A good rule within documentaries about trans people is to avoid depicting the subject before transitioning. But that’s always a complex issue when that documentary is about someone famous. Mel‘s titular subject, Mel Daluzyan, is a former Armenian weightlifting champion. And the documentary has to have its share of archive footage.
Thankfully, Mel lets its titular subject tell his side of the story through narration. Through those segments, he explains that he was alright when people used his deadname during competitions. But he eventually starts feeling the pressure to be like his birth gender in other settings. Thus, he pushes back and comes out, shocking his Christian country.
Mel isn’t just a story about one trans man. The documentary, of course, captures the traditions of a country with an anti-trans backlash. This mid length documentary also finds some screen time for his girlfriend, Lilit. She’s a good interview, with strong opinions against Armenian tradition became one of the things she has in common with Mel.
Through interviews, Daluzyan talks about how lucky he is to have her, but having Lilit isn’t enough, as the rest of Mel shows his rocky attempts at returning to sports. It also shows his difficulties with Lilit as they move to the Netherlands, a country with more 2LGBT+ freedoms.
Mel as a documentary has its issues, but the best thing I can say about it is that it shows trans refugees as just like us. He does mundane things that speak to his desire to belong. He paints his home and years for love just like us.
Another thing I like about Mel is how it shows Daluzyan as a member of any diasporic community. He, in small ways, still concerns himself with Armenian politics. Armenia has been in the headlines but not for trying to oust certain politicians. Despite being centrists, the diaspora considers them to be dictatorial are probably why Armenia is so anti-trans.
The few nitpicks that I might write about Mel is that its mundanity can sometimes work against it. The voiceovers have him talk about how he likes the Netherlands’ openness to pro-2LGBT+ stances, but it doesn’t show him engaging with that community or other communities within a presumably diverse country.
Mel’s mid length is also a problem because it doesn’t fully capture Daluzyan’s relationship with his Lilit. and it also leaves out a few Google-able facts about him. But I have a feeling that this doc has been on the backburner before it came out last year. Besides, for the most part, it captures enough of the raw emotions of a trans man as well as those around him.
Watch Mel on OVID.