Rethinking the Beautiful / Reimagining the Erotic – A short review of “4 Feet High”

Posted: February 6, 2021 in On Beauty, On Film
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Thanks to the traveling Virtual Reality show sponsored by the 2020 Venice Biennale and exhibited at the Portland Art Museum, and the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, I have been lucky enough to see both the VR and the traditionally produced versions of the Argentinian film project “4 Feet High“. It is a splendid exploration of the queer experience, the disabled experience, teenage sexuality, and the meaning of both beauty and eroticism in a world of western, fashion-oriented, stereotypes.

4 Feet High” is really a mini-series / film and a VR project all rolled into one. It was directed by María Belén Poncio and Rosario Perazolo Masjoan and it concerns a 17-year-old blue-haired girl named Juana who is confined to a wheelchair because of a physical disability. Juana enters a new high school and quickly connects with a group of LGBTQ+ students who are fighting to be given effective, modern, sex education. Juana seems to want some sex education as well – but she wants it in a more visceral way.

Rosario Perazolo Masjoan is, in real life, wheelchair-bound and believes it’s important to cast actors with disabilities to play characters with disabilities. Marisol Agostina Irigoyen, who plays Juana, demonstrates how amazing it is when an actor brings real-world experience. to a part. This is her first role but, man, you’d never know it!

Despite her physical limitations Juana wants to be treated as a normal student. Particularly impactful for me is a scene where, having been called to the principal’s office with one of her activist friends, Juana insists of receiving the same punishment even when offered an “out”. She also wants the same sexual experiences, even when that means explaining to dates how to lift her from her chair and onto the bed. She’s struggling with her sexuality just like those without disabilities She is also struggling against a world that wants to desexualize her because of her limitations. I was particularly affected by as scene where a boy without a disability tells her that she’s “amazing“. She tells him not to say that. He asks why. She says: “Because we don’t say those things to people we want to kiss.” He leans in, emphatically states “You’re amazing,”, and kisses her.

There is so much more I can say about this film but I don’t want to ruin the surprises. It has a wonderful experimental animation component to it and it’s beautifully edited.

The most important thing I noticed, and this is what the film is really trying to contribute, is that despite her contorted body, Juana is beautiful. Despite her limitations, her sexual life is erotic. In other words, the Vogue Magazine stereotypes of beauty and eroticism are just that: stereotypes. Beyond what contemporary western media wants to portray, beauty goes far beyond the stereotypical and body-type does not limit the ability to desire or to experience love.

If you have a chance to catch “4 Feet High“, on a screen – big or small – or within a your VR goggles, take the time. You will broaden your view of the beautiful and, perhaps, find the erotic is some unexpected places.

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