Clyde Petersen’s autobiographical animated feature film is this year’s Centrepiece Screening at BFI Flare. A tale of queer prepubescence, Petersen articulates the fleeting memories of a cross-country road trip he took with his paranoid-schizophrenic mother in striking visual imagery, made all the more impactful by the film’s wordlessness.
Petersen’s puppet self-portrait expresses the anxiety of growing up through a wide-eyed witness to the bizarreness of the world. Most striking is the lucidity with which he uses paper to express what is ineffable: the feeling that you were born the wrong gender. The naked female figure of his mother that emerges from the shower provokes an experience of bodily dysphoria that is illustrated in frighteningly animate scenes of overgrown breasts and freakishly multiplying progeny.
The second part of the transgender odyssey leaves the domestic for more sweeping panoramas of the American landscape, shot as if seen from the passenger seat of a car. A drive through the desert impressionistically captures the Grand Canyon almost in a Georgia O’Keeffe New Mexico style of madness. The flickering waves of the San Diego seashore nicely translate into the stop motion papery texture, setting the pace of the film as it journeys from place to place.
Early adolescence is captured with bittersweet accuracy. Most heartbreaking of all is the depiction of his mother’s vulnerability in a world of oversaturated televisual imagery. It’s very likely that this tale of a single mother and her queer son will go on to be compared to Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight.
For a feature-length film that has almost exclusively no dialogue, Clyde Petersen’s ability to articulate the anxieties of early adolescence so accurately is an exceptional achievement of queer cinema. Both sweetly funny and heartbreakingly poignant, there is so much to love about Torrey Pines.
CAST: Susie Kozawa, Kimya Dawson
DIRECTOR: Clyde Petersen
WRITER: Clyde Petersen
SYNOPSIS: With a mother fuelled by hallucinations of political conspiracy and family dysfunction, 12 year-old Petersen is taken on a cross-country adventure that will forever alter the family as they know it.