To be trans is to discover the backstage of sexual and gender difference—to understand that a society is a collectively constructed set and that masculinity and femininity are political fictions which we have learned to perceive as natural through repetition and violence. — Paul B. Preciado, Orlando, ma biographie politique
Swooning under the possibilities inherent in poetic thought transformed by performance as a means of projection into other worlds, other lives—“literature-sickness,” in the words of one character—the voices in the film ORLANDO: MY POLITICAL BIOGRAPHY release the Woolf classic from its aristocratic prison to create new paradigms for gender fluidity.
As written and directed by theorist Paul B. Preciado, Orlando is legion. Before relaying, in multiple vignettes, their thoughts and experiences, most of the characters introduce themselves with the words, “In this film I’ll be Virginia Woolf’s Orlando.” Conversations about identity, presentation, doctor visits, and the traps of the binary take on a surrealist edge, as one Orlando—a knight in chainmail—endures online harassment and medical quacks prescribing “Diazepan and draughts of peacock gall.”
A little more than a third of the way into the film, transwoman Julia takes center stage and begins an astonishing monologue:
Sunk for a long time in profound thoughts as to the value of obscurity and the delight of having no name but being like a wave which returns to the deep body of the sea—thinking how obscurity rids the mind of the irk of spite and envy, how it sets running in the veins the free waters of generosity and magnanimity, and allows giving and taking without thanks offered or praise given. Which must have been the way all great gender poets lived. Coccinelle and Marsha P. Johnson built their bodies and their lives like others built cathedrals.
In a somewhat sardonic voiceover, Preciado avers that he can’t write his own biography because Woolf has beaten him to it. Pushed into a new medium, the radical author reinvents himself once again. With this extraordinary work—joining the ranks of such recent cinematic marvels as Saim Sadiq’s Joyland, Andrea Pallaoro’s Monica, and Chase Joynt’s Framing Agnes—Preciado has given us a trans film for the ages.
ORLANDO: MY POLITICAL BIOGRAPHY screens this week as part of AFI Fest 2023 and opens in New York and Los Angeles in November. See info and link below for details.
ORLANDO: MY POLITICAL BIOGRAPHY
Written and directed by Paul B. Preciado
AFI Fest 2023
Friday, October 27, at 6:45 pm
6801 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles
Opens Friday, November 10:
Q & A with Paul B. Preciado
Friday and Saturday, November 10 and 11, after 7 pm show
209 West Houston Street, New York City
Opens Friday, November 17:
11523 Santa Monica Boulevard, West Los Angeles
November 17, 21, and 24
1822 North Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles
See: “Orlando,” edited by Tilda Swinton, special issue, Aperture 235 (Summer 2019).
Virginia Woolf, Orlando: A Biography  (New York: Penguin, 2019). Orlando is a satirical novel published in the form of an imaginary biography of the family of Woolf’s friend and lover Vita Sackville-West.
Paul B. Preciado, Orlando: My Political Biography (2023), stills (7) courtesy and © Sideshow and Janus Films.