Jean-Pierre Provut was born in 1935 in a tiny village in Algeria, and one of his very earliest memories is of sitting on his mother’s lap as she tried in vain to get him to say his own name. It’s not that he couldn’t, but just that he wouldn’t. He was happiest wearing his older sister’s cast off dresses, but his mother put a stop to that when he started school, but it was a battle that she would never ever win.
When he was a teenager one day he went to see the famous French Cabaret ‘Carrousel de Paris’ when it performed in Algiers and he was hooked. Seeing all those glamorous ‘women’ in their beautiful gowns, he knew that it was possible to be the person he really was. Refusing to conform to the expectations of his family, he determinedly found a way to hot foot it to Paris as soon as possible, where he knocked on the door of Le Carrousel looking for a job and a new life.
‘Can you sing?’ they asked. ‘NO, course not!’ ‘Then can you dance?’ ‘Not at all!’ But the Algerian owner took pity and offered a chance to train at Madame Arthur’s for a while, and that’s where ‘Bambi’ was born. Within a year she had a couple of songs to sing each night which gave her barely enough to pay her rent and buy food, but she was part of this wonderful camaraderie of girls backstage who were her new extended family and with whom she blossomed.
In the 1950’s there was no cosmetic surgery to speak off, but you could buy hormones over the pharmacy counter, but it’s clear from the wonderful archival footage in this documentary, most of it shot by Bambi herself on a Super 8 camera, that even without much of this, she was a stunning looking woman. She soon became a star of the Cabaret and attracted many gentlemen admirers. One of whom was taken to watch the Show by his mother for his 18th Birthday, and he never left.
This story is being related to the camera by 77 year old ‘Bambi’, who is now known as Marie-Pierre, with such disarming honesty and refreshing frankness. The matter-of-fact way that this articulate woman recounts her fascinating past is mesmerizing. She states that she was fine with not shocking society, but she just wanted to lead the life she was meant too. She claims too that her mother never understood her ‘but then I didn’t understand myself’, but when she came to live with Bambi and her boyfriend ‘she accepted me’.
After a few years with her Beau, Bambi discovers that her good friend and fellow performer Coccinelle has been to Casablanca for ‘the operation’, and after dithering about it for the next few months, Bambi follows her too. Surprisingly enough her Beau doesn’t appreciate this anatomical change, which turns out of little consequence as Bambi thinks this is the time for change again. Even she is shocked in the form it comes : a strikingly tall blonde bombshell of a woman named Ute who becomes the love of her life.
When she was 30 years old Bambi shocked even more people with her next change, and gave up performing so that she could go back to school. Clutching a degree from the Sorbonne and wearing sensible day clothes, Marie Pierre became a teacher of literature, and a writer for the next 25 years. And she is still with Ute.
She is unquestionably a remarkable woman and the transformation from little Algerian boy to respected Parisian Literature Professor via Music Hall Star is the stuff that Hollywood would love to fictionalise to grab an Oscar. This is however a very exceptional real story of an immensely brave and resourceful woman that is utterly spellbinding. It quite deservedly won filmmaker Sebastian Lifschitz the ‘Teddy Award for Best LGBT Documentary’ at the recent Berlin Film Festival.
I loved it unreservedly and am giving it my highest rating. It’s not available anywhere YET, but I will update this when I know where and when it can be seen.
Posted by queerguru at 19:47
Labels: 2013, award winning, biography, documentary, gay, trans