopting the moniker of the novel’s central character, a nobleman who one day wakes up as a woman – uses Woolf’s narrative as the spine of the film. Published in 1928, Orlando was an extremely unusual novel in its time, to portray a character changing gender in the middle of the story was unheard of. Ground-breaking in its day and beyond, Preciado celebrates this enduring legacy whilst interrogating its contemporary relevance.

Power of art

The central characters, the present-day ‘Orlando’s’, intersperse Woolf’s words with their own experiences of trans identity. Throughout the film, these ‘Orlando’s’ create a chorus that harmonises with Preciado’s manifesto: a desire for evolution from rigid gender binaries, and the power of art to achieve this. 

The fluidity of Orlando is mimicked by the experimental feel of Preciado’s film, which takes documentary convention and bends it into a whole new shape. Within this framework, our fundamental understanding of storytelling begins to shapeshift. The film’s unifying force is the feeling of community and lineage that pours out of the experiences of our present-day ‘Orlando’s’. It is this sense of the shared heritage of trans identities that gives the film such depth. 

Blurs boundaries

A moving work of fiction/non-fiction, Orlando, My Political Biography blurs boundaries in its excavation of what it means to tell the story of who we are. Its sensitive tone balances denser intellectual concepts on a tight rope that leaves lots of room for playfulness. Creativity abounds in this film, giving Orlando many lives beyond Woolf’s fiction and, in doing so, giving the ‘Orlando’s’ the space to create their own work of art. Or, as the film gently nudges us, perhaps they are already living it. 

Orlando, My Political Biography is released in UK and Irish cinemas 5 th July 2024. Certificate TBC / Running time 102 minutes.


Featured Photo Credit: Orlando, My Political Biography

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