Film Review: ‘Tamara’

A biopic of the first transgender person elected to Venezuelan public office.

Elia K. Schneider
Luis Fernandez, Prakriti Maduro, Karina Velazquez, Mimi Lazo, Julie Restifo, Carlota Sosa, Alberto Alifa, Gerardo Blanco, Jhovana Lozada. (Spanish, French dialogue)

1 hour 55 minutes

While transgender visibility and rights have been on the rise in many nations, the case of Tamara Adrian is particularly notable — not only did she become Venezuela’s first transgender elected official upon becoming a National Assembly member in 2015, but she did so when the country still bans legal acknowledgement of a changed gender identity. A considerable home-turf success, Elia K. Schneider’s “Tamara” is an accomplished biopic that represented a progressive choice for Venezuela to choose as its foreign-language Oscar submission. A fine lead performance by Luis Fernandez keeps this coolly intelligent, melodrama-resistant account involving, even if the details of this “true story” have been largely fictionalized for the screen.

After seven years’ study in Paris, Teo (Fernandez) is most reluctantly called back to 1980s Caracas by his divorced mother (Mimi Lazo); an older brother, “dad’s favorite,” has shot himself in a “hunting accident” that may have been a suicide attempt. In any case, by the time Teo arrives, his sibling has died. Yet his mother’s own neglected health proves prevents him from bolting back on the next plane to Europe; he’s forced to beg his cold, disapproving father (Gerardo Blanco) for the money she needs for immediate surgery.

The androgynous style that Teo could flaunt freely overseas only earns him scorn in his native land. When it’s depressingly clear that family obligations will keep him in Venezuela for the foreseeable future, he duly ditches the flowing locks and gender-blurring clothes that nullify his many academic plaudits for any potential employers. A corporate law-firm job, and swift rise to the company’s presidency, reward his embrace of a traditionally masculine image.

Popular on Variety

This makeover extends even to marrying concert pianist Maria Isabel (Karina Velazquez), with whom he soon has two young children and a consummately luxe bourgeois lifestyle. But when she takes the kids on a short trip, his repressed emotions — in particular, the lifelong one of feeling like a woman trapped in a man’s body — surge forth. He picks up a transgender prostitute (Jhovana Lozada), not for sex but for advice. He then secretly begins hormone therapy, taking initial steps towards gender transition.

When he finally broaches the subject with his wife, her response shuts down all hope that their marriage might continue. But still being attracted to women, he finds an unexpected new love in younger Ana (Prakriti Maduro), a low-level employee at the Catholic university where he teaches. Disdaining dull “normality,” she’s externally a freer spirit than he is — though whether she can fully accept her lover turning from Teo to Tamara is another matter.

Focusing on years of psychological, social, and physical transition (Adrian’s higher-profile subsequent activism is relegated to closing text), “Tamara” feels primarily an interior journey, despite several instances of public discrimination. Schneider and Fernando Butazzoni’s screenplay eventually ekes some suspense out of attempts by hostile faculty and students to expel the post-op professor for “debauchery,” while another discomfiting episode sees our protagonist denied emergency medical care.

The somewhat terse writing and elegant but spare presentation (Osvaldo Montes’ original score barely registers) lend the film a clinical remove that isn’t exactly chilly, but doesn’t exert itself to tap or explain emotions. Fortunately, Fernandez fills in the psychological blanks with an impressively understated turn. He punches across the protagonist’s simultaneous self-doubt and strong will, while fully inhabiting each step along the gender-identity continuum in both looks and manner.

Supporting performances are also strong, though apart from Maduro’s Ana, subsidiary characters don’t get a lot of screentime or shading. While action presumably spans at least a couple decades, Schneider (“Punto y Raya”) downplays any period ambiance, perhaps due to budgetary constraints.

Film Review: 'Tamara'

Reviewed online, San Francisco, Oct. 14, 2017. Running time: 115 MIN.

Production: (Venezuela-Peru-Uruguay) A Unity Films, Joel Films presentation of an Iberoamericana co-production, in association with CNAC, Unity Films, Joel Films, Jiresco, Agua Dulce Films, Leon Films. (World sales—Joel Films, Los Angeles.) Producer: Jose R. Novoa. Executive producer: Novoa. Directed by Elia K. Schneider. Screenplay, Fernando Butazzoni, Schneider, from an original story by Schneider, Butazzoni, Andrea Baranenko, Joel X. Novoa. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Petr Cikhart; editors, Christian Alexander, Jose R. Novoa; music, Osvaldo Montes.

Crew: Director: Elia K. Schneider. Screenplay: Fernando Butazzoni, Schneider; story: Schneider, Butazzoni, Andrea Baranenko, Joel X. Novoa. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Petr Cikhart. Editors: Christian Alexander, Jose R. Novoa. Music: Osvaldo Montes.

With: Luis Fernandez, Prakriti Maduro, Karina Velazquez, Mimi Lazo, Julie Restifo, Carlota Sosa, Alberto Alifa, Gerardo Blanco, Jhovana Lozada. (Spanish, French dialogue)

More Film

  • Shirley Chen and Jose Angeles appear

    'Beast Beast': Film Review

    Writer-director Danny Madden’s “Beast Beast” clatters to life with organic percussion: a stick rat-a-tatting against an iron fence, a skateboard scraping on concrete, a rifle pinging bullets against a defenseless tin plate. Together, these sounds combine into jazz, despite the discordance of the three teens making such a ruckus. Krista (Shirley Chen), the stick thwacker, [...]

  • Sundance: PBS POV Acquires Kenyan Doc

    Sundance: PBS POV Acquires Kenyan Doc ‘Softie’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    PBS’s documentary arm POV has snapped up U.S. broadcast rights for Kenyan director Sam Soko’s “Softie,” fresh off its world premiere in the World Documentary Cinema competition at Sundance, Variety has learned. The film, which is the first Kenyan-produced movie to premiere at the festival, will air as part of the series’ 33rd season, which kicks [...]

  • Will Smith as Mike Lowrey in

    Box Office: 'Bad Boys for Life' Rules Over 'The Gentlemen'

    STX’s “The Gentlemen” proved no match for Sony’s “Bad Boys for Life,” which again left box office competitors in the dust after collecting $34 million in its sophomore outing. Those ticket sales, pushing the Will Smith and Martin Lawrence-led sequel past the $100 million mark, were easily enough to claim the No. 1 spot for [...]

  • Kajillionaire

    'Kajillionaire': Film Review

    The world is a weird place. Miranda July knows that, but the rest of us sometimes forget. Or maybe we just don’t want to admit how bizarre it is that society more or less agrees that back rubs and hot tubs and flavored chips and McRibs are an appropriate reward for a bazillion years of [...]

  • Stellan Skarsgard

    Göteborg Listens to Stellan according to Skarsgård

    GÖTEBORG Spain — Laughs were aplenty at the Stora Theatern, where Göteborg Film Festival artistic director Jonas Holmberg welcomed the recipient of the Nordic Honorary Dragon Award, fresh off his Golden Globe win for HBO’s “Chernobyl”. “It wasn’t planned. I thought that will be my only award this year, that’s why I said yes!” – joked Skarsgård, [...]

  • Promising Young Woman

    'Promising Young Woman': Film Review

    Given that the entertainment industry is pretty much the center of the #MeToo universe in terms of generating its most public effects — and, needless to say, causes — probably no Sundance film this year will be as hot a conversation topic as “Promising Young Woman.” Emerald Fennell’s first directorial feature is a female revenge [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content