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Trans Mission




Crossing (2024)

A movie that revolves around two Georgians in Istanbul, Turkey, looking for someone they know, “Crossing” is very reminiscent of “Central Station.” Ain’t nothing wrong with that! The Walter Salles film is a masterpiece that others should aspire to emulate. It also sets the bar impossibly high.

Georgian-Swedish writer-director Levan Akin’s “Crossing” opens with a title card providing foreigners with necessary context that Georgian and Turkish are both gender-neutral languages. But as the film reveals, transgender issues aren’t any less thorny in those parts of the world.

Ms. Lia (Mzia Arabuli), a retired history teacher, is searching for her niece, Tekla, to fulfill a promise to her dead sister who is also Tekla’s mother. She visits the home of a former pupil, Zaza (Levan Bochorishvili), whose half-brother, Achi (Lucas Kankava), happens to have an address for Tekla in Istanbul. Fed up with his own living arrangements in the resort town of Batumi, Achi seizes the opportunity to tag along with Ms. Lia as she continues her search.

Upon border crossing, Achi muses how Turkey is exactly the same as Georgia. But reality soon sets in as the unlikely travel companions encounter the language barrier and get ripped off by the currency exchange. Guided by street urchin Izzet (Bünyamin Değer), they arrive at an alley populated with prostitutes and trans people. There’s no foreigner living there, they’re told.

Meanwhile, Evrim (Deniz Dumanli), who claims to be an attorney and does advocacy work for Pink Life, Turkey’s first trans rights organization, makes the rounds in a hospital to collect signatures from every department for her own sex-change petition. She also develops a relationship with Ömer (Ziya Sudancikmaz), an unlicensed cab driver whom she at first mistakes for a john. She will eventually cross paths with Ms. Lia and Achi and guide them through Istanbul’s labyrinthine trans community.

Ms. Lia and Achi’s relationship dynamic and their journey of course parallel those of Dora (Fernanda Montenegro) and Josué (Vinícius de Oliveira) from “Central Station.” Ms. Lia and Dora are both misanthropic retired teachers. Ms. Lia sells her sister’s bracelet to buy bus tickets, just as Dora traded her watch for a ride. When fellow countryman Ramazi (Levan Gabrichidze) overhears Ms. Lia and Achi speaking Georgian at the next table in a restaurant, he invites them to join him for dinner. Once she gets her romantic hopes up, he vanishes, much to her disappointment. Same thing happened in “Central Station,” when the evangelical truck driver César (Othon Bastos) bolted after Dora got overly familiar. Imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, but similarities between the two films border on plagiarism here.

Mr. Akin uses these plot points from “Central Station” as shorthand without meaningfully escalating them into powerful crescendos as Mr. Salles did. Dora’s interaction with César was a significant moment in “Central Station” that revealed the hopes and dreams behind her dour exterior. Here in “Crossing,” you get the sense that maybe Ramazi leaves only because Ms. Lia has disappeared into the restroom. That scene misses the mark, so much so that Achi has to explain to her (and to the audience) what has happened.

This is a trans story largely told through a cis lens. Aside from Evrim’s astounding chance at love, “Crossing” doesn’t do much to normalize and humanize its trans characters and spaces. Indeed, the places Ms. Lia visits during her search never register as welcoming, or supportive, or normative.

“Crossing” is not without its merits, though. Its treatment of the transgender topic is admirable, though perhaps insufficient in light of “I Saw the TV Glow.” In the end, the film does convey Ms. Lia’s deep regret in having failed Tekla. Ms. Lia turns out to be the mother figure that Achi longs for, and he her chance at redemption.


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