Call Me Marianna, a documentary film directed by Karolina Bielawska, awarded at the 55th Film Festival in Kraków, is not a story about a transsexual. It is a story about loneliness, hope and the price one has to pay for it. A magnificent piece of cinema.
Her mother still calls her 'Wojtek', her ex-wife avoids encounters, and the children have completely distanced themselves from her. They are ashamed. Marianna understands their reactions, fears and grudge. But there is no one who would understand her.
Before she had officially become Marianna, she has lived as a man for many years. She had a family, children, and a job at the Warsaw Metro. And she’s had a constant sense of self-disgust. A female’s mind was trapped in Wojtek’s male body. Not until the age of 43 has Marianna realized that she could no longer live as a man. She moved out and filed divorce papers. She has stayed at her parents’, until they wanted to send her to a psychiatric hospital. For a while she slept in the car in order to save money for a sex change operation.
Karolina Bielawska loyally accompanies Marianna in her fight for the right to be herself. The director follows her every step, becoming an important participant in her life. ‘This film (...) is not based on my observations, but on the relationship that has developed between us. To some extent, her life became a part of my life. This is her struggle for acceptance, love and dignity, in which I have participated’ - said the director for Wysokie Obcasy magazine.
The closeness between the author of the film and its protagonist turned out to be the key to success. Call Me Marianna is a motion picture imbued with warmth and empathy. The director follows the emotions of the character, but does not allow herself any sentimentality. Her camera looks closely at the protagonist, listens to her conversations and reveals her daily dealings with life and people. The cinematographer, Kacper Czubak, filmed Marianna in a manner that shows her loneliness and captures the emptiness that surrounds her.
Yet, Karolina Bielawska’s film is primarily a story about loneliness. Not about transsexualism, nor sex change, but about exclusion. By taking up the fight for her life and her identity, Marianna dooms herself to rejection. Family members are unwilling to accept the fact that their husband and father begins to look and act like a woman. Her daughter will not have invited Marianna to her wedding, the wife will be reluctant to answer the phone. And Marianna’s mother will beg her to behave like a normal son.
Rejected by those close to her, Marianna would also feel abandoned by God in whom she strongly believes - especially, at the moment, when she was on an even keel and the fate struck again. Only a few would reach out to her. Among them would be Andrzej, the man met in a sanatorium, who feels love for her, and becomes one of the most beautiful characters in the film.
Bielawska shows Marianna’s path to a new life, while reconstructing the events from her past. She uses the old recordings from the family archive and listens to Marianna’s memories. However, in Bielawska’s film instead of traditional ‘talking heads’ interview footage there are pre-arranged scenes, such as, two actors ( Mariusz Bonaszewski and Jowita Budnik) siting at a small table on the theatre stage reading passages from the play by Bielawska and based on the Marianna’s story. Once again, she can relive the most difficult moments of her life. Bonaszewski plays the role of Wojtek – Marianna’s former male identity, and Budnik – the role of the wife. Marianna listens to their lines, explains the motivations, and cries at times. Now and then, the actors also give up the performance, for they are overwhelmed by emotions and the painful story they partake in.
Call Me Marianna is a film full of tenderness, very intimate and beautiful. It brings tears to the eyes, though not for a moment does it force them. Subtly narrated Marianna’s drama is a lesson in empathy and tolerance.
Mów mi Marianna/ Call Me Marianna, dir. Karolina Bielawska, cinematography: Kacper Czubak, editor: Daniel Gąsiorowski, music: Antony and The Johnsons, Natalia Fiedorczuk.
Author: Bartosz Staszczyszyn, 07.06.2015, transl. GS, June 2015