Miss (2020), presented as part of the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival, aptly explores the social construct and spectrum that is gender identity. In the opening scene we see a school boy explaining his dream to be crowned Miss France, a dream that is laughed off by his classmates.
Flash forward to present day Alex (Alexandre Wetter) is working a low paying job at a boxing gym where he runs into a former classmate, who has achieved their dream of becoming a champion boxer. Seeing this success Alex decides it’s possible for him to shine through his own dream. This simple conversation sets the tone for the film. Alex does not reject masculine norms in place of femininity but instead holds them equally, finding power in feminine expression. While not everyone might agree with the patriarchal standards of a beauty pageant, Alex uses this platform to find their own rightful place and make space for others.
Alex has made a home with a chosen family of Lola (Thibault de Montalembert) a female presenting sex worker, Amhed (Hedi Bouchenafa) and Randy (Moussa Mansaly) two technology workers (aka drug dealers), Padini (Ruchi Ranjan) and Padmé (Rosemine Safy-Borget) two recently immigrated seamstresses and the groups pseudo mother and landlord Yolande (Isabelle Nanty). After Alex announces their dream of entering Miss France there is some apprehension from the group, which subsides quickly in an (almost) unanimous vote to support Alex’s process. Lola takes Alex under her wing to learn the art of makeup, heels and tucking.
As a lifelong outsider Alex struggles to engage with the group dynamics of the Miss France contestants. It isn’t until Alex’s secret is actively protected by a fellow contestant and a pageant organiser that she feels accepted by the other contestants, and by analogy, society. As the competition progresses both criticism and support come from far and wide, sometimes from the most unlikely of places.
This 107 minute story follows a solid pace, keeping the audience engaged and searching for more. Complicated and multifaceted issues of gender identity, modern politicking and systematic violence are presented in both subtle and pressing ways. This presentation treats the audience as intellectual equals. Alexandre Wetter’s performance shines, working with the strong writing and direction of Ruben Alves. There is no doubt that both of these creators have promising careers ahead of them. The diversity in casting portrays a refreshing and realistic representation of modern France.
Not all endings can be this sweet but Miss shows we as a society are moving in the right direction.