Cinequest: Venus

Debargo Sanyal (centre) as Sid with (L to R): Gordon Warnecke, Zena Daruwalla, Jamie Mayers and Pierre-Yves Cardinal in Venus. Dir. Eisha Marjara. Image courtesy of Compass Productions.

In focusing on a transgender woman coming out, Venus is a film that also speaks to the themes of feeling included and wanting to be loved.

When it comes to films with a transgender character in the leading role, it’s very important that their being trans is not the key thing about their character.  Eisha Marjara doesn’t as much focus on Sid Gill (Debargo Sanyal) transitioning in general in as much as the focus is on Sid’s newly discovered relationship with her son, Ralph (Jamie Mayers).

Like any family, Sid’s parents (Zena Daruwalla, Gordon Warnecke) are placing so much pressure on Sid when it comes to marriage.  Sid’s mom wants grandchildren and while Sid isn’t focusing on marriage, fate has something else in store.  Sid is being followed by a 14-year-old child, who turns out to be his son, Ralph.  Following a run in at the park, Ralph later knocks on Sid’s door only to discover a woman answering the door.

In learning that his biological father is transgender, Ralph finds it very cool.  The film shows the difference between the two generations.  Unlike Ralph, Sid’s parents have that struggle, with his mom crying out, “It would have been better if you were dead!”  Sid’s dad takes the news a bit better but this is where the film shows the generational differences.

While Ralph spends so much time hanging out with Sid, he lies to his mom, Kirsten (Amber Goldfarb), and step-dad, Max (Peter Miller), about his true whereabouts.  Meanwhile, Sid’s own boyfriend, Daniel (Pierre-Yves Cardinal), doesn’t want to tell his family about Sid nor is he at a point in life where he wants to have step-children.  It’s truly a modern family when all is said and done.

What’s also great with exploring themes of gender identity and cultural heritage is that it gives Venus an opportunity to boast a diverse cast.  This is in part due to the major characters being of South Asian heritage.  The casting speaks to one of the film’s themes of inclusiveness.

In casting the film, filmmakers missed a real opportunity for a transgender person to take on the leading role.  Instead, Sid is portrayed by a cisgender male.  This wasn’t the first time that Sanyal has played a transgender character in the play, When January Feels Like Summer.  Transgender women don’t really get the opportunity to take on leading roles all that often.  There is an argument to be made, however, in favor of a cisgender male because Sid has yet to start hormones.  There’s the question at hand of whether this is something that be allowed to slide.  On the other hand, actress Judy Virago, who plays Sid’s friend Sylvia, is transgender and frequently serves as a transgender content consultant and C.T. Thorne, who plays Mira, uses they/them pronouns.

Venus could have gone in a lot of different directions but it stays grounded through Sid’s growing relationship with her son.

DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER:  Eisha Marjara
CAST:  Debargo Sanyal, Jamie Mayers, Pierre Yves Cardinal, Zena Daruwalla, Gordon Warnecke, Amber Goldfard, Peter Miller, Judy Virago, CT Thorne

Venus premiered last October at the Festival du Nouveau Cinema and will hold it’s US premiere this weekend at the 2018 Cinequest Film & VR Festival.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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