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Still from Queendom courtesy of ReFrame Film Festival.

ReFrame Review: Queendom

Written by
Ian Vansegbrook
and
and
January 21, 2024
ReFrame Review: Queendom
Still from Queendom courtesy of ReFrame Film Festival.

Queendom is a film from the depths of Siberia, yet a familiar story to many around the world. It follows Gena Marvin, a drag queen from Magadan, as she copes with Russian society, civil unrest, a less than accepting family, and good ol’fashioned bigotry. 

The film begins in the months leading up to the invasion of Ukraine. We see Gena’s performances mold and shape themselves to fit her experiences as the film goes on. It darkens as Gena is abused and threatened, as her family, whom she relies on, berates and demeans her. It flares as Gena is surrounded by friends, and sings and dances. And when the war, which hangs in the back of one’s mind as they watch the film, rears its ugly head, we see it become a symbol of resistance. 

Gena’s art, as I interpret it, is always shown as being in revolt against their society, but Gena takes it to a new level. They go out as the Russian flag, or wrapped in barbed wire, parading down the streets, throwing their weight in with the millions that reject Putin’s rule. 

The highest praise I can give to this film goes to its candor. As Russia renewed its century-long license as world villain with its “special operation” of Ukraine, I can imagine that for many this would be the first time you’ve ever been given a look at the real Russia. Beyond the dashcam footage of amateur aviation attempts, beyond the horrors of war, beyond the grimacing malice of Putin’s face, it hadn’t occurred to me before watching the film, but outside of what I hear in history class, I have no idea what it’s like to live in Russia. 

Many times throughout the film I found myself watching the setting just as much as I was the narrative, from the dull gray sky hanging over Magadan, to modern Moscow, the stage was so foreign I almost struggled to focus on the protagonist. 

Almost. 

Gena and her costumes are as eye-catching as they are audacious. With a blend of lurid colors and frequent clown imagery, her horror-themed drag makes it impossible to look away, if only out of fright. The outfits are so creative, shocking, invoking uncomfortableness and courage. She artfully uses her drag to display the trauma she’s  sustained under Russian society and laws. These are shown beautifully by the documentary.

I was blown away by the production value. I am by no means a film expert, but the production quality is amazing. I doubt if Disney themselves could have gotten a hold of better cameras. The cinematography, which blends expertly with Gena’s exploits and life, the settings she uses (from the art school, to the otherworldly dunes of Gena’s sorrowful display), all come together as a feast for the eyes. 

The direction is wonderful. It somehow manages to be non-intrusive and all-inclusive. On my second watch I noticed a few pieces of morbid foreshadowing, or mirroring of events.

Queendom is a story of resistance and revelry. It may prove hard to watch for those with familial traumas, and for people who have suffered for being queer, as while the film isn’t cruel, it does not sugarcoat. For those who feel up to watching the film, however, I highly recommend it. It’s an engaging tale of being queer, of being the other, from a country whose citizens are rarely seen.

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