By Sharon Calingasan
Director: Jean-Baptiste Erreca
The documentary Pansy! by Jean-Baptiste Erreca is a compelling and emotional account of members of the LGBT community that have been discriminated against and shunned even by their very own families. These stories unfold as a result of Paul Harfleet’s Pansy Project which he started almost a decade ago with the aim of peacefully challenging, resisting and learning more about homophobia. Harfleet plants a pansy (a word that is also a derogatory term for a gay man in the UK) at a site of homophobic abuse, takes a photo of it and posts it on the website. Each pansy picture comes attached with a unique phrase relating to the specific homophobic event. This project began in March 2005, right at the time that he himself experienced three homophobic attacks in one day. The pansy-planting ritual is a therapeutic way of overlaying negativity and bringing members of the LGBT community together. Its key aim is to change the perception of a homophobic site from one of trauma to one of recovery.
Harfleet visits various people in Paris and around France and they tell their stories of encounters with people that denounce their sexuality. He also plants a pansy on the execution site of former gay lovers Bruno Lenoir and Jean Dior. The pair were executed in 1750 for their sexuality. The film’s testimonies explore all kinds of struggles in the LGBT community. From family rejection to violence from strangers on the street, these heartbreaking events have clearly had a severe psychological impact on their victims. One inspiring scene sees Harfleet explore the relationship between homosexuality and religion. He visits Stefan who explains that while most of his family have accepted his homosexuality, he has found it hard to forge a genuine relationship with his deeply religious father. During this visit, Harfleet meets representatives from various religious denominations who are inspired by his project. An inter-religious service takes place and beautifully brings together LGBT people from various religions in their quest to end discrimination.
The documentary, which won Best Documentary Feature at the 2016 KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival, reveals harrowing first-hand experiences of homophobia. The candid recounting of such incidents are both unbelievable and painfully real and the accounts evoke great sympathy towards these individuals that have struggled to go about their normal daily lives due to their sexuality. Louisiane’s story is particularly striking and inspirational as she has become independent and is excelling in her studies despite her mother’s homophobic abuse. She says that she participated in the pansy-planting ritual in order to convey the message that hardships can be overcome and even benefited from. She certainly appears to have been able to achieve this.
With impressive landscape shots and views of Paris and rural France, Pansy! takes its audience around the country and allows them to experience the painful consequences of homophobia upon its victims. One particularly interesting feature is the brief pause between the picture of the pansy and the accompanying quote. There is an air of suspense that somehow softens as viewers get to focus for a fleeting moment on the pansy, with a face that seems to wink back at the audience. In the final scene, which coincides with the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, a group of members of the LGBT community join Harfleet in front of the Eiffel Tower in solidarity with the Pansy Project and with the general message of ending homophobic discrimination. Harfleet concludes with a commitment to continue to spread the message behind the Pansy Project but also remains extremely hopeful that one day the project will no longer be necessary and homophobia will cease to exist.
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