Paloma – ★★★ 1/2 (Raindance 2022)

Paloma – ★★★ 1/2 (Raindance 2022)

Paloma feels like a daydream slowly eroding into reality; Marcelo Gomes’ film will affect you a great deal. This is a tender yet painful film about a woman fighting for her place in society.

On a hot summer day, Paloma decides to fulfil her most cherished dream: a traditional wedding in a church with her boyfriend, Zé. She is a devoted mother, a hard-working farmhand on a papaya plantation and has been saving to afford the celebration. However, the priest’s refusal to marry her and Zé will force Paloma to confront the rural society. She suffers violence, betrayal, prejudice and injustice, but nothing shakes the faith and determination of this transgender woman.

There are so many little things in Paloma that catch your attention. How receptive and accepting her small town is of her, and her relationship with her partner is wonderfully refreshing. However, once the media storm comes for the town, their views on her change drastically; comments and threats now come her way because her neighbours have unwanted attention.

Their shame echoes through the film, highlighting the horrendous issue transgender people have to live in Brazil. As long as no one knows they like a transgender person, all is well. However, when that aggression does come, it is in multiple forms, whispers, threats, and attacks. None of which we ever see clearly, as if this prejudice is so common that it melds into one hopeless form.

Another is how the story doesn’t delve into Paloma trying to raise the flag for all transgender women. Instead, she wants what is seen as a traditional or heteronormative wedding because she still has her Catholic faith. Many would go for ulterior ceremonies, but Paloma is not here for them. This is for her; she must have the wedding her faith offers for other women. By making this clear from the beginning, Gomes allows us to see this as more of a personal tale.

Gomes also gives a character with what can only be considered a lowly, not normal job, which is a unique rarity for such a film in Brazil. Transgender people have drastically lower employment opportunities than hetero ones, resulting in sex work being one of the few options left. Add to this that Paloma is black, and the chances of her being able to rise to have that everyday life she craves become even starker. However, what is so refreshing, Paloma and Zé are not dreaming for the world here. They want simple things, a safe roof over their head for their family, a traditional wedding, and a motorbike. Things that everyone wants, and why shouldn’t they have them?

As expected, Kika Sena is the heart and soul of the film, bringing an authenticity to the role that few would be able to see. You feel she has lived part of Paloma’s story, that their stories are melded together in some form. With a powerhouse performance, we should be seeing more of her in Brazilian cinema as she is a talent that will not be tied down.

Paloma’s push to get what, in her eyes, should be a right is fascinating. From the outside, it appears to be the most doomed of endeavours, as you could imagine. The Catholic church is not known for budging too much on what she so desperately needs them to. For some having same-sex marriages made legal is enough for Brazil, but that is where the issue lies; for women like Paloma, she isn’t male. She male have male sexual organs, but she views herself very much as a woman. Walking down that aisle in a church is one too many steps too far for those around her.

Paloma is a film that doesn’t hold back; it shows you the beautiful, joyous and heart-breaking journey of a transgender woman’s fight to have society accept her – a particularly strong film that has a firm grip on you.

★★★ 1/2

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