TransparentTrace Lysette stars in the title of the Venice Competition Monicadirected and co-written by Andrea Pallaoro, who returns to the Lido after his films Medeas Y Ana.
Set in the USA, Monica stars Lysette as the title character, a trans woman who is summoned home to help care for her dying mother, Eugenia (Patricia Clarkson). The casting gives a strong clue as to Monica’s birth gender, but the subject is rarely tackled head-on; rather lurking in the background, occasionally alluded to with scathing stories about children and fights. Eugenia doesn’t seem to recognize Monica, mistaking her for a hired help, but as the bond between them grows, both the audience and Monica begin to wonder how much she really knows about the new arrival in the house.
It’s a tender portrait of family reconnection under difficult circumstances, with terrific performances. Clarkson takes a sensitive, characterful turn, strongly supported by Joshua Close and Emily Browning as his son and his wife, who have problems of their own.
But it is Lysette who takes center stage, delivering a quiet, powerful turn as a woman full of complexities: enigmatic in public but vulnerable in private; modest but extravagant; distant then affectionate. It’s painful to watch her leave pleading messages for her wandering boyfriend, who isn’t there for her in her time of need. Meanwhile, her mother has her own contradictions and worries about being a burden to others, something that rings true but is rarely shown on screen.
This avoids the grim details of cancer and home care, and focuses on the emotional challenges for the family and the sweet moments they get to experience together, from nostalgic memories to lipstick shared between Eugenia, Monica and nurse/caregiver Leticia ( Adriana Barraza, nominated for an Oscar for Babel). The film has a vivid sense of touch, whether it’s a lingering, wordless moment of affection between mother and son or an awkward hug. There’s also subtle humor that plays into the film’s themes: at one point, a child imitates giving birth during playtime, perhaps reminding us that Monica can’t have children of her own.
Monica it’s a smooth-paced movie that doesn’t pack an obvious emotional punch, but brings rewards for those invested in the characters and theme. And after supporting roles in characters like hustlerit’s good to see Lysette in a leading role, becoming the first trans actress to headline a competition film in Venice.