Virginia Woolf’s novel “Orlando: A Biography” charts 300 years in the life of a male nobleman who, beginning in the times of Elizabeth I, eventually experiences an unexplained sex change at age 30. Orlando then lives the rest of her days as a woman. The 1928 book remains a classic of gender and feminist studies but is largely considered the first great work of trans fiction, later inspiring Sally Potter’s own 1992 movie, “Orlando,” with Tilda Swinton.
Now, the book is the subject of trans theorist Paul B. Preciado’s “Orlando, My Political Autobiography,” a playful French-language cinema essay in which more than 20 trans and non-binary people take on the role of Orlando, using Woolf’s words to ground their own experiences. It sounds heady and challenging on paper, but Preciado’s film is an irreverent mix of art-directed social manifesto and moving documentary in which individuals recount less their struggles for acceptance than their triumphs and pride in their identity. “Orlando” received four prizes at the Berlin Film Festival before heading to the Telluride, Toronto, and New York film festivals.
More here from the official synopsis: “Come, come! I’m sick to death of this particular self. I want another.” Taking Virginia Woolf’s novel “Orlando: A Biography” as its starting point, academic virtuoso turned filmmaker Paul B. Preciado has fashioned the documentary as a personal essay, historical analysis, and manifesto. For almost a century, Woolf’s eponymous hero/heroine has inspired readers for their gender fluidity across physical and spiritual metamorphoses over a 300-year lifetime. Preciado casts a diverse cross-section of trans and non-binary individuals in the role of Orlando as they perform interpretations of scenes from the novel, weaving into Woolf’s narrative their own stories of identity and transition. Not content to simply update a seminal work, Preciado interrogates the relevance of Orlando in the continuing struggle against anti-trans ideologies and in the fight for global trans rights.
Janus and Sideshow Films release “Orlando, My Political Autobiography” on November 10 in New York City and November 17 in Los Angeles, with an expansion to follow. IndieWire shares the exclusive trailer below.