For her fourth time in the director’s chair Venezuelan/American filmmaker Elia K. Schneider chose to tell a dramatized version of the controversial true-life story of the Law Professor who transitioned into Tamara Adrián and who would go on to become the first transgender person ever elected to Venezuela’s National Assembly.
The movie version of the story starts when Teo (Luis Fernandez) has to suddenly fly home when his only brother is in a fatal car accident. His plan is only to stay a few days and then fly back to his bohemian life in Paris where he has been living for 5 years studying for his Masters Law Degree. However his divorced mother gets taken ill suddenly, and so Teo finds himself staying on to be her carer.
It means that he will need to start conforming a little if he is to get a good job and make a new life there. He lands first the job, and then a pretty classical pianist for a wife (Mimi Lazo). Fast forward seven years and he is now a successful Law Professor and the father of two children and living a very comfortable existence, but he is nevertheless as miserable as hell. His mother is the only other person who can see this and she pleads with him to take up with all the dreams he had in Paris, that although they had never discussed, she intuitively knew all about.
When she dies soon after that, Teo uses this as a catalyst to continue he journey he had started out in Paris of transitioning. However his Psychologist refuses to let him circumvent the requirement of having two years as a woman before they will even consider accepting him as a potential gender-realignment candidate. Teo’s reluctance to comply as it will mean finally telling his wife of his lifelong desire to alter his body to match his true gender, and he doesn’t want to lose either her or his children.
His fears are quickly born out and he moves out to a small apartment to start fulfilling the dream. Initially Teo starts dressing more androgynously as a means to ease himself into his feminine side, but there is also part of the old Teo who seems unsure of how far he should take the surgery part. Recently he had a couple of ‘dates’ with a trans sex-worker simply because he wanted to learn about the consequences of being castrated too.
Whilst Teo starts hormone treatments he starts dating Ana (Prakriti Maduro) a much younger free-spirit who works in the University Library. She is totally happy to accept Teo’s take on his dressing up and she perceives it as part of his bohemian attitude and thinks nothing more because they have a very rampant sex life and she has fallen head over heels with Teo. When he is finally forced to confront her with the truth, it is something that she cannot handle, especially as Teo expects her to instantly embrace what he has been inwardly digesting since he was a schoolboy.
After the surgery in Thailand Tamara flies back to the indignity stripped by the Immigration Authorities as she no longer matches her passport, and then she has to deal with the fact that some of the Faculty have demanded a meeting to try and get her fired.
It is a powerful story that is told with compassion and more than it’s share of disbelief, and makes a very welcome contribution to the whole dialogue on gender dysmorphia. The fact that Teo went through both marriage and parenthood he/she found the necessary inner strength to finally take her chosen path speaks volumes, but then again catholic Venezuela is still a very conservative country.
This excellent movie works so very well mainly because of the sublime tour-de-force performance of Fernandez who imbues the role with such wonderful sensitivity and he gives Teo/Tamara such a stunning authenticity. He was a sheer joy to watch.
P.S. Tamara’s story still continues as even today Venezuela does not allow transgender to legally change their names, and the producers are fighting a Ban that is keeping the movie from being shown in some Universities there.