August 12, 2011

Queer Review: 20 Centimeters (2005)

20 Centimeters
Director: Ramón Salazar
Writer: Ramón Salazar
Cast: Mónica Cervera, Miguel O'Dogherty, Concha Galán, Richard Shaw, Juan Sanz, Pablo Puyol

A highly stylized slice of life drama/musical, 20 Centimeters tells the story of a pre-op transsexual, Marieta (Mónica Cervera) who yearns to remove the 20 centimeters (aproximately 8 inches) of male genitals that is the last step on her journey to becoming a woman.

Marieta is a narcoleptic who whenever she falls asleep, envisions herself as the lead singer in highly elaborate musical numbers. Her narcolepsy is particularly dangerous given her profession, prostitution, which she does to earn the money necessary to have the operation to remove her male genitalia. Marieta's efforts are hampered by her friend Tomás (Miguel O'Dogherty) and his crazy schemes that include scalping opera tickets and trying to become a master cello player in spite of a lack of talent. When Marieta meets Raúl (Pablo Puyol) it appears that she has at least found true love, but differences in opinion over what should be done with Marieta's penis put an insurmountable barrier between them.

The Queering
20 Centimeters could be compared on a superficial level to Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Both movies are over the top quasi-musicals featuring trans characters and both title focus on the measurement of the phallic organ of the main characters. However, whereas Hedwig and the Angry Inch transsexual character's was about a broken individual becoming whole, 20 Centimeters is about trying to survive in the bleakest of worlds.

To emphasise this bleakness, there is a sharp contrast between the fantasy songs Marieta stars in and the reality she is forced to endure. The scenes that take place in the real world are frequently under lit and the colours desaturated. The musical sequences on the other hand are much more colorful, at least at the beginning, although they gradual take on an increasingly grim quality as Marieta's situation becomes increasingly desperate, with the last two songs before the finale appearing to have been inspired by Marilyn Manson.

There is a certain underlying irony to Marieta's circumstances. While she desperately wishes to get rid of the approximately 8 inches of flesh between her legs, many people such as Raúl, as well as many of the men that Marieta services each night, believe it to be a benefit. I found Raúl's motives to be suspect though, as I wondered if he was genuinely attracted Marieta or if he just wanted a guy who looked like a girl in order to fool his parents into thinking he was straight.

The acting in 20 Centimeters is completely naturalistic, at least during the non-fantasy scenes. Mónica Cervera is particularly good as a person who knows exactly what she wants, but lives in a world that constantly seems to be conspiring to keep her from getting it, while Pablo Puyol creates an intriguing Raúl.

On one hand it would seem that a movie about a problems of a desperate street prostitute with narcolepsy would be both depressing and rife with danger. But while 20 Centimeters does not ignore the pathos inherent to Marieta's situation, the focus here is more on the fantasy world she wishes to live in. In the final analysis, this makes 20 Centimeters a movie with a joyful exuberance rarely seen in cinema, rather than the downer one would expect given the premise.

Highly recommended. There is no reason to keep more than 20 Centimeters between you and this movie.

The Rating


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