The Pearl: Trans life, beautifully unembellished
“I’m back to Clark Kent,” says Nina, removing her wig. As she swaps skirt and blouse for shirt and pants, hiding herself within Reinhardt, the camera retreats from her full face to his static profile as s/he drives home to a family that does not know her.
Recalculating, chimes the GPS.
Christopher LaMarca’s documentorial debut The Pearl, condenses several years in the lives of four pacific northwestern transgender women into 120 quietly eloquent minutes. Nina Borsc, however uncertain, gets intimate, well-lit closeups, while Reinhardt is seen from the side, from behind, from afar. For much of the film they share only one narrow diagonal mid-shot, just between profile and full face. Then as they transition, as Nina and Reinhardt are reconciled, so is the camerawork. “We gravitate to things that are raw and unpolished and very close,” says co-director Jessica Dimmock; the result is deeply compelling in its realism.
Unlike LaMarca and Dimmock, the film and TV industry is still unsure about how to approach Trans narratives. Laverne Cox must navigate uncomfortably ignorant interviews, while the producers of Caitlyn Jenner’s canceled reality show can’t get around what the NY Post calls her “boring white-dudeness”—her lack of something flashy, easy to sensationalize. The problem is that these are just people, discovering themselves in ways that often have more to do with discomfort and prejudice than with excitement and glamor.
And that’s where The Pearl comes in. LaMarca and Dimmock eschew sensationalism and narrative momentum for a slice-of-life style shot with a keen eye for everyday beauty and symbolism. They skip the contrived music and probing interviews in favor of undecorated truth. And their documentees are as relatable as they are unique— typical working-class pacific Northwesterners whose changing identity imbues their family lives, vacations, and awkward roommate conflicts with dimension and nuance unexplored by most.
Even Dimmock stumbled upon the endeavor by chance, at a motel near Seattle where her hiking trip intersected with the Esprit conference. Her conversations with the attendees, she says, inspired The Pearl.