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Inside Out Film Festival: Review of 'Open Up to Me'

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Most people would acknowledge there being a difference between tolerance and acceptance, and most people would even put themselves in one camp or the other. But when push comes to shove, how many are true inhabitants of each camp and how many have deeply ingrained biases that prevent them from really opening up their arms?

In "Open Up to Me" (dir. Simo Halinen), Sami (Peter Franzén) is a soccer coach with a failing marriage who seeks help from what he thinks is a therapist, Maarit (Leea Klemola). She's not — telling him after their second "session" — and she wasn't born a woman, either, which she tells him even sooner. He appears to be fine enough with this news to start an affair with Maarit, but devolves about halfway through when his wife, Julia (Ria Kataja), finds out. Then, Sami becomes everything Maarit had been hoping he wasn't: cold, weak, timid and without conviction.

There are two side plots: one focuses on Maarit's daughter, Pinja (Emmi Nivala), and her struggles in accepting the new physical look of her father; the other involves Teo (Alex Anton), a star soccer play confused about his own sex life. He's tall, dark and handsome and, as one character describes, "sends smoke signals to girls", but seems completely oblivious about it. The one woman he takes the greatest interest in is Maarit, whom he asks right off the bat if she's a man or woman because of her "hip" way of walking.

If it sounds a bit confusing, it is and it isn't. Director Halinen has done his best to make a movie with depth and layers, and has succeeded for the most part. It's not always a smooth or sensical ride but in a way, that reflects Maarit's journey from tormented male to "successful" female. Not every step on her path has been an easy one, but Klemola's splendid acting really makes us want to stand up and cheer for her. For his part, Franzén is a fairly close match to Klemola, hiding just enough beneath his face to make us wonder what else is going on.

"Open Up to Me", when it sticks to a tight filming path, is a raw look at transgenderism, and Halinen really drives home the point by shooting in cold, bleak colours. There are several scenes he could have deleted to make the movie really tight, but the superfluousness isn't entirely unwelcome either.

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