For most people, the many videos and images from their childhood are just a source of nostalgia, or even a portal to a lost time. But for Stephane Riethauser, a Swiss LGBT activist and filmmaker, these videos and photographs from his childhood and youth are remains of a time when he was not himself. These are images which have to be deconstructed, in his journey to discover his true self.
Stephane’s documentary Madame , screened in the ‘Archive as memory’ category in the ongoing 12th International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala (IDSFFK), is structured as a conversation between him and his grandmother.
These conversations are mostly from archival footages, shot in super 8 camera by his father or by Stephane himself, both in his childhood and youth.
But where he subverts the whole thing is with his brisk narration, deconstructing many of his images from the childhood and youth.
A defence mechanism
In his present position as a gay, he questions the ‘alpha male’ version of himself that he sees in the footages.
He identifies it as a defence mechanism of a youngster who is troubled at the fear of his real sexual orientation being discovered by those around him. He does all the expected ‘macho’ things, even enlisting in the military. In one delightful sequence, he plays an old black and white short film made by his father soon after his wedding. Stephane says that he used to enjoy this video as a child, but now the problematic way that the woman, his own mother, is portrayed troubles him.
The gender roles that society has fixed for women are elaborated upon in the grandmother’s recollections too. The grandmother but breaks these roles in later years, living a full life as the strong-willed matriarch, who cares much for her grandchild.
In more recent footages, we see Stephane as a young law graduate taking conservative positions in public platforms, and writing opinion pieces against progressive feminist politician in a newspaper.
By the end of it though, as he discovers his true identity, he shifts from these conservative positions, evolving as a more open-minded human.