From Teo to Tamara
“Tamara” is the story of Teo Almanza who, upon hearing about the death of his brother, returns to his hometown in Venezuela. What was originally planned to be a short visit becomes a long trip to gender reassignment. It explores Teo’s desire to become a woman and shares his search for his true self, his struggle with societal taboos as well as his inner conflicts about who he wants to become as contrasted with what society wants him to be. Venezuela is a federal republic that is predominantly Catholic and we become aware of the hardships especially transgender men and women face on a daily basis regarding Catholicism. The film avoids the violence perpetually inflicted on the transgender community and instead focuses on the complexity of identity.
As a lawyer, spouse and father, Teo fits those patriarchal roles quite seamlessly, however he felt in a body that he denies as his own and this continually caused him emotional distress. Throughout the film, we are very aware of what he has to contend with as it affects the definition of who he is. This is clearly seen in therapy sessions that are juxtaposed with flashbacks and voice-over narration.
We soon find ourselves in his mind thus allowing us to be better able to relate to his circumstances. Tamara also heightens this quest for the self by displacing the protagonist from his point of origin, i.e. his comfort zone. He had found this in Paris and its bohemian lifestyle where he studied law. This displacement provides a socio-political context and therefore is a modern, transgressive and twisted look at transsexuality in Venezuela, a particular location that is heavily influenced by tradition.
We are with Teo as he is on his journey of becoming who he has always wanted to be, regardless of the natural fear of finding himself utterly alone or being made fun of for the rest of his life. We see that the assertion of self-realization can occur at any age, and that it is possible to be reborn and this is a philosophical approach that contrasts heavily with Catholicism.
In many other films about transgender characters, the feeling of empathy comes out of pity, while in “Tamara”, we tend to morally support the main character all the way through his transformation because we really admire his ability to thrive even with societal constraints and animosity regarding change. Luis Fernandez as Teo delivers a wonderful performance of the nature of Teo’s ethos. “Tamara” successfully blurs the borders between male and female.
Directed by Elia K. Schneider, the film is a reaction to the norms and the codes of conduct prescribed by a society that refuses any change attributed to the human condition. It provokes the mind and the slow pace often serves as a breather that allows viewers to both pause and reflect while with Teo.