Image from: Naomi Campbel (2013)

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Reviewed by montybrando GB / Joined montybrando 2015
Naomi Campbel
Naomi Campbel
Naomi Campbel
Chile, 2013, 83 minutes, SD Drama, LGBT
Naomi Campbel tells the story of Yermén, a transgender woman living in Chile and looking to get sex reassignment surgery. This thoughtful, original, well-paced tale presents us with a unique protagonist who has a lot to offer audiences both inside and outside the film. In the first five minutes any preconceptions we may have about our protagonist are dismissed. Yermén is nobody’s victim. She has a house, a boyfriend, friends and a talent for reading tarot cards. She claims nonchalantly that she has no problems with her sexual life. The doctor sounds surprised at this assertion and frankly so are we. For so long Hollywood has comfortably neglected or forced minority characters into the role of victim and to see first time directors Nicolás Videla and Camila José Donoso skillfully avoid this at every turn is refreshing.

‘I’m drunk,’ mutters our protagonist Yermén. She continues, ‘You’re looking at something that had been denied to you. And I’m giving it to you; I’m offering it to you.’ Although she’s talking about the outskirts of Santiago where she lives, her words are embedded with a truth she may not even know. As a transgender thirty-something woman living in Chile, stories like hers are often neglected and denied to audiences. She is acting as an agent to her own truth and in doing so powerfully declares the relevance of lives like hers that are too often ignored. Though the narrative itself may not be a sensational one, through the way it is told and the subject at the centre of it, it becomes a quietly revelatory one.

The most insightful parts of the film come when Yermén is recording on her own video camera and we get to see the world through her lens. She creates her own space, her own truth and her own reality and in this world she is in full control. The machismo of the neighborhood bullies is mercilessly deconstructed and they are rendered disregarded blurs of vision that are focused upon only to be compared to the stray dogs that bark at night. She drunkenly exclaims, ‘That stupid jackass thought I was filming him, like he was important!’. The aggressive traditional masculinity that usually dictates vulnerable queer lives holds no power here.

The camera follows Yermén’s every move, whether she’s lying in bed or walking down the street. We empathise with her and fear for her safety while she does something as ostensibly safe as go to work. By showing us scenes of the city, she confronts the world and the world is forced to confront her. She refuses to be confined to the claustrophobic interiors that so often act as restrictive scenes for queer people and their stories. This is especially relevant when considering the title. Though Yermén shares some similarities with iconic supermodel beauty Naomi Campbell (notably their ability to be revolutionary through simply being marginalised women who remain visible), there’s another reason for the title. There is a key scene halfway through the film where she meets a young black woman in the doctor’s waiting room who dreams of looking like Naomi Campbell. While the two women complain about the dreadful nature of men, the camera focuses on the evidently uneasy faces of the white middle class men, woman and child also present in the room. Here we have two minority women talking openly and, in doing so, claiming this public space while those that would usually rule are forced to remain uncomfortable. This is what us film nerds would gushingly call radical cinema.

Another noteworthy aspect of the film is its apathy towards tying itself to any larger queer movement. Make no mistake: this is Yermén’s journey and it is one that is far removed from any of the more familiar Hollywood-oriented cosiness that audiences may more easily recognise. This is not a woman who spends her time googling Laverne Cox but rather one that is concerned with paying the bills. There is something refreshing about the film’s refusal to widen its scope to anything larger than its protagonist. An especially good decision given that Yermén is a multi-faceted complicated woman who is simultaneously kind, well meaning and self-aware. Unsurprisingly, she wins our empathy with ease.

Yermén’s nonchalant claim that ‘sometimes you’re happy sometimes you’re sad’ stands as a perfect metaphor for the film. Something that is usually a yawn inducing cliché in the right hands can become something quite unique. Naomi Campbel is a model example of the capacity of film to shed light onto the lives of those that our culture ceaselessly attempts to darken and for that, it is remarkable.
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