Call me by my name and I’ll call you by yours. That’s the genuine Italian sentiment at the heart of “Nel Mio Nome” (“Into My Name”), an impressionistic documentary about four trans-masculine friends living in and around Bologna in Northern Italy. Each with different perspectives, personalities, and interests, the film places their self-reflections on gender expression and transition against the bucolic backdrop of their everyday lives. Italian filmmaker Nicolò Bassetti consulted closely with his trans son throughout the filmmaking process, and a subtle but omnipresent of tenderness blankets the intimate scenes. He films his young subjects from a safe yet revealing distance: enough to see clearly but never so close as to put them on display.
It was this respectful approach that moved Elliot Page, who came on as an executive producer ahead ahead of the film’s premiere at the Berlinale, where it played the Panorama section. “What stands out to me about ‘Nel Mio Nome’ is the way it so artfully and intentionally presents all the different pieces that make up a person’s identity,” Page wrote in the announcement. “It’s a meditation on trans humanity, and I’ve never seen another film like it.”
The film opens in darkness as the jovial voices of the friends talk over each other. Leo, their gentle and fearless leader, pitches an intro for his podcast. “Gender transition is one of the most subversive non-violent acts ever carried out, that’s why we have to fill the world with our own peculiar and highly diverse personal narratives,” he reads. “Too bad if we then lose the investigative rigor needed to carry out an analysis and draw conclusions.”
The group has no notes, crying perfetto. “Flatterers,” Leo demurs.
This refrain repeats for the film’s conclusion, as the podcast acts as a simple framing device for the film. From his home studio, Leo muses on the childhood experiences of each friend, sussing out their earliest memories in order to create an honest picture. He deliberately doesn’t ask the questions they’ve had to answer all their lives, to doctors and parents and government entities, about why or how or when they knew they were trans. Those answers come eventually, organically in relation to other elements of their lives.
At 33, Nico emerges as the most compelling character. Whether because of age, boyish good looks, or his sunny disposition, the camera loves Nico. It doesn’t hurt that the small farm he runs with his wife, Chiara, offers the film’s most sweeping visuals. The couple’s musings happen in between scenes of picking grapes, making farfalle (“pinch it tightly”), or wandering the lush green hillside. The earliest in his transition of the group, the film captures joyous moments of Nico’s first taste of gender euphoria. When the couple must dissolve their domestic partnership in order to get remarried as man and woman, Chiara delivers a moving outburst on the obstacles she has faced in Italy as a queer woman. It’s one of the film’s most emotionally resonant moments.
The other three are less distinguishable, though Raff’s swing dancing and careful bicycle maintenance offer some amusing action. Andrea is rarely without his red Olivetti typewriter, on which he taps out poetry by a jerry-rigged reading light. A picture of bohemian nostalgia, the two friends sit curled on a cobbled street, one wheatpasting the poem his friend just wrote for him.
The film naturally hit a snag during the pandemic, and though Bassetti is sparing with the Zoom cocktail hour shots, they do filter into the film’s second half. Other than as illustrations of their dedication to each other, the scenes don’t add much to the otherwise sensitive proceedings. It’s a welcome relief for everyone when the four end up in the wild together, traversing a mountainside with only a telescope as a guide and taking breaks to write in their journals. The final scene sees them all together for what feels like the first time, and the ties of friendship seems a bit tenuous in retrospect.
Leo is a strong narrator, though the details of his life remain opaque. Although we don’t learn much about his family or his relationship, he is the most forthright with his emotions. Speaking into his microphone for the podcast, he shifts from his role as pensive narrator, suddenly energized by a righteous anger. Without offering specifics, this tirade feels more vital than any detailed accounting of any particular injustices. It’s an urgent reminder of what trans people face every day in Italy — and everywhere — and the emotional toll it takes to simply exist.
“Why did I have to jump through hoops of fire?” he asks. “It’s hard to forget that. At times I feel devoured. Filled with rage.”
“Nel Mio Nome” premiered at the 2022 Berlin International Film Festival. It is seeking distribution.