Nel Mio Nome review: poignant Italian documentary about trans sisterhood

Four friends move together in an understated slice-of-life portrait on a gender-transitional frame produced by Elliot Page.

Call me by my name and I will call you by yours. That’s the real Italian feeling at the heart of “Nel Mio Nome” (“Into My Name”), an impressionistic documentary about four trans-male friends living in and around Bologna, northern Italy. Each with different perspectives, personalities and interests, the film places their thoughts on gender expression and transition into the bucolic context of their daily lives. Italian filmmaker Nicolò Bassetti consulted his trans son closely throughout the filmmaking process, and a subtle but pervasive tenderness blankets the intimate scenes. He films his young subjects from a safe but revealing distance: close enough to see clearly but never close enough to stage them.

It was this respectful approach that moved Elliot Page, who became executive producer ahead of the film’s premiere at the Berlinale, where he played the Panorama section. “What strikes me about ‘Nel Mio Nome’ is how it so artfully and intentionally presents all the different pieces that make up a person’s identity,” Page wrote in the ad. “It’s a meditation on trans humanity, and I’ve never seen another movie like it.”

The film opens in darkness as the jovial voices of the friends talk to each other. Leo, their sweet and fearless leader, presents an intro for his podcast. “Gender transitioning is one of the most subversive nonviolent acts ever done, which is why we must fill the world with our own particular and very diverse personal narratives,” it reads. “So much the worse if we then lose the rigor of investigation necessary to carry out an analysis and draw conclusions.

The band has no notes, cries perfect. “Flattering,” Leo hesitates.

This refrain repeats itself for the film’s conclusion, as the podcast acts as a simple framing device for the film. From his home studio, Leo reflects on each friend’s childhood experiences, researching their earliest memories to create an honest picture. He deliberately doesn’t ask the questions doctors, parents, and government entities have had to answer all their lives about why, how, or when they knew they were trans. These responses ultimately come organically in relation to other elements of their lives.

“Nel Mio Nome”

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At 33, Nico stands out as the most convincing character. Whether it’s because of his age, his childish beauty or his sunny disposition, the camera loves Nico. It doesn’t hurt that the small farm he runs with his wife, Chiara, offers the most impressive visuals in the film. The couple’s reflections occur between scenes of picking grapes, making farfalle (“pinch it tight”), or wandering the green hillside. The first of his transition from the band, the film captures joyous moments from Nico’s first taste to genre euphoria. As the couple must dissolve their domestic union to remarry as man and woman, Chiara delivers a moving outburst about the obstacles she faced in Italy as a queer woman. It’s one of the most moving moments in the film.

The other three are less recognizable, though Raff’s swing dancing and careful bike maintenance provide fun action. Andrea is rarely without his red Olivetti typewriter, on which he types poetry using a rigged reading lamp. An image of bohemian nostalgia, the two friends sit curled up on a cobbled street, one pasting down the poem his friend has just written for him.

The film naturally ran into a problem during the pandemic, and while Bassetti spares the Zoom cocktail hour shots, they do filter into the film’s second half. Other than as illustrations of their devotion to each other, the scenes add little to the otherwise sensitive proceedings. It’s a welcome relief for everyone when the four find themselves in the wild together, traversing a mountain with only a telescope as a guide and taking breaks to write in their journals. The final scene sees them all together for what feels like the first time, and the bonds of friendship seem a bit tenuous in retrospect.

Leo is a strong storyteller, although the details of his life remain opaque. Although we don’t learn much about his family or relationship, he is the most outspoken with his emotions. Speaking into his mic for the podcast, he quits his role as a pensive narrator, suddenly energized with righteous anger. Without giving details, this tirade seems more vital than any detailed account of particular injustices. It’s an urgent reminder of what trans people face every day in Italy – and everywhere – and the emotional toll it takes to simply exist.

“Why did I have to jump through hoops of fire?” he asks. “It’s hard to forget that. Sometimes I feel devoured. Filled with rage.

Grade: B+

“Nel Mio Nome” premiered at the 2022 Berlin International Film Festival. It is seeking distribution.

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