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(The Maryland Film Festival ran May 2-6 in, you guessed it, Maryland. We have a slew of reviews coming your way so keep your dial tuned to HtN!)

Director Sophie Dros, making her documentary-feature debut, asks essential questions about the nature of sex and identity, calling into question the absolutes by which far too much of humanity chooses to live. Indeed, what is choice and what is destiny? Ironically, the choice to be accepting (or not) is often in direct opposition to the lack of choice faced by those who exist outside of societal norms. In the very recent past (and still, for many, the very real present), discussions of sexual orientation occupied the frontlines of gender politics. Today, there are new letters added to the long-serving LGB (Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual), including TQIAPK. It’s understandable that folks who wish to just go about their daily routines in peace – who are content with who they are – might not care about such things. That is no excuse, however, for the cisgender among us to direct hostility at their less rigidly defined brothers and sisters. Fortunately for all, then, we have Genderbende, to show us a better way.

This illuminating exploration of gender follows five individuals in the Netherlands who identify as “genderqueer” and thereby defy the heretofore accepted male/female dichotomy. Three of Dros’ subjects started life as biological men; they now adopt hairstyles, clothing and mannerisms that society reads as feminine. The two other characters – twins, actually – are biological women; they possess many ostensibly masculine characteristics. All are comfortable existing in the gray zone between genders. With grace, humility and no small amount of bravery, they offer themselves as examples of the inadequacy of categorization.

Beyond the lovely, intimate stories she gathers, Dros employs a terrific visual device to demonstrate the absurdity of definitions: a glass wall on which her subjects draw a line – with male on one end and female on the other – and try to place themselves within it, marker in hand. They stand on the opposite side of the wall from the camera, and we watch as they struggle to find their proper position on the line, occasionally laughing and shrugging off the whole notion. Indeed, the joy and love of self-discovery propels the movie towards its extremely satisfying conclusion, leaving us happy to have spent time in the company of these gentle, good souls. The human condition has rarely felt so rich with possibilities.

[In Dutch, with English subtitles.]

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is: lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; editor at Film Festival Today; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the founders and former cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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