Jacob Mendez
Jacob Mendez

“Orlando: My Political Biography”. A naive story about trans people

  • “Orlando – my political biography” is a journey through the meanders of contemporary culture, poetry and art, freely referring to Virginia Woolf. It is the apotheosis of emancipation, visibility and cultural rebellion. At the same time, it is a story about freedom and joy.
  • The film was released on March 29, 2024 in Polish cinemas.

“Orlando” is tiring, unlike reading Virginia Woolf's “Orlando” and the film version of Sally Potter. Paul B. Preciado, the creator of “My Political Biography”, does not believe in the principles of linear storytelling. He assumes that transgenderism involves the blurring, transformation of personality, and failure to recognize applicable rules. I am a woman, I am a man, I am Orlando.

Transgender Paul B. Preciado, philosopher, researcher and activist of transgender people, and previously a gallery curator, is one of the most progressive and non-conformist European philosophers. In the work “Testoćpun”, also published in Poland, he compared his experience of taking testosterone with innovative research on the subject of corporeality and sexuality.

“Orlando symbolizes every transgender person who risks their own life every day, forced to confront the legal system, history and psychiatry, as well as the concept of family and the power of international pharmaceutical companies,” the director emphasizes.

For trans people, Virginia Woolf and her “Orlando,” written in 1928, is a bible. For the first time, Woolf described a gender-changing character without a taboo, judgmental narrative. The characters in the film Preciado play Orlando or suggest playing in the project. We watch transgender kids, teenagers, older people, a huge cross-section, from seven to seventy years old. I am Orlando, I was Orlando, I carry Orlando within me.

Woolf inspires and provokes, without her there would be no film, and yet the problem of the Preciado hybrid is the fact that Woolf, with her ornamentation, indeclination, with rewriting the male narrative into the female one, and vice versa, is absent here.

“My political biography” is coarse, devoid of edges, in fact obvious and naive, proclaiming the obvious in a tone of sulky seriousness. What is a norm and what is the denial of this norm, and how to get out of imposed social or political roles, if it is even possible.

The film's non-binary characters, some of them stylized, but carelessly styled, like characters from Orlando, dressed in costumes from some decrepit theater prop room, talk directly to the camera about their own journey, discovering sexuality or asexuality, whether they feel they are part of a certain gender or whether they are outside of it.

They declare – following Virginia Woolf – fluidity as the basic expression for the interpretation of their personality, they long for freedom in which this fluidity would be collision-free, no one would be outraged, no one would contest it. Such a world appears to be ideal.

Just like in Virginia Woolf's masterpiece, we get four stages of the titular Orlando's metamorphosis: love, poetry, transgression, and finally gender change. The titular political nature of the film is a voice of opposition to the application of binary patterns for corporeality, patterns of body perception by the fashion industry, cinema, and pop culture patterns. Politics is also a rebellion against sanctioned lawlessness against trans people.

The film's characters talk about humiliating visits to the doctor and the thoughtlessness of officials forcing them to clearly declare their gender based on basic documents such as an ID card or passport. These are grim and highly unfair phenomena, and yet I haven't been able to get over them all. The accusatory, strongly ideological tone was juxtaposed with parody, camp and humor. This is queer cinema, but in a slightly outdated approach. As if the ideological claw itself had to be leveled with a feather, pink, camp. To cover, calm down and extinguish what is bitter and violent. It used to work this way, but today it probably shouldn't.

The letters to Woolf recited in front of the camera are merely oratorical displays, some less interesting, some more interesting. They do not arouse the slightest controversy, it is difficult to argue with them, and they do not arouse any vivid emotions.

I heard declarations, I heard previously written stories, I saw not very impressive costumes, but I did not discover a human being there, happy or suffering, I did not see him. And this is probably the biggest problem of “Orlando – my political biography”. As many as twenty-seven heroes, twenty-seven Orlandos and not a single interesting person.

Virginia Woolf would have played it better.


“Orlando – my political biography” (Orlando, ma biographie politique), dir. Paul B. Preciado, France 2023, distributor: Gutek Film, cinema premiere: March 29, 2024.