My Tender Matador


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

My Tender Matador
"Though it might be accused of falling into cliché with its tragic trans character, Rodrigo Sepúlveda's film captures the distinctive qualities of these two individuals so well that it feels fresh regardless." | Photo: Courtesy of Grandave

At the heart of almost every left wing revolutionary movement in modern history, whether or not they have been welcomed by its leaders, have been LGBTQ+ people. The reason is very simple: to be part of a sexual or gender minority means that one's very existence is politicised. One may or may not wish to be political - when push comes to shove, there isn't much choice.

La Loca del Frente (Alfredo Castro) would probably be seen today as a trans woman, though she has not had access to hormones or surgery. Though in Seventies Chile she is understood as a transvestite (and described in less salubrious ways), she has lived all her life in as feminine a role as she has been able to get away with, making her living as an embroiderer, keeping her head down, occasionally enjoying a night out in the safe, welcoming environment of a drag club, but everything about this marginalised existence carries risk. When one night the club she's in is raided by the military police, she is rescued by a young stranger who slams her against a wall. After she has established that he does not intend to assault her, and he walks her home in gentlemanly fashion, an understanding begins to develop between them.

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This is Carlos (Leonardo Ortizgris), a young resistance fighter with the good looks of Che Guevara and the kind of respectful good manners. La Loca (a name she gives herself) is old enough and wise enough to understand that he's using her when he asks to store 'books' in her apartment, but she's drawn to him nonetheless and, over time, comes to understand and share his motives, as he comes to develop genuine concern for her. A tender friendship develops - something verging on courtship, though she doesn't believe that a romantic relationship could be possible. He - socially advantaged in many ways despite living as an exile - comes face to face with the real consequences of oppression. Both are changed as a result.

Though it might be accused of falling into cliché with its tragic trans character, Rodrigo Sepúlveda's film captures the distinctive qualities of these two individuals so well that it feels fresh regardless. Any feelings of romantic despair are balanced by the optimism of the revolutionaries, who keep on believing that the fascism of the Pinochet regime can be brought to an end. La Loca's transformation from a habitual victim into somebody who has had enough of being mistreated and believes that she, too, can effect change mirrors the journey undertaken by much of the Chilean population, and will resonate with audiences across much of the globe today. It's beautifully handled by Castro, a deserving award winner at the Guadalajara International Film Festival.

There's a good deal of subtler work going on in the background of all this as the film explores the relationship of political oppression and gender (a female revolutionary is singled out for condemnation after an attack), and the ways in which all sorts of people treat La Loca as a woman even whilst refusing to describe her that way. the presence of other trans characters enables Sepúlveda to look at support structures which endure to this day. The poor communities of Santiago spill onto the screen in all their variety, with football taking its proper place and a focus on small scale economies and the trading of favours, and the social effect these have.

The film also benefits from excellent set design and costume work which brings the period and locations to life, fully formed. Sergio Armstrong's evocative cinematography and the use of traditional songs alongside snippets of disco contribute to a powerful atmosphere. Before we dissolve into that magnificent pink twilight found nowhere else in the world, we find ourselves entranced not only by the central duo but by Chile itself, and understand why both these things were worth fighting for.

Reviewed on: 04 Jun 2021
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A passionate relationship flourishes between a lonely transvestite and a young guerrilla during the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, putting both of them in danger.

Director: Rodrigo Sepúlveda

Writer: Rodrigo Sepúlveda and Juan Elias Tovar, based on the book by Pedro Lemebel

Starring: Alfredo Castro, Leonardo Ortizgris, Julieta Zylberberg

Year: 2020

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: Chile


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