Sunday, July 5, 2015

Simo Halinen's OPEN UP TO ME: the "transgender" film hits its high mark (so far)

Today's western world mostly concerns celebrity, schlock and marketing, right? How else to justify the media time spent on the execrable Bruce-Jenner-becomes-Caitlyn story, worth maybe two minutes of time now stretched to weeks  -- with no end in sight. Boy, those Kardashians sure know how to market, if little else, bringing to mind the old saw about understanding the price of everything and the value of nothing.

And don't tell me the story is so vital and important to the transgender cause. If Jenner were not a semi-celebrity being marketed by a Kardashian, few would give a shit. Instead, we have folk fawning on his/her every breath, as though it mattered more than the breath of any others of us. Laverne Cox -- to mention the other currently "famous" sex change -- has brought a lot of talent and pizzazz to Netflix's Orange/Black series. But Jenner? Nothing more than the need to cling as long as possible to some fractured fame.

The above angry screed is all by way of introducing you to a worthwhile new movie: the best I've so far seen involving transgender (better, even, than Boy Meets Girl, a film I liked very much). Written and directed by Simo Halinen (shown two photos above), OPEN UP TO ME (Kerron sinulle kaiken is the original Finnish language title) tracks the tale of Maarit (the very fine Leea Klemola, just above), a relatively recent man-to-woman transition trying against rather heavy odds to make something of her new life.

To that end, Maarit has had to leave behind a wife and daughter (the former has seen to it that he/she cannot visit the latter) and must labor in the vineyards of the cleaning crews who polish the fixtures in corporate and or professional building bathrooms. One day, thanks to a clever coincidence involving wardrobe and dress-up, a sad-but-hunky psychiatrist's client (Peter Franzén, below) with marital trouble mistakes Maarit for a shrink, and plot begins to bloom.

Soon we (and Maarit) are involved with the hot-looking Sami, his wife (Ria Kataja, below) and daughter -- even as Maarit's life is expanding to include not only an incipient affair with Sami but the opportunity to finally

reconnect with her/his daughter (a sweet, smart performance from new-comer Emmi Nivala, below) and at last involve the girl in his/her new life.

Simultaneously, we meet one of Sami's students whom he coaches in soccer (Alex Anton, below), a young man who proves both bright and quite interested in learning from experience -- which would include as many varied sexual experiences as he can muster.

While the relationship between Maarit and Sami is the major force at work here, the movie's greatest strength comes from its deeper look into the characters on view, together with how something as radical and different as a sex change can make adjustment more than a little difficult for those confined to what can only be called the "normal" camp.

As much as the audience might want love to bloom and prosper, the filmmaker is too wise and realistic to make things simple for his characters. Halinen may use coincidence as an occasional plot device, but when it comes to behavior, he takes his lessons from life rather than from easy fiction.

By the film's conclusion, a number of situations have changed and characters grown and/or come to terms with their inability to grow. Either way, they and we have learned something and in the process quite enjoyed the experience. (The movie's last line is a delight: sharp, moving and very funny.) From Corinth Films and running a swift 95 minutes, Open Up to Me becomes available on DVD this Tuesday, July 7.    

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