Movie Review – Marilyn (2019)
The feature debut of Martín Rodríguez Redondo is an adaptation or based on true events. It’s about the real-life story of Marcelo Bernasconi, an Argentinian who made a lot of headlines 10 years ago. If you lived in Argentina back then or perhaps anywhere in South America or possibly Latin America, Bernasconi is probably a name that you heard. Outside the Spanish-speaking part of the world, or outside anyone who is not attune to LGBT-related stories, what Bernasconi did might be a shock. In that case, I’m not sure if Redondo as director and co-writer wanted Bernasconi’s story to be a shock or if he made this film with the assumption that anyone who sees it would already know the story. For spoiler’s sake, I will assume Redondo was operating under the former rather than the latter.
Regardless of one’s knowledge of Bernasconi, this is a film about homophobia, and Bernasconi’s encounter with homophobia culminated or crossed paths with criminality in 2009. This is ironic because it was that year that began a sweeping change in the laws resulting in full protection of LGBT people in Argentina. While LGBT rights were in the works for decades prior, the actual legal rights didn’t start happening until 2009. It must be said that this film takes place before then. While there were pockets of equality like in Buenos Aires, homophobia was a more dangerous thing as expressed in this film than even expressed in films that were being produced contemporaneously, particularly those by Marco Berger.
Berger is the first queer Argentinian filmmaker whose name I learned. His feature debut premiered in 2009. Pretty much all the features he’s done have incorporated homophobia, but Berger’s homophobia was never so stifling that it made life even in rural areas feel hopeless. Berger’s homophobia never rises to the level or pushes any one to the point of criminality. Berger’s films are mainly masculine or athletic men wrestling with their desires and same-sex attractions. Usually, the struggles are internal. Redondo’s film here though is opposite. It’s more of a gay person dealing with external struggles or external forces.
Walter Rodríguez stars as Marcos, the Bernasconi equivalent. Marcos is a teenager living with his brother, his mother and his father on a farm in a deeply rural area in Argentina. The road leading to his farm is a dirt road. His rural area is so impoverished that it can even afford to pave its driveways. Marcos is about 16 or 17, and despite living on a farm, it’s clear that he’s never had to do much work on the farm. It’s clear that his parents wanted him to get an education instead and possibly get out of this rural area. Things change when his family suffers a tragedy that leaves the family financially vulnerable, so much so that they might lose the farm and become bankrupt.
While this is occurring, Marcos is trying to express what could be a realization of him being transgender. If not that, then Marcos is trying to express what’s an apparent homosexuality. These expressions include him wearing feminine clothing and makeup, even going as far as wearing a wig and heels. There’s an upcoming carnival where Marcos can utilize all the feminine clothing, makeup, wig and heels in order to walk the streets as a woman. Aside from his best friend, Laura, he doesn’t tell anyone about his cross-dressing.
Unfortunately, Marcos’ cross-dressing isn’t that much of a secret that he can hide or hides well. Other teenage boys bully him. His family reacts negatively or not welcoming of the cross-dressing or the same-sex attraction. Those negative reactions range from physical to psychological attacks upon Marcos. Those attacks coupled with scenes on the farm that include creepy disturbances and possible trespasses, as well as the burgeoning financial troubles generate a sense of dread for Redondo’s film. There’s increasing tension that feels as if that dread is building to some explosion or some kind of escape.
This film is distributed in the United States by Breaking Glass Pictures. If you’re familiar with Breaking Glass Pictures’ recent slate, then one can find comparisons to Martín Deus’ Mi Mejor Amigo and Maria Govan’s Play the Devil. Like Govan’s film, Redondo’s piece here is more a cultural slice of life, though not as sharp a critique of the people or place in which it’s set. Like Deus’ film, Redondo’s is also more a character study of a teenage Latin boy that relies heavily on the performance of the actor playing said boy. Walter Rodríguez who plays Marcos, the teenager in question, doesn’t have a lot of dialogue. His performance is sold almost exclusively through his face and eyes, and Rodríguez does sell it well.
Catalina Saavedra who plays Olga, the mother to Marcos, also gives a great performance here as a very strong-willed woman. She loves her son and her homophobia might be in her mind a way of protecting her son. Her protection though comes across as almost suffocation. It’s subtle in how her love is coming across as it seems wrapped up in anger and anxiety. It’s a very effective performance, but it’s not surprising from Saavedra who was strongly recognized in the critically-acclaimed The Maid (2009).
Lastly, if Redondo did make this film with the intent that people would know who Bernasconi is, then comparisons to Michael Haneke’s The Seventh Continent (1989) arise. Redondo could be taking a true story and is trying to understand it, to explore the how and why to a singular, horrific and typically very violent act. It’s a crime drama in that regard, but not like a typical Hollywood crime drama like Bonnie & Clyde (1967), Goodfellas (1990), American Gangster (2007) or Foxcatcher (2014). There isn’t a rise-and-fall aspect to this. Typically, Hollywood crime dramas incorporate the police or the criminal justice system. Redondo doesn’t do that here.
There’s no score. The music is instead all diagetic. Redondo strips his film bare of any fan fare or cinematic flourishes. It’s a lean look into a queer criminal, pushed to extremes. It’s not all that similar to films with queer criminals like The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) or Dahmer (2002). It’s not about a person acting on some pathology or in some offensive way, offensive being acting aggressively based on no prompting. Marcos is sheerly defensive, and that might make it seem like Redondo is sympathetic. The Talented Mr. Ripley and Dahmer avoided such criticisms. Redondo’s film isn’t about a serial killer unlike those two aforementioned films. Strangely though, this film and The Talented Mr. Ripley do end the same way with the sound of the protagonist crying. Redondo though almost begs for sympathy with such crying, whereas The Talented Mr. Ripley begged for the realization of horror.
It’s not as if a queer criminal can’t be sympathetic. Check out the documentary Free CeCe! (2018). It’s rare that queer criminals are given the benefit of the doubt or at least the opportunity to provide their point-of-view. It will be up to the viewer to decide how you feel about it, but this film does provide that point-of-view.
Not Rated but contains sexual situations, including a rape and violence.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 20 mins.