Carmin Tropical ****
Starring: José Pecina, Luis Alberti Drirector: Rigoberto Pérezcan
In the Zapotec region of Mexico, there is a sub-community of people known as muxe. Treated amongst the people as a legitimate third sex, the muxe are considered both male and female (or neither, or somewhere in between) and live amongst the community with little prejudice or discrimination. It is one such muxe named Mabel that we follow in Carmin Tropical, who becomes our heroine in this slow and brooding thriller, which sheds light onto a community that is remarkable in its normalcy against a backdrop of an otherwise Catholic country.
Mabel (Pecina) and Daniela were childhood friends, who grew to become muxe together. But when Mabel ran away to marry her sweetheart, she didn't say goodbye to anyone, not even her best friend. Now, with her marriage dissolved, Mabel learns that Daniela has been murdered and, filled with regret for the way they parted, returns to her home town to reconnect with her past and track down the killer. And whilst there, she falls in love again with a handsome taxi driver (Alberti), who accompanies her on her quest. In the opening moments of the film, the early lives of Mabel and Daniela are recounted through a series of photographs, which exhibit their transition. Beyond this, it is strikingly understated how little attention is drawn to these characters' gender, or the community to which they belong. Just as the muxe are assimilated into their local culture, Carmin Tropical reflects this with no real explanation of what a muxe is until about halfway through the film. In essence, this film depicts a culture that is far more advanced in its evolution of trans* rights than us and is subsequently a refreshing snapshot of a rare LGBT idyll that few know exists. And for that alone, this film is a real treasure.
Cinematically, Carmin Tropical is a subtle and nuanced piece that takes its time to tell a simple yet compelling story. With a restrained script that hints at this region's remoteness and separation, it paints this area, its people and its culture as the epitome of pure normalcy, but through its subsequent minimalism, builds a slow and marked tension that bubbles beneath the sun-kissed surface of this unremarkable landscape. Tonally, the story is drenched in nostalgic melancholy as Mabel atones for the way she left her friend, but without brow-beating or solemnity, this wistful sadness is captured in silent looks, empty rooms and grainy photographs that hint at happier times. While there are clearly moments of high drama within this story, the camera shies away from these, depicting the stillness that comes in between. Just as the majority of life is about these lulls; about picking up the pieces and living on, this film captures the essence of ambivalence that something is only an issue if someone cares about it. Mabel wonders what will happen when she is not present to remember Daniela and in this non-descript corner of Mexico, it is clear that this moment of personal drama will be painted over and forgotten. As such, this is a film that muses on the virtue of normalcy. In another world, Mabel would have been remarkable for living as a third gender, but in her assimilation she will be forgotten... and so too will her tragedy. And all that will be left behind are the photographs, which play such an integral part of this film.
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