Gardenia was a hugely popular Belgian cabaret show. The unique thing about it is that all the performers are 60 to 70-year-olds who are either gay, transvestites or transsexual. During the show they all manage to tell their stories in movement. There are no words uttered. The show was the brainchild of Vanessa and came about via some improvisation with the two directors – Alain Patel and Frank Van Laecke. Gardenia is a little different from other cabaret shows in that they are not acting as they are portraying themselves. As a result, Gardenia is filled with the melancholy of their lives.
The six spent 2 ½ years together and got quite close. They traveled around the world performing the piece. In the end they did 200 shows in 25 countries with famous people like Jean Paul Gaulthier and Jane Birkin seeing it and the director of this documentary, Thomas Wallner, filmed their last performance along with scenes of them getting dressed before the show, going about their lives and interviews with the subjects.
Each performer tells stories about themselves and their lives. Some live as women, some struggle to understand what it means to be a woman while others struggle with their sexuality and identity. For instance, Rudy stayed in the closet for most of his life. For him, with Gardenia he gets to do what is not allowed. Others had thoughts of suicide. Some had some surgery to transition to female while others didn’t. A couple even turned to prostitution to pay for the surgeries. All the men struggle with loneliness, aging and to find love.
The courage shown by these six individuals is astounding at times. Their stories are inspirational, sad, heartbreaking, funny, and remind us how times have changed since they were young. Courage has allowed them to lead the lives they have and also get up on stage 200 times to lay themselves and their lives bare for all to see. Nothing is hidden; all is there to be seen. In the autumns of their lives they are almost all beyond caring about the repercussions to what they are doing. Honesty is the name of the game.
In it essence the documentary is not about homosexuality or transsexuality rather it is about love and aging. The themes here are big and universal. For most of us we spend much of adult lives pursuing worthless things like stature, fame, possessions, or money. These six make us realize that love is all that life is about and the only thing of worth.
Through their own words you learn that for Vanessa, Andrea, Richard, Danilo, Gerrit, and Rudy the show is about being finished. They are getting older and are still wanting or searching for love. For all involved and probably even those who saw the show, Gardenia has been therapeutic.