‘Bristol Fashion’ is a sweet, moving slice of life movie that follows a young transgender woman, Christina (Lea Nayeli) as she navigates the fraught waters of her life. ‘Bristol Fashion’ is an intimate look at her life in these moments, and it escapes stereotypes and cliches. We are offered a window into this turbulent time in her life — her purchase of a boat, the bigotry she faces in her day to day life, the awkwardness around identification cards and deadnames, the delicacy of relationships between transgender women and straight cis men, and the intricacies and difficulties of living an authentic life.
Christina is bold and strong even when at her most vulnerable. She pulls no punches – nor does this movie.
I don’t want to give away too much in this review because I really would love for you to watch it! If you do, you’ll be treated to a fearless look at a woman’s life and experiences as she tries to find her way in the world – by way of an old boatyard.
‘Bristol Fashion’ is directed by Pierre Guillet – a tugboat captain who grew up at the boatyard in which much of the movie takes place. Guillet, Timothy John Foster, and Lea Nayeli share writing credit.
The characters of Christina, Steve / Esteban, and Cadillac / Gerald are well-acted and all of them bring a relatability and likability to their roles. It’s a treat to see their performances as their characters change through the course of the movie.
Lea Nayeli is enchanting in the role of Christina. Beautiful, kind, strong, vulnerable, fierce, and everything else demanded of her in any given situation – Christina is a smart, straight-speaking woman. She’s confident in her gender identity and what she is fighting for, while being scared and vulnerable about her situation. She’s determined to have her plan happen just so – which makes her journey seeking peace from her traumatic past happen on her terms. While Christina’s habit of calling people by their given name instead of their chosen is an odd one, it’s tempered by Lea Nayeli’s warmth and kindness in her delivery of them, which lead me to believe this quirk speaks to Christina’s turmoil in relating to her world after a horribly traumatic experience. It’s obvious that her experiences have left her keeping people at a distance while being as bluntly truthful as possible. She’s not one to lead people on – she just says it like it is, and Lea Nayeli expertly navigates the performance. Christina has confidence without egotism and a vulnerability devoid of weakness.
Raul Perez’s performance is a sweet one, and his Esteban undergoes a lot of changes through the story. His reactions to Christina, protectiveness towards her, and affection are all easy to see, and as we get to know his character it’s easy to understand why. Even when his character stumbles with intolerance, Perez makes his journey back to kindness and groundedness believable. I was grateful to learn more about him.
Richard DiFrisco’s performance is magnetic — it’s easy to be curious about the semi-enigmatic Cadillac and his acting aspirations, but DiFrisco brings a sly playfulness that was fun to watch. I found myself wondering what part he got, and how his performance turns out.
What I particularly liked about the characters is that they are flawed human beings that we get to see grow and change through the film. Other than the extremely bigoted, there are no caricatures here. There’s no flinching from the hard truths about these lives and their world and how sometimes the cards we are dealt suck.
As for the setting, this is a New York I’ve never seen. I’m going out on a limb that many haven’t seen these views – and these new images of its waterways give the city an entirely different, exotic character. Symbolically, the boatyard also adds to our sense of tension as we watch Christina navigate this traditionally male space.
The music by Sami El-Enany enhances the scenes without being overwhelming. The cinematography, camera work, and color palate all bring a warmth and intimacy to the overall feel of the film. There are some beautiful moments of lighting and framing that add texture. One particularly beautiful scene comes when Christina is exploring her new home by lamplight.
I really enjoyed ‘Bristol Fashion,’ and was grateful to see an affirming story about the power of tolerance and acceptance. The story’s emotional range and depth is accompanied by wry humor and meditative visuals that make sure that the weighty material isn’t too overwhelming. It was refreshing to see a film that actually explored the experiences of a transgender woman beyond just the surface. ‘Bristol Fashion’ is a beautiful contemplative examination of the sort of life often relegated to the margins, but so deserving of our time.
‘Bristol Fashion’ will be screened as part of the Indie Discovery LA Film Series later this year!