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Trans Memoria

Thailand is the setting for a journey of reflection, identity, and pain in a deeply emotional documentary - from 58th Karlovy Vary International Film, Festival


Painful subject matter is given a personal perspective in this documentary about returning to the past. Mostly filmed in 2019, Swedish writer and director Victoria Verseau chronicles her return to Thailand where, in 2012, she underwent gender-affirming surgery. She comes to the country mourning her friend Meril, a French woman whom she made friends with during surgery, before taking her life in 2015. She comes with two other transitioning women, Athena and Aamina, initially intending for them to play her and Meril in reconstructions, before they become companions in this excavation of her pain.

To call this solely a film about transition would be too simple, although there are many aspects that will feel unique to the Trans or Queer experience. Victoria shows brief glimpses of her operation, before and after, as well as latter footage of her still debating as to how she feels about it. While she is unequivocal about making the right choice, there is a sense of disappointment that this hard-fought victory didn’t solve everything for her. Through conversations with Athena and Aamina, we look at the hard choices that come with the journey trans people take, and the darker side of this struggle. Each woman alludes to suicide as a possibility in their lives, something that is reflected in the high number of suicide attempts among Trans youth. It’s likely many viewers in the community with have their own Meril, and that pain is in some ways cathartic.

It’s clear Verseau has a bleak perspective on life, remarking “our dreams were life threatening. Hope is a dangerous thing for women like us”. It’s all entirely valid, although clearly told from someone still reeling from loss. In that sense, this is the also the story of a grieving friend, searching for small aspects of the first person she met in a similar situation. We see her searching Meril’s old apartment for any shred of recollection from neighbours, and a sad phone call to Meril’s family friend, playing out while the camera looks at mounds of discarded tablet blister packs. It’s here where the film becomes a personal journey rather than a statement about identity, and Verseau gets lost in her own investigation.

Luckily, her companions are on hand to question her, particularly Athena whose blunt retorts seem to change the direction of the film. As Verseau seems to be sinking further into her own sadness, justifying it as showing the darkness and light of the Trans experience, Athena replies “where is the light here?” Verseau never quite answers that, suggesting that perhaps being alive is hopeful in itself. Nevertheless, there are touching moments of sisterhood between the women, all of whom have their own stories and scars, and an ending that seems to point to a brighter future for all involved.

This film is not for the squeamish, featuring many closeups of medical procedures. However, Victoria Verseau’s work is a reminder that there is a prism of emotions that are part of transition, many of which are relatable to anyone. You leave the film hoping all involved find what they’re looking for, and hoping that path of future generations won’t be so difficult.

Trans Memoria just premiered in the 58th Karlovy Vary International Fil, Festival.

By Victoria Luxford - 01-07-2024

London-born Victoria Luxford has been a film critic and broadcaster since 2007, writing about cinema all over the world. Beginning with regional magazines and entertainment websites, she soon built up...

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