Bravery and Tragedy in the Pampas

Corina Poore talks to the up and coming Argentine director Martin Rodriguez Redondo whose debut feature film “Marylin’ recounting the tragic real life events of a teenager targeted for challenging gender stereotypes in the Argentine countryside has made waves at The BFI Flare London LGBTQ+ Film Festival
by: 
Corina J Poore

'Marilyn' is inspired by the true-life story of Marcelo B., the teenage son of a ‘puestero’ (a farm overseer), and the real events that took place in a rural area in the province of Buenos Aires in 2009 when Marcelo B’s trans and gay tendencies led to his being brutally attacked by his own family, the sons of the Estancia owners and people from the local town. Unwittingly, Marcelo B. became the target of both human desires and cruel discrimination, leading to inevitably tragic consequences. 

Martin’s film examines the damage done to a person when their very essence is negated and denied the right to exist, and the consequences that can then ensue. The 38-year old  studied at the CIC (Centro de Investigación Cinematográfica in Argentina) and worked for a number of years at the film company of the renowned Luiz Puenzo, (known for  the Oscar winning ‘The official Story, 1985’), before he spotted the report in the Argentine newspapers.

In the course of his research, Martín visited the original Marilyn (Marcelo B) several times and was allowed to view a 10- page diary she had written which she called: “The Suffering for not being the Same“ (El Sufrimiento por no Ser Igual). He also met and interviewed other people who were connected to the events.

As he explained to me on a damp March morning in London, Martín was fascinated by how these things can happen, and he wanted to explore what could lead a victim to fight back and change the status quo: -

                   “We are used to seeing films where the victims remain victims and die as victims. But Marilyn rebels against this, and turned the tables, and that is what was interesting. I am not condoning what happened, but there is a political position here and the moral and political questions and answers have to remain with the audience.”

Martin’s journey into the story took many unexpected turns…

“Initially I was intrigued by what could be behind a story like this, because the article did not expand much about the case, so it remained an enigma…  then I started to find out about how Marcelo B’s mother (superbly played by Chilean actress Catalina Saavedra) had dressed him up as a little girl as a child, but then, very suddenly, in a brutal manner she no longer accepted his sexuality when, as an older youngster, he still wanted to dress up as a woman to attend the local carnival. I then understood that this mother was a very complex person with strong contradictions and ambiguities…[It is clear that the lad could confidently use a sewing machine and make his own clothes] … so there is a strange complicity with the mother in terms of clothing and other things, and that same mother then sees herself obliged - either due to social pressures in her own environment, or because she decides she needs a ‘man’  to help with the farm duties - to [cruelly] repress his feminine side. In the end the issues are above his sexuality, because what she ends up rejecting is her own son, his very identity and being.”

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Rodriguez Redondo admits it was a challenge to work with a true story while developing a convincing drama, especially having to work with a very low budget (c £120,000) and barely four weeks of shooting time. That is why he insists his film is ‘inspired by’ rather than ‘based on’ the true events.  But he has managed to capture the lad’s suffering and the traumatic events that were building up in his life without resorting to melodrama.

This is a minimalist interpretation that adds a great deal of emotive power, enhanced by the restrained performance of the young lead (played by Walter Rodríguez).  In the film, Marcelo/ Marilyn appears almost impassive when faced with tumultuous events: the death of his father, a rape, and, at first, it appears that he is unmoved. Rodriguez Redondo explains: -

“He hasn’t got the tools with which to express himself or process what is happening to him. After the death of his father, he’s in a state of shock, unable to come to terms with his emotions, and that generates the first deep wound that Marcelo carries with him. The idea is to show how grief can be delayed. This person cannot process the things that are happening at the time. Obviously, they are two very strong pointers that influence the end, not only the oppression and rejection of his family, but the accumulation of all the things that came before.”

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 Finding the young actor to fill this demanding role took over a year: -

“We saw many lads from Buenos Aires, but we couldn’t find the right person.  There was a lack of truth in their body language, and those that were heterosexual did not know how to portray this character, they found it hard to shed their prejudices. After all, they were young, 17 and 18 which in itself is a difficult age…  Trying to find someone in the countryside was even harder as we could not find anyone among the labourers who could admit to that sort of duality. One day Walter appeared… and he immediately projected a certain ambiguity… he was free and spontaneous. He even arrived at the audition wearing a t-shirt he had made himself that exposed all his back and he didn’t care that it was provocative. He comes from the outskirts of Buenos Aires, so a sort of half- way [between the rural and the urban way]… if he was too streetwise or urban it would never have worked.”

