Screened as part of NZIFF 2002
Respecting your father’s right to dress in women’s clothing could be a stretch for most adolescent males. Acknowledging that your father is a woman might well prove impossible. And yet, in 25-year-old Even Benestad’s elegantly documented account of life with his transvestite father, the tension between supremely self-assured father and disenchanted son seems as familiar as the Oedipus complex.
Ebsen Benestad began dressing in women’s clothing when he was 12. He managed to keep his female alter-ego, Esther Pirelli, under cover until sprung by his wife, the filmmaker’s mother, after several years of marriage. Two decades, a divorce and a new marriage later, Esther flourishes as Norway’s champion of transgender rights, while Ebsen, the well-respected small-town doctor, is less and less to be seen. Benestad Jr is able to draw on a telling selection of family movies; and he lets Ebsen and Esther strut their stuff for his own camera. He interviews them both, along with his sister, his mother and Elsa, Ebsen’s second wife, a sexologist whose acceptance of Esther has been a major factor in Esther’s liberation. These people are admirably adept and concise in the language of psychological trauma. Without a hint of neurotic prevarication, Benestad Jr tackles the painful questions head-on, inviting us to consider how becoming what we truly feel ourselves to be can affect the equally valid needs of people closely related to us. — BG
My father gave this statement in a personal interview during the production of the pilot. ‘I would think that if someone should say something about me that was true, it would be that I am incredibly egocentric and self-occupied. And I am. Sometimes it becomes too much and I offend people. Other time I think it is important to act the way I do in order to change the world.’ The quote paints a good picture of the essence of the film. During a telephone conversation with Dad, I said that we also needed to have pain and sensitivity in the film, Dad’s immediate response was ‘What pain? What sensitivity? I cannot see any great conflicts in our family…’ — Even Benestad