Carl(a) (2011). Reviewed by Junyang ZHAO

carla_1Carl(a) (Hershko, 2011) is about a transgendered woman, named Carla, who struggles with her sexual identity. Carla is clear about what she is, but she is faced with obstructions both from her family and her love life. She works as a web-cam girl but she is both talented and interested in working in shoe designing. Earning little, Carla has never been able to make the final step in transitioning to a woman, which is the operation to remove her penis. After she finally acquires the financial means to do so, she finds out that her new love does not want her to change. Having been wanting to change herself from what she is not to what she truly is, Carla is faced with the choice of either sacrificing her dream for love, or completing her transition.

Director Eli Hershko went into great depth to produce the inner and outer struggle that Carla goes through in the story. The most obvious technique that grasps viewers’ attention is the extreme close-ups on the detailed expressions of Carla’s face in the film. One immediate response to this technique would be the uttermost attention from the viewers. Instead of dodging their eyes to avoid seeing what is uncomfortable for most people, they are forced to see it in its most detailed self. Carla’s face, mood, and changes in her mind are amplified so the viewers cannot only see what Carla sees, but also feel what Carla feels. Another great outcome of this technique is that it intensifies the solitude in which Carla resides. This solitude can be interpreted from both objective and subjective aspects. From an objective angle, Carla lives by herself, only has one friend, and she has no love until she meets Sam. From a subjective angle, she cannot get recognized for her talent in shoe designing, and is being rejected by all of her family members except for her grandfather. She is very much alone. This loneliness is generated by her life as a transgender, and it helps strengthen Carla’s belief in her true identity.

carla_2There is a scene from the film that can represent the film both in its cinematic method and aesthetic value. It is the scene near the end where Carla looks down at her penis through a mirror and says: “You are not me.” This scene uses a close-up shot at Carla’s face so it clearly indicates that she is looking down; it, again, focuses the viewers’ attention to Carla. The fact that she uses “you” instead of “this” in this line shows that in her mind, the penis is a separate object and not a part of her.

Even though the pace of the story is relatively slow, and the story itself is not grand, the connection between the protagonist and the story is both tight and detailed. Director Hershko manages to create an intense relationship between Carla and her surrounding environment so that one pushes the other forward. He made sure that whatever happens to the protagonist, the people around her also change accordingly. The ripple effect between the protagonist and the rest of the characters keeps the protagonist at the center of attention.

Carl(a) provides an accurate and sensitive reading on a transgendered woman’s life and struggles. The film encourages the idea of trying to be one’s true self, which can resonate with most viewers. It is a great film with many heart-grasping scenes. It is very worth watching.

Author Biography

Junyang ZHAO recently graduated with a BA from the University of Alberta, where he majored in film studies and minored in philosophy. He has the deepest passion for both theoretical film studies and practical film production. And his motto is: “Responsibility is the foundation of all.”

Film Details

Carl(a) (2011)
Director Eli Hershko
Runtime 100 minutes

To read an interview with the director of Carl(a), Eli Hershko, please click on this link:

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