"Madame X" is most easily explained as a transgender Indonesian superhero film, but it’s more accurately explained as an acid trip. Following hairdresser Adam as he fights adversity, loses friends, and gains mystical powers as the titular protagonist, the film plays so fast-and-loose with unexplained musical sequences and cheap visual effects that you can’t help but wonder if all this silliness is some kind of drug-induced hallucination.
And that’s not even considering the insanely heightened aspects of the narrative - we start in a real world of hairdressers and moral police, and before we finish we’ve witnessed reincarnations, magic jewelry, superheroes with laser beams, and evil burkas. But this, the first film by Lucky Kuswandi, is no dream: it’s simply the most mind-boggling construction to hit theaters in a very, very long time.
The film, despite (or perhaps, because of) it’s unhinged insanity, is sure to find fans on the festival circuit; and it’s overarching narrative, about outcasts from a gay disco using their newfound superpowers to fight back against an oppressive force known as the Bogem - who we soon see offering transsexuals the chance to repent, throwing those who don’t off a moving truck - is sure to please the LGBT crowds. It’s just unfortunate that the film feels so stilted - at 100 minutes, it’s an absolute chore to get through, each scene bookended by pointless (and incompetently produced) dance numbers to pad out the running time.
And, speaking of the production, the visual style is absolutely atrocious - unforgivable considering that the scope of the sets and the cast certainly suggest that there was indeed some money behind this movie (one impressive fight sequence, at the finish, certainly required time, effort, and money to complete.)
The majority of the film’s visual effects (be they comic book onomatopoeia like ’bamf!’ or the super glows that envelop our transgender heroes) clearly come out of the Final Cut Pro grab bag; thrown together in a few moments with no worry as to how well they fit in the film. And that’s not even to mention the lazy lighting, which illuminates our characters to the point where they look like cardboard cutouts on a soap opera set. The amateur hour aesthetic may please the "so-bad-it’s-good" midnight crowds, but anyone looking for quality craftsmanship here will be sorely disappointed.
And that’s the thing about "Madame X" - it works better as a curiosity than it does as a movie. I would have enjoyed it more had I caught 20 minutes of it in between two other festival films, but as a feature length entry it’s silly charms and deliberately campy construction become unbearable. "Madame X" lives up to it’s promise - it is, indeed, a transgender superhero film, right down to the use of appropriate products as weapons. It’s just unfortunate that it’s not any good.
This article is part of our "Boston LGBT Film Festival" series. Want to read more?
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