Translations Film Festival 2019: A Deal with the Universe

With startling intimacy, A Deal with the Universe details the story of Jason, entering transition to become a male and trying to get pregnant at the same time. Meanwhile his partner is losing a breast. It’s an uphill battle of battling hormones and taking their personal journey with the merits of science. Jason says, well, it’s a female body, and it is too much to totally understand gender. The documentary details his fun-loving partnership with Tracey – who struggles with breast cancer early in the documentary. Through many hours of home videos, they have traced the trajectory of their quest for a baby and share a special love that is seen through all their challenges. When they lose the first try, it does not get them down very much. They know what the score is here. They still mourn, naturally – “the thing I miss about being pregnant is being full of love.” Those last three words, prescriptive for what A Deal with the Universe is all about – it’s full of love.

A Deal with the Universe. Dir. Jason Barker.

The intimacy of the documentary allows our favorite things about it to be the couple. There are moments of tender hardships met with laughter. When Jason loses his first attempt at a baby, the couple grieves through humor. He wants to name the lost child, but it should be one he’d never call the next child. He wants to call the child Wolfgang. Tracey just wants to go and have her pudding now. “I don’t mind giving it a name, but it is a bit odd.” “Not a name we use, not a name we refer to… it is a bit odd isn’t it?” Jason is prone to lovely asides too. He’ll go and talk to birds on camera. Birds may later come to signify imminent death in the stories they tell. The couple will flirt and share their inside jokes and passions. And we grow to admire their relationship and sense of selves. To hope we could ever feel as openly secure about our relationships as they do in their wonderful little documentary.

“I realized the problem here was that I’m videoing. Videoing is like pride comes before the fall. It’s setting it up to fail so I switched the camera off… well, that didn’t work, so I put the camera back on.” Jason and Tracey want to keep it about the science. But they are naturally superstitious. The title says as much. We want to believe in their will to fight. For who they want to be, for what they can achieve together. Eventually their methods take, and we’re relieved in a moment of spiritual, universal joy. Their family have divisive reactions. Tracey’s mom breaks it to the rest of the family adorably – ‘I have something to tell you, it’s a little strange, but it makes me very happy,” while Jason’s Dad simply responds, “bloody hell.”

A Deal with the Universe. Dir. Jason Barker.

The happy ending renders some of the previous darkness into sweet moments of relief. If there are significant downsides, they are that the documentary only provides our two central perspectives. If there is any other side to it, we do not get it. The insularity of their project is also a great compliment, making it so immensely personal, it’d be hard to make thorough suggestions for edits. Ultimately this means A Deal with the Universe is a very sweet and enjoyable home movie, maybe one of the better home movies, but one all the same.


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