Murder in the seedy world of transsexual prostitution

Times Staff Writer

"Transfixed" is an absorbing mystery thriller set in the high-risk world of Brussels' transsexual prostitutes and entertainers, which is an ideal milieu for veteran director Francis Girod's outre tastes and wide-ranging sympathies. Based on a novel by Brigitte Aubert, it has a classically convoluted plot in which no one is quite what he or she seems and which packs plenty of surprises at the finish.

Robinson Stevenin's Bo is a transvestite nightclub entertainer who apparently has yet to succumb to prostitution as a means of survival, and is undecided about whether to undergo a sex change operation. Willowy, angular Bo projects vulnerability, and as the film opens is swiftly under siege.

On the one hand, tough veteran police detective Huysmans (Richard Borhringer) is pressuring Bo to testify against his father (Marcel Dossogne), a well-known clinician, for child molestation. At 13, Bo had claimed his father had molested him, but no one believed him. On the other, Bo is instantly attracted to a new neighbor, Johnny (Stephane Metzger), a good-looking but shifty and aggressive young man engaged in shady deals with his husky older pal Alex (Frederic Pellegeay), who is even more hostile. As if all this were not enough, a serial killer starts terrorizing Brussels' transsexual prostitutes.

Aubert is an endlessly imaginative plotter constantly pushing the envelope when it comes to credibility, but "Transfixed" actually operates on considerable psychological validity. Much more important is that all the film's dizzying developments serve the larger purpose of propelling Bo on a course of self-discovery and self-assertion. But what a risky course it is. Despite repeated rough treatment from Johnny, Bo persists in his pursuit, convinced that the attraction between the two is mutual, even if Johnny is in deep denial. And when Bo's friends start dying off he becomes determined to play detective and hunt down the killer himself.

"Transfixed" takes place in a shadowy world of streetwalkers, brothels and an especially dark section of a park, a secluded meeting place for transsexual prostitutes and their johns. There is a strong camaraderie among the transsexuals, but as the film unfolds it lays bare a wide array of damaged lives that extends to most everyone encountered in the film. Girod, as always, is intrigued by the bizarre, but his view is compassionate

The film has a sense of commitment on the part of Girod to these people and their stories, and he shapes his cast, which includes the ever-elegant Micheline Presle as Bo's grandmother, into a splendid ensemble. Stevenin is especially notable for his ability at expressing Bo's ambiguity and his subtle transformation and growth in the course of the film. "Transfixed" is a solid, engaging example of how a genre plot can illuminate a marginalized world.



MPAA rating: Unrated

Times guidelines: Some violence, brief nudity, drug-taking, adult themes

Robinson Stevenin...Bo Ancelin

Richard Bohringer...Detective Huysmans

Stephane Metzger...Johnny

William Nadylam...Maeva

Frederic Pellegeay...Alex

A Picture This! release of a Franco-

Belgian co-production: Ognon Pictures/France 3 Cinema/K2/RTL-TV in association with France Television Images, with the participation of Canal Plus. Director Francis Girod. Producer Humbert Balsan. Executive producer Marie-Astrid Lamboray. Screenplay Girod, Philippe Cougrand; based on the novel "Transfixions" by Brigitte Aubert. Cinematographer Thierry Jault. Editor Isabelle Dedieu. Music Alexandre Desplat. Art director Perrine Rulens. In French with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes.

Exclusively at the Fairfax Cinemas, 7907 Beverly Blvd. (at Fairfax Ave.), (323) 655-4010.

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