und als der prinz mit dem kutscher tanzte, waren sie so schön, daß der ganze hof in ohnmacht fiel: this is the fairy tale title of Ronald M. Schernikau’s novel (1982), a celebration of freedom in the legendary Eighties in West Berlin. This novel is the main inspiration of Jessie Jeffrey Dunn Rovinelli’s So Pretty, whose story reflects the legacy of the text, which is also the object of translation in the film. The text openly refers to a filmic plot, and So Pretty refers to the text, stages the text, and in a way absorbs the text: it is certainly not a question of philology but of performative embodiment, which is doubled by the making-of of this performance itself.
In the intertwining of text, film and performance, it is not easy to follow the line of a story that is made of daily life gestures and calm discussions, but I think that the slippery understanding of the plot of So Pretty is part of its intentions, as it echoes the hybridity and polyvalence of the main characters’ roles. Tonia, Franz, Paul, Erika, and Helmuth are nothing but mobile poles of tension in an apparently undramatic chain of minor events, be they domestic, performative (the reading of the translation of the text) or public (a demonstration in the streets of New York). Their sexual and gender identity remain open or, even better, open to change. They exemplify the opposite of the multiplication of definitions and categories for the LGTBIQ identities. What seems to me to be an interesting predicament of So Pretty is the idea that the relationship makes the gender (and the identity), and it is not the gender that makes clear the range of possibilities of relationships. In this way, one should interpret the notion of “trans” in terms of (constant) fluidity and change.
Now, in Dunn Rovinelli’s world – and partly in Schernikau’s one too – this liquid style of life goes together with a certain coolness. Coolness in the undramatic dramaturgy and in the aesthetic of the film. Through wonderful framings – so pretty… – and slow movements of the camera that imply many hors-champs, our gaze is kept at a distance and in a contemplative mood towards the characters. It is as if we would need a certain amount of static in order to see the fluid and smooth aspects of their world. Does queerness really need coolness? The question remains open, and our experience in So Pretty is both open and special.
Text: Giuseppe Di Salvatore
First published: October 15, 2019