Queer documentaries have been a vital piece of the LGBTQ culture going back decades before Paris is Burning, but that doesn’t make them any less important.
Directed by Jochen Hick, Queer Exile Berlin (★★★★☆) is the final film in a trilogy of documentaries looking at queerness in Berlin throughout its history.
Focusing primarily on Berlin immigrants, the film looks at the current and recent struggles of queer people to find their happiness in a new home.
We start with Eunice, a trans woman from Portugal who must travel outside of Germany to get trans-affirming surgery. The young girl’s journey into discovering herself quickly illustrates that this documentary gets into all the hard aspects of queer life that feel similar to life in America.
We also follow Haidar, a Syrian refugee trying to survive as a genderqueer artist; Jean-Ulrick, a Haitian artist that moved to Berlin seeking liberty; Monika, a Polish activist; and Mischa, an Armenian performance artist from Russia. The only non-immigrant is Gloria Viagara, the self-proclaimed “oldest drag queen in Berlin,” who has been protesting since before the AIDS epidemic.
The documentary ping pongs back and forth between everyone’s stories, never mixing them but doing its best to give everyone their moment.
With the large number of participants to focus on, keeping track of everything becomes a little confusing, but the film keeps its narrative focused on the journeys it showcases.
There is some lack of focus in its overall goal, at points feeling aimless or unsure of what it is presenting, but it understands to grab the good parts and run with them.
Some of the stories, like Jean-Ulrick’s, don’t entirely feel like they serve the film as effectively as they could, but nothing becomes too frivolous or unnecessary if a little underutilized. The film has a quiet underlying narrative surrounding the queer Berliners who were alive during the HIV/AIDS epidemic but is only lightly touched upon.
The standout theme of the documentary is the universality of queerness and our neverending goal of equal rights. It’s clear that some places are way luckier than others, but the resilience amongst all of them is everpresent and indefatigable.
Haidar’s story about leaving Syria is one of the film’s most resonant, while Monika’s fight for queer equality in Poland is so nervewrackingly courageous that it will make American activists look like daycare workers and could easily hold the entire documentary about herself and her work.
Despite the German setting, the queer struggle in Queer Exile Berlin goes to show how LGBTQ people will always transcend hate. It is an optimistic film that isn’t afraid to show the harsh realities of queer life to thrilling effect.
Queer Exile Berlin plays exclusively in the Virtual Festival through Oct. 29.
Reel Affirmations 2023 includes the Virtual Film Festival, providing online access to 43 films for those film lovers who cannot attend the festival in person, with a viewing window from Oct. 23 to 29.
Browse the full Virtual Festival catalog here.
Buy Virtual Festival passes here.
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