Our Bodies Are Your Battlefield
Our Bodies Are Your Battlefield, directed by Isabelle Solas; courtesy of Reel Affirmations

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The first scene of Our Bodies Are Your Battlefields is par for the course for a story about the transgender community. It opens in an Argentine courtroon, where a judge delivers a sentence for Gabriel David Marino, who brutally killed Diana Sacayán, a transgender woman who dedicated her life to advocating for her community. The judge describes the harrowing details of her murder plainly, while Marino sits, unflinching. Outside the courthouse, trans women hold signs condemning “transvesticido,” or transvesticide. (In Argentina, the term transvestite is embraced by the trans community.)

Then the film takes us to the beach, where Claudia Vásquez Haro, a transgender scholar and activist, runs giddily across the sand with five dogs before joining her mother and sister on a blanket. They giggle and cuddle their pets; it’s a moment of simple, unadulterated joy.

Our Bodies Are Your Battlefields, a documentary from French filmmaker Isabelle Solas, likes to spend time within such juxtapositions. With intimate, lush cinematography, the film follows two trans advocates, Vasquez Haro and Violeta Alegre, and the communities that hold them up in La Plata and Buenos Aires, respectively. Violence and injustice lurk in the film’s background—and occasionally in its foreground—but so do laughter, pleasure, and passion.

Take, for instance, a conversation Alegre has with a friend while they watch a presidential debate ahead of Argentina’s 2019 election. Seated in armchairs, they comment on the failures of neoliberalism and the empty promises of politicians. Then, the topic of conversation becomes candidate Nicolás del Caño’s hair. “Would you do him?” Alegre’s friend asks her, grinning. “I’d have to think about it,” she quips back.

In another scene, Alegre, who works as an anthropologist, visits a group of trans women to interview them about sexual and romantic relationships. The group candidly shares stories of abusive, manipulative interactions. They also share stories of starry-eyed love. A young woman donning space buns and a sports bra confides to her peers that outside of sex work, she prefers to be in relationships with other women. “It’s dirtier,” she says, blushing and beaming. “Tastier.”

The film’s two protagonists are rarely seen together. Vasquez Haro is a Peruvian immigrant who has called La Plata home for decades. She made history as the first trans woman in Argentina to graduate with a doctorate degree. Spirited and bold, Vasquez Haro comes alive when she speaks to crowds at marches and political gatherings. Rights, in her eyes, need to be demanded, and bodies need to be put on the line.

Alegre, meanwhile, lives in Buenos Aires, where she opts for quieter methods of resistance such walking city streets at night to paste posters and vandalize political advertisements. She spends her days conducting anthropological research and running trainings on gender diversity. Gentle and reserved, Alegre often says more with her expressions than with her words.

Their differences echo those that exist between all the women we meet in Our Bodies Are Your Battlefields. Some are immigrants, others are native-born. Some are light-skinned, others are women of color. Some are lesbians, some are straight. Some are sex workers, others believe sex work should be abolished. Solas is uninterested in reinforcing a one-dimensional representation of transness. Reality, her film shows with unadorned honesty, is much richer.

As tends to be the case in real life, Our Bodies Are Your Battlefields  does not revolve around one particular plot, though minor plots emerge. The film follows Argentines as they brace themselves for a presidential election that ends with liberal Alberto Fernández ousting right-wing businessman Mauricio Macri. It follows trans advocates as they battle TERFs who want to see them banned from an annual women’s conference. And it paints a picture of a country in contradiction, simultaneously leading the world in progressive policies for trans people and being the site of cruel violence against the trans community. (The details of this landscape are largely left for the viewer to infer on their own, a choice that succeeds in upholding the film’s verité tone, but may be challenging for viewers unfamiliar with Argentine politics.)

Mostly, though, Our Bodies Are Your Battlefields is a story about people—people who live in contradiction, who love each other, who find ways to laugh even when the future looks grim.

Toward the film’s end, Alegre celebrates her 30th birthday. It brings to mind a fact another woman shared earlier: The life expectancy for trans women in Argentina is around 32. At Alegre’s party, friends and exes and lovers drink and dance under flashing lights. On the dance floor, alive as ever, she slowly touches foreheads with someone, then pulls them in for a long kiss.

Our Bodies Are Your Battlefields, part of Reel Affirmations, screens at 2 p.m. on Oct. 23 at E Street Cinema, 555 11th St. NW. reelaffirmations.org. $10–$175.