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Film of the week Making a spectacle

MARIA DUARTE is impressed by the portrait of a radical queer activist in Putin’s Russia

Queendom (15)
Directed by Agniia Galdanova

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IT takes a certain kind of bravery and fearlessness to be gay and out protesting on Russian streets where homosexuality is persecuted. Queer artist 21-year-old Gena (she/her, non binary) is totally fearless and inspirational as, dressed in flamboyant and otherworldly costumes along with skyscraper high heels, she stages radical performances in public in protest against Putin and his government turning art into activism. 
 
It is exquisite and breathtaking to watch, although agonising when you witness Gena being kicked out of a supermarket by the security guards just because of her unconventional attire, and then being beaten up by abusive locals for a similar reason.  
 
The film, which took four years to make, follows Gena, who was born and raised in Magadan, a frigid outpost of the biggest gulag camp in the Russian Far East. She was brought up by her grandparents following her parents’ deaths and they cannot accept their grandson’s sexuality or lifestyle as a drag artist. 
 
Director Agniia Galdanova interweaves Gena’s striking performances with her day-to-day life including her struggles to be understood by her grandparents who vehemently believe she should be settling down with a wife and kids. 
 
She also finds herself being expelled from college for taking part in a demonstration and being arrested by the police. One joyous highlight comes when she is hired to take part in a fashion show and looks so at home on the runway. The designer tells her she is a beacon of light: “I think you can do the impossible in this country. You are all about art... but you also have substance and can break through barriers.” It is a very moving moment as she is finally seen and praised for her work and who she is. 
 
However, as the Russian invasion of Ukraine looms, along with anti-government war protests at home which are outlawed by the authorities, Gena is called up for compulsory military service. She decides to take drastic action to safeguard her life by leaving her family and her country. 
 
Queendom is a bold and powerful documentary about embracing who you are and also about the danger of being queer in Russia today, and is driven home by this extraordinary young artist whose story will inspire others to accept themselves and share their journeys.

Out in cinemas today

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