Clocking in at just under an hour, Bambi is a simple documentary about one trans woman and the struggle and beauty that was her life. This woman is Marie-Pierre Pruvost, a cabaret performer turned university professor, now being immortalized on film as one of the first French women to transition.
Born with the name Jean-Pierre, Marie-Pierre “refused to accept the idea that being born a boy meant they could make me into a boy.” She recalls her childhood while being interviewed and later walks through the streets she once knew, reminiscing in this now foreign world. Director Sébastien Lifshitz takes a strikingly simple approach to presenting the documentary. He and editor Tina Baz smartly mix the new interview footage with photographs and old film footage that Marie-Pierre had kept over the years in a video diary. It’s a smart presentation, but it would be nothing without this woman’s recollections.
“If there was one thing I categorically rejected, it was the idea of belonging to a world of homosexuals. That was out of the question for me. I wasn’t one and had no desire to be one, because being homosexual once again means being a man. But what I am is a woman.” And what a woman she is. From the minute the documentary starts, there is no doubt in one’s mind that Pruvost is a woman. No misgendering, no input from anyone else; it’s just her story told from her perspective. Yet, as she tells, an astounding amount of people in her past were unwilling to recognize that. Her mother tried forcing her to be a boy, her first love tried the same and rejected her when he failed to make her think she was a gay man, and even the drag queens at the Carrousel de Paris where she worked for years didn’t offer a breath of fresh air.
She discusses how critical the drag queens and other cabaret performers were of trans women on hormones, saying things like “hormone girls die a horrible death” and “you want to live as a woman, but you can’t change who you are” among other, harsher words. As inspiring as her life is, punctuated by her discovering the joys of teaching and being in stable relationships with both men and women, it’s still a disheartening story to listen to. Not simply in the fact that Marie-Pierre had to deal with this, but in the fact that not a lot has changed since then. Trans people are still shamefully treated by the rest of the queer community, be it in regards to dating or rights or willingness to let them lead the lives they deserve.
The only thing Lifshitz can be faulted for is not making this longer than an hour so we could hear more about her life and experiences. While reflections on her childhood, cabaret work, and transition are prominent, her first relationship with a woman and her progression into teaching were almost glossed over. As things that are representative of the woman she’s become, it would have been nice to hear more about those, but all in all, it’s a minor complaint considering the fact that Bambi is already one heck of a look at the life of this woman.
Bambi is only available on Amazon on Non-US, Region 2 Format DVD, but features English subtitles nevertheless.
Directed by Sébastien Lifshitz; starring Marie-Pierre Pruvost; 58 minutes.