Celebrating its 25th birthday, Ma Vie en Rose remains a perfectly pink, life-affirming marvel
NOTE: This feature originally appeared in the December 23, 2022 edition of the Seattle Gay News. It is reprinted here by permission of the publisher Angela Craigin.
I shudder to think what the reaction would be if Alain Berliner’s dreamlike fairy tale of gender identity and familial acceptance, Ma Vie en Rose, were released today. Based on a story by Chris Vander Stappen — who co-wrote the screenplay with the director — this award-winning 1997 drama revolves around seven-year-old Ludovic (Georges Du Fresne). The precocious and outspoken child begins wearing dresses, announces to the world they’re a girl, and insists they are going to marry their best friend, Jérôme (Julien Rivière), when both of them are older.
In 1997 I was still enrolled at the University of Washington, struggling to get by. I was a depressed mess on the verge of flunking out, my inability to deal with my gender identity issues sending my grades into the toilet. Turns out, if you don’t go to class, don’t keep up with the reading, and don’t go over any of the class notes, it’s remarkably difficult to pass any of the exams. Who knew?
I didn’t get to the theater to watch Ma Vie en Rose until early in 1998, heading to the Varsity in the U-District alone as I wasn’t sure I wanted my roommate or my girlfriend to see my reaction. I knew all about the film. The reception had been almost universally rapturous, and the buzz was strong. But I had no idea how this tale would hit me, especially because at that moment I was certain I was destined to live a lie for the remainder of my presumably short life.
Berliner’s drama was a shock to my system. The compassion. The understanding. The childlike majesty of its P.O.V. The way the story never mocks or makes fun of its primary characters, treating them instead with love, respect, and understanding. As fantastical and dreamlike as some elements become, this grounded approach was shockingly ahead of its time, and a quarter century later I’m still gobsmacked the movie saw the light of day in the first place.
Times have changed and certain elements are a little dated. Some terminology has evolved, and there are reactions from several of the characters that border on the exploitive, and maybe even grotesque, if viewed under a modern spotlight. But Berliner and Stappen get so much right, these pieces strike me more as wonderful examples of how society has matured more than they are anything to be angry about.
For me, Ma Vie en Rose is so decidedly personal a viewing experience it’s difficult to imagine a world in which the film does not exist. While I didn’t quite know it in that first moment, viewing it was a cathartic stepping stone into accepting who I am and doing something about it. If a seven-year-old could show this type of courage, even in a fictional environment, how could I not do the same as an adult?
Michèle Laroque and Jean-Philippe Écoffey are delightful as Ludovic’s initially bewildered parents, Hanna and Pierre. These performances light up the screen. They have a genuine vitality that’s sublime, and just the thought of seeing them educate themselves as their child blossoms in ways they never could have anticipated brings on a tidal wave of happy tears.
What’s astonishing is how real Hanna and Pierre are. While how they would talk about their child and what they would do to research what is going on would be far different today, that does not make these parents any less authentic. I watched their reactions and fantasized how it would go with my parents if I told them all that was swirling inside my own head, and I couldn’t help but dream it would go equally as well.
I’m one of the lucky ones, as it did go just as well with my mother and father. Heck, it went even better because this was real life and not a motion picture. While there were countless questions, and while the road hasn’t always been smooth, my parents have both been there with me for every step of my journey. They don’t always understand and they sometimes get things wrong, but their love has never faltered, not for a second, and I’d be lying if said I had the right words to describe how humbling and awesome that is.
So it breaks my heart to think how Berliner’s masterwork would be treated in the darker corners of the current zeitgeist if it were released today. With all that’s happening in the world, with the hellscape of disinformation disseminating across social media and with right-wing politicians belligerently trying to eliminate discussions of gender identity from the marketplace of ideas (and thus erasing Transgender individuals entirely), my heart aches at the thought of how such a sweetly empathetic story such as this would be derided.
But I want to focus on the positive. Like Ludovic, I marvel at the wonderful, magical mystery that is life. All these years later, Ma Vie en Rose remains a rapturous miracle. I’m elated that the film exists in the first place. That 25 years later it also remains an incisive, euphorically life-affirming marvel is pink icing on the cake.
Now celebrating its 25th anniversary, Ma Vie en Rose is currently unavailable on domestic DVD. It is available to rent or buy digitally on multiple platforms.