The 35th edition of Festival International du Film Francophone de Namur has begun, and of course we couldn’t miss it for the world. Presenting a wide range of French spoken features and short films, the festival celebrates cinéma as we know it. Our first film is the French/Belgian co-production ‘Miss‘.

When the graceful 9-year-old Alex tells his classmates he wants to be Miss France someday, they make fun of him, because after all Alex is a boy. 15 years later, Alex (Alex Wetter – ‘Kiss Me!‘) has lost his parents and his self-confidence, and lives a rather monotonous life. After an unexpected meeting with a childhood friend, his big dreams and aspirations rush back. Alex, who hardly gets by with the little bit of money he makes, decides to compete in Miss France by hiding his identity as a man. This merciless competition based on beauty, elegance and popularity will test his strength, but with the help of his chosen family, Alex will set off to conquer the title, connect with his femininity and above all, find who he is…

Ruben Alves‘ sophomore film combines heart and laughter in Alex’s exploration of his sexual identity. Friendships are put to the test, while the androgynous looking Alex makes his dreams come true. Even though ‘Miss‘ relies a lot on witty dialogue and ballsy jokes, writers Alves and Elodie Namer (‘The Tournament‘) add just the right amount of emotional depth at the right time. Some twists and turns are too coincidental while some serious conflicts also get resolved too fast in trying to move Alex’s story forward. That doesn’t change the fact the glamour of pageants and Alex’s anonymity within it, both have their own ups and downs.

Luckily, model/actor Wetter knows how to break through gender conforming stereotypes with his appearance, while sending a clear message on gender fluidity. The Miss France pageant isn’t known for being very inclusive, but with themes such as misogyny and the emancipation of women, you’d expect transphobia, or in this case excluding any other phobia pointed towards any form of gender fluidity and sexual identity, to be eradicated by now. Unfortunately, as becomes clear in the film, this isn’t the case. ‘Miss‘ also points at the discrimination of trans sex workers and the constant abuse they have to endure. These themes are rather tough to watch and quite triggering. Alex, becomes victim of such abuse as soon as he embraces his feminine side. Some of these scenes work well and have an empowering effect on Alex, others just don’t make sense whatsoever and are purely added for shock value, done in poor taste.

The combination of heavier themes with comedy create some sort of crowdpleasing effect. That’s mostly due to the fantastic ensemble. Alex’s colourful family of housemates are delightful. The chemistry is off the charts, as they bounce of each other with every line that gets delivered. The camaraderie (or lack thereof) between the beauty queens and organizers doesn’t get explored enough in my opinion, but does have a redeeming factor when we inch closer towards the third act. The cast is strong, with a capital S.

Miss‘ will surprise and even shock audiences that aren’t as open minded, and are expecting something as “simple” as ‘Miss Congeniality‘ or ‘Dumplin‘. Personally, I’ve never seen gender identity, fluidity and androgyny explored and expressed in such a mainstream way as ‘Miss‘ did, so I have to applaud and thank Alves and the entire cast/crew for successfully bringing more diversity to the big screen.

Even though the film falls into a rather typical storytelling structure, tripping over its own story, it always manages to get back up and reach for the next milestone. Miss‘ vulnerability lies underneath a layer of oppressed emotions that so gracefully gets shed by star-in-the-making Alex Wetter. Miss tackles themes such as identity, family and femininity in both hilarious and a beautifully humane style.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

FIFF2020 Review – ‘Miss’

Reviewed online (screening at FIFF2020), October 3, 2020. Rating: TBC. Running time: 107 min.

PRODUCTION: An Other Angle Pictures release of a Chapka Films, Zazi Films production. Producers: Laetitia Galitzine, Hugo Gélin.

CREW: Director: Ruben Alves. Screenplay: Elodie Namer, Ruben Alves. Editing: Valérie Deseine. Cinematography: Renaud Chassaing. Score: Lambert.

WITH: Alex Wetter, Isabelle Nanty, Pascale Arbillot, Thibault de Montalembert, Stéfi Celma, Hedi Bouchenafa, Moussa Mansaly, Quentin Faure, Alexiane Torres, Cécile Rebboah.

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