BFI LFF 2021

Sediments review – refreshing and unidealised portrait of trans women

This breezy documentary follows a group of Spanish trans women on a road trip as they bond and bicker their way to León

Like many cis directors before him, filmmaker Adrián Silvestre has set out to make a documentary about trans women. In 2016, Tina Recio introduced him to a support group for trans women called I-Vaginarium, with whom he spoke before settling on a core group of six, including Tina herself. Sediments follows this rag-tag group, all from different backgrounds, as they spend a weekend in the countryside and take in the sights of León, Spain. Just as they are exploring an unfamiliar land, the women come to know more about the group and themselves through speaking to – and, at times, bristling against – one another.

Out of the group, the biggest contrast is between Yolanda – a straight-talking former sex worker who has experienced a life of hardship – and the middle-aged, socially conservative Cristina. The hyper-visibility of trans women sex workers in culture (Sean Baker’s Tangerine being one notable example) is something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it shines a light on the most marginalised women in the trans community, but it can also sensationalise their experiences for a mostly cis audience and, when framed by a cis perspective, reduce trans women to a simplistic stereotype.

It is therefore fascinating that Silvestre’s camera tends to drift towards Cristina, implicitly making her the central character of the piece. The way she speaks about herself betrays a strange self-obsession that's also noted by the rest of the group, and you can tell she would be difficult to like (early on in the film, she offends Yolanda and there’s a lingering tension between them that ebbs and flows throughout).

The film alternates between these group conversations, and their sight-seeing around León, creating a breezy pace that effectively places the audiences in the holiday mindset of the protagonists. The film's title, Sediments, refers to a conversation they have about the rock formations in a quarry but it also reflects how their experiences have made them different from one other. This connection between the land and the women is made even more apparent when the group visits a cave and the more intellectual Tina notes with some amusement that the formation looks like a vagina.

A topic that comes up a number of times, and appears to be a preoccupation with the relatively sheltered Cristina, is vaginoplasty, a kind of bottom surgery. In one of the many group conversations that occur, the women compare the sorry state of trans healthcare in Spain to the more reliable but inaccessible options in Thailand.

Here in the UK, public conversations around trans issues, such as access to healthcare, often exclude the voices of trans women. With this in mind, watching these Spanish trans women talk amongst themselves in a relaxed setting is a refreshing comfort. Sediments is not an idealised picture of trans womens’ relationships with one another, as demonstrated by the conflicts between Yolanda and Cristina, and the film is all the stronger for it.

Sediments screened as part of BFI London Film Festival 2021. A UK release date is yet to be announced.

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