(2020) Drama (Corriola) Thiessa Woinbackk, Guta Stresser, Rômulo Braga, Ronaldo Bonafro, Maria De Maria, Pedro Diniz, Leticia Franco, João Gott, Paula Passos. Directed by Cássio Pereira dos Santos
As humans, we like to put people in boxes. It makes it easier for us to figure out who they are, I suppose. The boxes can be narrow or broad – from a teenage girl to a gaming nerd to a math geek. Or maybe all of the above. People, though, seldom stay in the boxes we put them in.
Valentina (Woinbackk) is your average teen girl in Brazil. She likes music, argues with her mom, can be temperamental and has a healthy dose of drama in her DNA. She also happens to be transgender.
She and her mom (Stresser) have moved from Sao Paolo to a small country town to get a new, fresh start. Victimized by bullies at her own school, she is eager to enroll in school under her new identity. The problem is that the school won’t let her do that without the signature of both parents, including her father (Braga) who is no longer with her mom and who has had a hard time adjusting to the change that Valentina has undertaken.
At school, she is wary about telling anyone her secret, not wishing to be victimized again. She does start making friends but elects not to tell them that she wasn’t born a girl. However, complications begin to ensue when she is groped by a young man who works in the butcher shop who was, up to then, sweet on her. He in turn tells her bigoted brother who wants Valentina to be thrown out of school and is willing to go to extremes to see that it happens, including rallying the other parents in school to sign a petition. However, nothing is going to keep Valentina down – especially after her father turns up in her corner.
Woinbackk is a trans activist and popular YouTube personality in her native Brazil, and she has loads of screen presence; she has the ability to become a big star down the line with the right roles. One wonders how much of Valentina’s story is her story; I assume that she had her share of resistance to her decision to make the change. Woinbackk, if you get a chance to see her videos, has a forceful personality and it’s easy to see where Valentina got that aspect of her personality from.
In fact, one of the things I admire the most about the film is how Valentina is portrayed not as a transgender first and a girl second, but as a girl who just happens to be transgender. We get to meet the person, not a stereotype. Valentina could be any teen girl you meet in your own hometown – and there are probably several just like her that you don’t know about, who have elected as she did not to tell anyone for fear of persecution. One wonders why adults feel the need to terrorize a teenage girl, but that isn’t an unusual situation, in Brazil or the United States, sadly.
There are some elements of the movie that don’t work, unfortunately; at times the action becomes overly dramatic to the point where it feels more like a soap opera. The classroom confrontation at the end of the movie between Valentina and the bigot feels extremely contrived, and while it does hit the right feels, it never rings true.
That’s a shame because other than that this is a marvelous first feature for Pereira dos Santos, and an impressive acting debut for Woinbackk. A terrific character was created here, a true role model who isn’t perfect (Valentina can be a little hotheaded, and she has a tendency to not give her trust easily) but is still someone to admire. This is out on the festival circuit for now; hopefully one of the indie distributors that features LGBTQ films, or a cable/streaming service that serves that community will pick up this fine film.
REASONS TO SEE: Valentina is portrayed not so much as a trans girl, but as a girl who is transgender (a crucial difference).
REASONS TO AVOID: Has an occasional tendency to go the soap opera route.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity and some sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: 82% of all Brazilian trans boys and girls drop out of school due mainly to bullying.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/25/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet, Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Fantastic Woman
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: 5 Years Apart