The Matrioska Dilemma

José Sarmiento of the 2014 Talent Press reviews Sophie Hyde's 52 TUESDAYS, running in Berlinale Generation.

Sophie Hyde's 52 TUESDAYS

52 TUESDAYS (Australia), running in Berlinale Generation, opens with a medium shot of Billie, a 16-year old Australian girl, shooting the gender transition of her mother and also her own internal process, where sexual experimentation and a strange three-way relationship with friends gives way to a path to independence and maturity. There is dexterity and intention in her video, something deeply personal and almost dangerous for a girl her age, but done with courage and determination. The film is both a testimonial art project and a coming of age experience.

Ironically, the limits of 52 TUESDAYS are exactly the opposite of the experimental film made by its protagonist. We don’t see the whole final result; we catch a glimpses of Billie’s project. This very personal style of filmmaking, obviously a merit of Hyde's, is completely drowned in the context of a light comedy, a film about the 52 week period in which Billie’s mother becomes a man. Not to say that everything is a complete comedic meltdown: the intentions of the film-inside-the-film work perfectly, and even the transitions from day to day shows us snapshots of different world events (reminiscent of Godard’s late video essays) in a recount of the 52 Tuesdays the mother and daughter spend together.

There is some diligence in Hyde’s treatment of such a controversial topic, but you can only sugar coat something so far before it's over sweet, and difficult to swallow. The film crosses the line between a sort of experimental intellectual comedy-drama (Miranda July comes to mind) and just a halfhearted film that lacks ambition. With such a delicate topic, you either show all your cards or none.

Maybe Hyde should have re-examined her thinking in the experimental film-inside-the-film to find a more unique angle. Until then, crowd-pleaser comedies will come and go, and so too will this film.