Unexpectedly, given his subdued performance, Walter is very different indeed in real life to the person we see on screen: -

“We had doubts about his [natural exuberance] and expressiveness, so we had to teach him to control his body language and it was a process that lasted over six months with a special tutor. The last test was when we took him to a real carnival. He dressed up as a woman and danced and was quite amazing, his lack of inhibition was impressive, he really didn’t care what anyone thought.”

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What’s interesting about the film is how the ‘macho’ characters are both attracted to and repelled by Marilyn at the carnival. In most countries of Latin America, the binary way of thinking, is very common; things are either black and white and there are no greys. From an early age, people are made to identify as male or female and anyone who challenges that tacit prohibition of crossing the line and dresses up as a woman, is therefore unacceptable. IN the film, as in reality, Marcelo/Marilyn pays the price.  -

“Many countries have a strong identification of what a man should be and oppose anything that appears to push against these boundaries… anything that does not fit the norm… and yet, they often go clandestinely to meet up with guys and transvestites and violence often emanates from these encounters… men harbouring desires that they eventually act out violently.”

Rodriguez Redondo had a tight team on this production, some of whom had already participated in his short ‘La Liebres (2016)’. The Director of Photography (Guillermo Saposnik) is also from the countryside, from Crespo in Entre Rios of Russian/ Ukrainian heritage and he understood farm life and was able to infuse a genuine authentic feel into his shots, making a point of using natural light as much as possible.  Equally, the choice of music and foley was carefully considered and stark: -

“The idea was to work from a dry and cutting point of view, without music… as the events are tremendous enough not to need more emphasis. There is music, but it’s normal music that is playing in a bar …  there is no incidental music.  I felt it wasn’t necessary to stress things. There is also the theme of silence… how to work on that which is ‘not spoken’…that tension that hangs in the air when things are not said: the looks of that mother to her son …to feel the abyss that opens.”

All these ingredients add up to devastating effect, given the outstanding performance of Marcos by the young Walter Rodriguez. Marcos is a bright lad who is doing well in high school. His father, who is, in effect, his protector, has dreams of Marcos studying computing so that he would be able to support the whole family one day.  The mother, who slyly takes advantage of his feminine interests, (using him to dye her hair and adjust her clothes), is also repelled by his love of dressing in women’s clothes and wearing make-up. Marcos is therefore desperately isolated, physically, by living out in the sticks, and emotionally by having no one he can talk to or relate to.  His telephone is his main contact with the outside world, as is his friend Laura. It is significant that he barely ever ventures out alone.  When his mother takes his phone therefore, it is a fatally devasting gesture of rejection and hate.

 If you see a film that starts out with the phrase “based on a true story,” you know it is not likely to end well!  Although this movie tries to show that Marcos is not just a victim but a person who dares to hope that he could have a better life in the future.

There is a profound sadness to this story.  It’s an intense and heart-rending film of self- discovery and self -determination, in the face of repression and prejudice.

  • Director:               Martín Rodríguez Redondo
  • Writers:                 Martín Rodríguez Redondo, Mariana Docampo & Mara Pescio.
  • DOP:                         Guillermo Saposnik
  • Sound:                    Laurent Apffel
  • Editor                      Felipe Gálvez    
  • Cast:
  • Marcos                                     Walter Rodríguez
  • Olga (Mother)    Catalina Saavedra
  • Carlos (Father)  Germán de Silva
  • Facundo                Rodolfo García Werner

Epilogue:

The real Marilyn (Marcelo B) chose to have a sex-change and is now definitively identifying as Marilyn. She is in Florencio Varela jail in the wing for gays and trans prisoners. There, she took part in the first ever gay marriage in an Argentine prison. It is interesting to note that her husband is a convicted serial rapist, who is known to have violated seven women in his day. She is now a political activist for her cause.

Trailer de Marilyn subtitulado en inglés (HD)