A suburban fairytale like no other, the debut film of Belgian director Alain Berliner, Ma Vie en Rose is all about appearances, prejudice and the corrosive effects of peer pressure-adult and child-driven alike.Seven year old Ludovic (Georges du Fresne) sometimes called Ludo, has two desires only in life: to become a girl, and marry his cheeky little next-door-neighbour, Jerome (Julien Riviere) who seems perfectly willing. Guided by Pam (the Barbie-esque fairy godmother who appears in her own kids’ TV show) in his mind, it’s all so simple.
In the real world, however, it’s another story entirely. Jerome’s father Albert (Daniel Hanssens) is Ludo’s dad’s boss, and his right-wing belief system doesn’t chime with a boy in a dress who may or may not be trans-gender, and innocently desirous of his son- particularly as he and his similarly uptight wife Lisette (Laurence Bibot) are living with their own secrets. But closets have a way of spilling open.
The film may be painted in sweet candy colours and dappled sunlight, but there are plenty of poignant moments which pull no punches, given the less-than-enlightened attitudes of the suburb dwellers.Cliches are eschewed for invention. There’s no easy resolution offered here,no feel-good montage. The film offers twin perspectives: of Pierre (Jean Phillippe Ecoffey) and Hanna (Michele Laroque) and their struggle to deal with the implications of their son’s predilections; and that of Ludo’s, as he can’t understand why he’s being taught that ‘things that are bent are wrong’, or wearing female clothes causes such an uproar.After all, as he learns about chromosomes, he thinks the XY assigned to him fell into a bin and he received an extra X instead.
From the introductory barbeque welcoming the family to the neighbourhood, where Ludo borrows his sister’s pink dress, to the hompohobic beatings he receives at school and a reputation for ‘unorthodox behaviour’ spreading throughout the town,ultimately forcing the whole family out, the ‘girl-boy’,as Ludo describes himself, holds his head high. The quiet, resilient self-determination is never campy, preachy or Hollywood-lite, proving Europeans just have a knack of making sweet but intelligent films which cut to the heart of humanity.
The entire cast are wonderful, du Fresne a heart-breaking, doe-eyed, smart kid; Riviere also wonderful as the neighbour who sees nothing wrong ,only his pal, and the imperious mother Hanna is complex-Michele Laroque ‘s portrayal is brilliant, veering between narrow-mindedness,to resentment, to the realisation she may lose her child forever by shutting him out.
Ironically, only four adult characters in the film will initially give Ludovic a chance: his Granny Elisabeth (Helene Vincent) desperate to cling onto her looks, somewhat bemused but trying to remain open-minded; his teacher (Anne Coesens) who gives a talk to the kids saying that everybody is different, his psychologist (Marie Bunel) and a surprise character towards the end- no spoilers here. It’s strange to think such a film was such an anomaly in the late 90s, but there are few which deal so open-heartedly with prejudice around burgeoning sexuality, particularly in children. Nowadays, the audience would possibly appear in droves, but this witty, lovely and poignant film was only ever a niche success. Time for a reappraisal.It’s a rare thing of compassion and poetic beauty, almost twenty years on.