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Queendom movie review & film summary (2024)

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Queendom movie review & film summary (2024)

Agniia Galdanova’s sympathetic portrait of the young artist finds Jenna at a delicate moment. One false move, and she could end up in even further trouble with the state. Wait too long to leave, and she could be conscripted into the country’s war on Ukraine. Through Jenna’s experiences, Galdanova’s “Queendom” shows how hostile the country remains to the queer community. Jenna is punished for protesting, for her art, and for simply walking around a grocery store or public spaces in costume. Every outdoor scene comes with a hint of danger, but mostly Jenna attracts puzzled stares. In a world where few people like Jenna feel safe enough to walk outside in an audacious costume, a performer like her is something of a novelty. 

Thankfully, “Queendom” is not a dull documentary on a fascinating subject. In addition to following Jenna through the highs and lows of her time as an artist in Russia, it gives her the space to create performances for the camera, visually accentuating her story in her own style. That includes scenes of Jenna surrounded by a gang of faceless bodies in red, white, and blue as they crowd and bury her as the school reads its decision to expel Jenna or in a mosquito-like costume wandering a strange sandy landscape. These scenes can be funny or serious, like when Jenna wraps up her body, head to toe in gold lamé to wander a desolate theme park and halfheartedly ride one of the rundown attractions, or when she emerges out of a cocoon of what looks like saran wrap, gasping for air as it seems she might be in danger of getting stuck in Russia at a time of war. 

Galdanova and cinematographer Ruslan Fedotov give Jenna marvelous closeups, highlighting the nuances of her performance, the articulate lines of makeup, and intricate costume designs for a dazzling effect. It’s almost as if sleek music videos kept popping up during the on-the-ground filming of Jenna in public. 

A world away from Moscow, Magadan is a desolate place, a former Soviet-era gulag that lived on past that chapter in the country’s history. Yet Jenna is in danger whether she’s in a major city or a rural town because Russia has only penalized its queer citizens, not protected them. Jenna is strikingly bold in her performance and courage, taking her creations to the streets, the faces of the people who might reject her, and this documentary. 

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