B!KE
Statement House
Theatre Trent 2022
Arthur News School of Fish
Noah and Coraci Ruiz photographed for Ruiz's film 'Threshold.'

ReFrame Review: Threshold

Written by
Evan Robins
and
and
January 24, 2022
ReFrame Review: Threshold
Noah and Coraci Ruiz photographed for Ruiz's film 'Threshold.'

Despite the rise in cultural awareness of the transgender liberation movement, and queer issues more broadly, media which tactfully depicts the trans experience remains exceedingly rare. It’s not that it doesn’t exist full stop, but rather that where it does it either falls short of a fully empathetic, humanizing depiction of trans people and their lived experiences, or it actively perpetuates harmful stereotypes, preconceptions, and rhetoric which contribute to cultural transphobia at large. In short, for the trans community the best representation we get can be generally said to be “not good enough,” while the absolute worst remains venomous, vilifying propaganda. 

Furthermore, I see far more media which portrays trans experiences in works of fiction than in undramatized, non-fiction works. Certainly, there exist pockets of informative, even academic work about trans people, but the subject remains isolated in spaces like academia or longform video essays on YouTube, neither of which occupy a central space in popular culture. What we’re left with then is the likes of Dallas Buyers Club, Euphoria, and The Danish Girl, which (while depending on the property may or may not be sympathetic to the trans experience) continue to perpetuate certain narratives about transness, all while glorifying and dramatizing transition and trans living as other and alien. Even Disclosure, one of the few mainstream examples of popular documentary film about the trans experience, similarly struggles to be its own thing, as it focuses purely on the history of trans representation rather than articulating its own account of the trans experience. For these reasons I must congratulate Threshold, a 2021 documentary and entrant in the 2022 ReFrame Film Festival. 

The film, directed by Coraci Ruiz, follows the gender transition of her son, Noah, as told through recollections, home films, and testimony from Ruiz herself, her son, and his grandmother. Set against the backdrop of generations of political upheaval in Brazil, Threshold manages to balance an intimate, focused story with considerations of larger social issues and how political struggle, feminism, and transness interlock in various ways. Transness in media is typically a North American consideration, with very few popular examples of films or television which deign to show trans people outside of the United States or Canada. Threshold is thus insightful into a broader vision of the trans experience, outside of the recycled narratives to which we’re often treated. 

As much as this film centres a particular experience in Noah’s transition, it still manages to speak to a universal experience that many trans people relate to. Even despite the translation barrier, the technical construction Ruiz’s film is exemplary in articulating emotion and atmosphere through careful layering of clips, interviews, and voice-over. The cinematography is intimate, subdued, dream-like at times. The sound is naturalistic. The documentary feels like flipping through a scrapbook. 

Few examples of trans narratives are able to encapsulate generational stories as effectively as Threshold does. Because we have lost so many elders of the trans community to AIDS, sexual violence, police brutality, conversion therapy and other systemic issues, depictions of older trans people are scarce, and the few surviving examples like Paris is Burning, John Water’s filmography or Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground’s work with trans performers remain precious records for queer people today. Conversely, trans youth of mine and Noah’s age are still relatively young and have mostly had to make our own way. Ruiz connects the social upheaval of her mother’s generation to that of her son, linking the intertwining legacies of second-wave feminism and the fight for trans liberation.

Ultimately Threshold is a subdued viewing experience. There are few moments of great upheaval, no sweeping revelations and no heightened sense of urgency or drama. It feels naturalistic, both as a film and an account of peoples’ lives. The short runtime but deliberately careful pacing forms a wonderful balancing act, and overall the film demonstrates a great deal of care, thought, and vulnerability on the part of all those involved. The film reminds me of my own experiences with my mother over the course of my transition and highlights the quiet complexity of the relationships between mother and child. While the film does not show anything which would be particularly revelatory for most trans people, the intimacy of the production remains cause to watch it, nonetheless. For cis allies, especially parents, there’s likely a lot more to be gleaned from the complications of familial relationships which Threshold explores, and makes this documentary well worth consideration.

Threshold/Limiar will be screened at ReFrame Film Festival's 2022 online program which runs January 27th to February 4th.

B!KE
Statement House
Theatre Trent 2022
Arthur News School of Fish
Written By
Sponsored
B!KE
Statement House
Theatre Trent 2022
Arthur News School of Fish

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