Monday, February 24, 2020

Diego Lerman | Tan de Repente (Suddenly)


an lgbtq domestic comedy
by Douglas Messerli

Diego Lerman and Maria Meira (writers, based on a fiction by César Aira), Diego Lerman (director) Tan de Repente (Suddenly) / 2002

Argentinean direct Diego Lerman’s first feature film, Tan de Repente (in its English version titled Suddenly) is an amazing debut work that has continued to haunt me in the week after viewing it.
     The events of the film do unfold quite “suddenly,” yet the significance of those events unwind in the mind quite slowly as the characters, who at first seem to be mere types, gradually shift into far more complex figures whose early impulsive acts are revealed to be a cover for far more complex issues of sexual behavior and even gender. Ultimately there is a complex sexual fluidity among nearly all the film’s characters which is beautifully and subtly performed by its actors.
      The heavy-set, not very beautiful Marcia (Tatiana Saphir) is quite clearly unhappy with her body and life. She works in a lingerie store, which might be the very worst place to be trapped for a woman of her dimensions who must sell sleek and lithe undergarments. She identifies as a heterosexual who has just broken up with her boyfriend; and we can tell that surely this has not been her first abandonment by the male species.
      Unable to find love she buys a new dress and a pair of sunglasses, consumer goods to replace a broken heart. The clothes are ridiculously in bad taste and the glasses offer only a momentary feeling of self-pleasure. She is, in short, the kind of woman abused by even her own heterosexual friends represented by Toni Colette in P. J. Hogan’s 1994 film Mariel’s Wedding.
      Yet, in Lerman’s film love is right around the corner—no matter how odd that corner is—in the form of two punk lesbians, Mao and Lenin as they call themselves (Carla Crespo and Veronica Hassan). The moment Mao sees Marcia, she is almost desperate to embrace her into the joys of lesbian love—although strangely enough both claim not to be lesbians.
      Within hours these two biker chicks kidnap Marcia and, discovering that she has never ever seen the ocean, ferry her away via various forms of transportation (including a willing truck driver) to the sea and on to Lenin’s Aunt Blanca (Beatriz Thibaudin) who with her wrinkle-lined face and strong traditionally masculine manners (a woman that has perhaps grown beyond sexual desires and identity) that she might be conceived of as a kind of transgender figure. One of the best scenes in the film is when she visits an elderly female friend and they tipple down an entire bottle of liquor.
      Lerman seems to be a bit unsure of whether or not he wants to continue his film a kind of road trip, featuring beautiful black-and-white abstract images of endless highways and their dividing lines; yet, we soon discover that he has determined to turn his always surprising movie instead into a kind of domestic comedy.
      Marcia, now able to leave their company if she wishes, is intrigued enough by the adventurousness and dangerous of the sudden events in her life, that she stays, now actually longing for the sex that Mao provides. The aunt rents them a room in a house that also includes a male tenant, Felipe (Marcos Ferrante) who, quite obviously, is an intrigued gay man. Yet somehow this little gathering is not at all presented as particularly voyeuristic or sexually perverse.
      Although she is a bit confused when Mao leaves her bed, she soon realizes that her friend will return with the pleasure continuing. Felipe may be a bit interested in the lesbian relationship, but politely closes their bedroom door after stumbling upon the scene. Lenin, meanwhile, develops a close friendship with the elder aunt, one that clearly had been missing with her own mother.

     In a sense, Lerman’s film becomes an almost paradisaical view of a mini-LGBTQ community, wherein the members are so entirely tolerant of one another that tensions ease and the sexual danger of the film’s early scenes are quickly converted into a kind of domestic bliss as each member learns to respect the territory of the others.
     The tough Lenin, with the help of her aunt, learns how to cook; the shy Marcia is taught how to love; and the young gay Felipe mostly stands aside in simple delight of the world in which he is now part. Each of them bring a kind of gentle energy to one another, sharing dinners and pleasant conversations.
      The madness of the “sudden” is cooled into a kind of joyous family scene that none of its characters has perhaps ever experienced before.
      One of my very favorite writers, César Aira, wrote the tale on which movie is based; I can only wish that there will be many more to come (he’s written several dozen of such fascinating stories). Lerman has gone on to direct 4 films since this one, and I can’t wait to see them.

Los Angeles, February 24, 2020
Reprinted from World Cinema Review (February 2020).

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