There have been many prominent transgender stories told through film in recent years, and though the story of Marcelo Bernasconi initially may not be the most well-known, it is one that deserves to be shared. Bernasconi (who now identifies as Marilyn) endured disapproval from his family and maltreatment for dressing in female clothes and being a homosexual, and the adaptation of this real-life story into film has resulted in an engaging piece of Latin cinema.
It is clear from the opening of Marilyn that the protagonist, known as Marcos (Walter Rodríguez) admires female clothing and accessories. He helps his mother Olga (Catalina Saavedra) choose dresses and is often fixated by the appearance of female attire; in secret, he wears them. Marcos is a reticent teenager often driven to carry out chores on the family farm, which becomes more necessary after the sudden death of his father. One night, Marcos decides to attend a party in town dressed as a woman. The audience sees a more free-spirited side to Marcos as he dances gleefully in the street and a local bar. Unfortunately, despite Marco’s antics and convincing feminine appearance, he is recognised by a group of fellow youths and after leaving the bar is raped. The nature of this scene is despicable enough but it is made more harrowing by not being melodramatic. Instead, the act is simply shown, heightening the emotional impact of the scene. Marcos arrives home, only for Olga to discover her son’s womanly clothes. As she burns them, the audience sees the tears in Marcos’s eyes, as if his identity has been symbolically cremated. Despite Olga’s condemnation of her son’s transvestism and sexuality, Marcos finds it impossible to deny who he really is.
The story of Marilyn is told matter-of-fact, which helps this particular film shine. Director Martín Rodríguez Redondo‘s decision to tell the narrative with candour not only draws the attention of the audience but makes impactful scenes more profound because they are not overplayed. It is refreshing to see a director take this approach.
The film further excels through the performances of the cast, particularly from Rodríguez in his first acting role. Though he often plays Marcos as an introverted young man throughout the runtime, he also shows nuanced versatility with a range of emotions.
Redondo’s first feature may not be particularly bold, but it gives an intimate account of its leading character which I have often seen in South American cinema, particularly in the films of Sebastián Lelio. Marilyn is gracious about telling the story of its subject but not ostentatious in its presentation. The film is accessible and will have audiences contemplating why people that are ‘different’ in any way are still subject to oppression and discrimination.