Director: Alexa Bakony
This intimate documentary from Hungary begins in 2000 with Éva giving birth to her youngest child. Cradling the newborn in her hands, she says ‘ You are actually a girl’, the ‘actually’ seemingly denoting surprise or doubt. 18 years later, she accepts that her daughter is actually her son.
Jazmin is now Tobi, and is in the process of officially changing his gender and name. Éva and her husband are nothing but supportive, and also promise to contribute financially for any surgery that Tobi may need down the line. They haven’t got much money, but they will find ways to cut back on household expenses.
As Tobi’s appointment with the gender reassignment surgeon draws nears, it seems that this documentary will chart Tobi’s transition in a similar way to many other documentaries on the subject. However, just as Colors of Tobi begins to feel familiar, the film moves away from the expected narrative and explores ideas less discussed by other filmmakers.
For a start, the film isn’t really about Tobi. We follow him around going to parties and Pride events where right-wing protestors throw insults at the marchers. We also see Tobi change his hair colour continually. Sometimes it is pink, at others bright blue or jet black. But rarely does Tobi talk directly to the camera; rarely do we get to know what he is thinking.
Instead, the film is about Éva and her unwavering support. At Tobi’s 18th birthday party, Éva accidentally calls Tobi by his deadname, which causes him to run to his bedroom. Éva feels awful: it was just a slip of the tongue; otherwise she has done well with adapting to different pronouns and different genders. She bravely voices her concern at Tobi’s decision to remove his breasts, worrying that he’d come to regret it later. But these concerns do not stop her wholeheartedly backing her son in his commitment to be who he wants to be.
The other reason that makes Colors of Tobi stand out from comparable films is that the anticipated ‘transition’ doesn’t occur in the usual way. Tobi’s gender is more fluid than the label ‘male’ can allow, and this search for identity gives the film its title, rather then the various shades of hair dye that Tobi uses. However, this last step towards self-identity is the most difficult for Éva to comprehend.
This tender documentary is Alexa Bakony’s first feature, and the director’s presence in the film is minimal ensuring that the focus remains on Tobi and Éva. After spending four years with Tobi and his family, there is a sense that Bakony’s camera is virtually invisible, leading to the honesty that powers the film.
Tobi realises that he is very lucky in having such understanding parents, but this film isn’t just about his journey. His mother is with him, every step of the way.
BFI Flare runs here from 17 March to 28 March 2021