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This Is Me

Netherlands-based Spanish filmmaker Sonia Herman Dolz's widely seen films, "Romance de Valentia" and "Lagrimas negras," focused, respectively, on bullfighting and on veteran Cuban musicians. Her third documentary feature, "This is Me," examines a group of aging drag queens, entertainers and assorted other wilting eccentrics and the disappearance of the Barcelona refuge where they bloom by night. While the director's approach is less interesting than her subject, the candor and charm of these sequin-clad oldsters should guarantee exposure, while cutting to an hour could boost TV sales.

Netherlands-based Spanish filmmaker Sonia Herman Dolz’s widely seen films, “Romance de Valentia” and “Lagrimas negras,” focused, respectively, on bullfighting and on veteran Cuban musicians. Her third documentary feature, “This is Me,” examines a group of aging drag queens, entertainers and assorted other wilting eccentrics and the disappearance of the Barcelona refuge where they bloom by night. While the director’s approach is less interesting than her subject, the candor and charm of these sequin-clad oldsters should guarantee exposure, while cutting to an hour could boost TV sales.

The film chronicles the closing days, following the death of its owner, of La Bodega Bohemia, a popular Barcelona nightspot, where many of the performers shuffle in with walking sticks but come alive as they don their wigs and makeup. Father figure to the extended family is host and manager Enrique, while his mentally handicapped, adopted middle-aged son serves as a kind of mascot to the club and its regulars. These range from transvestites to a singing plumber to an old woman who sells lottery tickets and black-market cigarettes in the street outside, and who occasionally wanders in to dance a clumsy Sevillana.

In the somewhat meandering opening reels, especially, Herman Dolz’s affection for the delightful subjects allows her to linger unduly over the introductions. But once the Bohemia’s fading stars start talking about their lives — they have in common a fairly meager existence in humble apartments — the film develops a disarming, unforced pathos. This builds to an affecting conclusion at the club owner’s funeral, which doubles as a farewell to the de facto family’s sanctuary. Hans Fels’ camera atmospherically captures the shadowy decadence of Barcelona’s old quarter, where the club and most of the performers’ homes are located.

This Is Me

(DOCU -- NETHERLANDS)

Production: A Public Film release of a Pieter van Huystee Film & TV/VPRO production. (International sales: Pieter van Huystee Film & TV, Amsterdam.) Produced by Pieter van Huystee. Directed, written by Sonia Herman Dolz.

Crew: Camera (color), Hans Fels; editor, Andrez de Jong; music, Paul M. van Brugge; sound, Mark Wessner; sound designer, Stephan Warnas; line producers, Magriet Kreulen, Hetty Krapels. Reviewed at Rotterdam Film Festival (Main Program), Feb. 3, 2000. Running time: 97 MIN.

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