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Tiresia (2003)
Director: Bertrand Bonello

review by Paul Higson

Drawing on a tale from Greek mythology, Tiresia is reinterpreted as an illegal Brazilian immigrant in Paris fending for herself as a transsexual prostitute. A poet named Terranova becomes transfixed with her on one of his visits to what he calls his 'rose garden', a country lane teeming with pricelist trans-sexuals, having overheard her in light song. He imprisons the unfortunate beauty in his quarters where she begins to regress without her hormone treatment. Terranova, preferring his beauty clean-shaven, flips his wig, sledgehammers his favourite hedgehog and gouges her eyes out. Blinded, she is bundled into the back of the car and dumped out in the country. There, she is found by a young woman, who nurses her until Tiresia is indisputably a 'he' again, and played by a different actor of different sex.

His fifth sense is replaced by a sixth sense, the gift of foresight. But these are acts against which the taking of reductive action is futile, they cannot be prevented, they will happen. When a man travels far to seek advice on a son who refuses to leave his room, Tiresia is at pains to explain that 'a drama' awaits the father "at home in Nimes." The son has already thrown himself from a window to his death. The local priest, Pere Francois, finds he retains his flock but not the full attention when their new neighbour sports a miraculous visionary skill. "They trust me with the trivial. They trust Tiresia with their souls." He means to stop Tiresia, but Tiresia fails even to inculpate himself with blasphemy, refuting the priest's subtle allegations of dealing in miracles and that he should not be seen as a religious vessel. Tiresia's ignominiousness under these conditions troubles Pere Francois all the more deeply and commits the final crime against Tiresia.

The critics were largely against Bertrand Bonello's last film The Pornographer. Oh no, not I! (You can find my favourable review elsewhere on Videovista.net). This time everyone is moderately pleased. There is significant, intriguing play in the film, and we are all apparently suckers for a bit of that. It opens with shots of lava flow and there is a seismic narrative shift initiated by the actions of a character named Terranova. The film is split in two with the role of Tiresia taken by two performers, female and male in order, Clara Choveaux, and Thiago Teles. Terranova and Pere Francois, however, the perpetrators of the terrible crimes against Tiresia, are one actor, Laurent Lucas (Harry, He's Here To Help), and a curious balance is achieved.

Tiresia's demure rescuer Anna is played by the tranquil Celia Catalifo, and her father is the veteran actor Lou Castel. It is an absurd film but is touchingly shot and sturdily run out, its excesses played out without fanfare. In each half of the film Tiresia is given the opportunity of anguished cries that tear through you, in which Choveaux as the edge, but only just so, over her counterpart. The eyeless Tiresia in the back of the car, shivering with shock, settling into unconsciousness as the streetlamps flicker in bars of light across the horror of her bloody sockets is a compelling close to the first half of the film. There is a clever laying-down of sound. During one of the captive Tiresia's screaming fits there is a quick switch from the room to a long shot in the autumnally at siege garden and the hollering is muted by the walls that keep her, it is enough and not necessarily enough to alert others to her abduction. The chin burr is unconvincing on the attractive Clara but a certain prosthetic could have been borrowed from Dirk Diggler. Even when the story is on a go-slow Bonello appears to be showing us something. With the camera we kerb crawl the lane of transvestite whores until we feel guilty of one thing or another, at the very least the timidity to amuse oneself at some of the unfortunate results from attempts to redesign themselves. Bonello will hopefully continue to affect, perturb and activate the minds of viewers. Perhaps some will go back and renew their opinion on The Pornographer now.
Tiresia

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