Review: Yo soy así (2000)

Yo soy así (2000)

Directed by: Sonia Herman Dolz | 97 minutes | documentary | Actors: Mario del Valle, Maruja Villareal, La Manuela, Gilda Love, Juan José Vara del Rey, Concah Marcos, Da Costa, Jordi Soler, Cabiria La Dulce, Mónica, Carmen de Mairena, Enrique Martí, Carmen Martí

For some people, the heart of Barcelona isn’t the Ramblás or the Sagrada Família, it’s all about ‘La Bodega Bohemia’. In this club transvestites of old age often perform in the most frenzied outfits, such as Mario del Valle. When he walks to his apartment on the fourth floor, which he shares with his equally aged landlady Maruja, he is an old man who sighs and groans, conquering only with difficulty step by step. The way in which the camera closely follows this effort makes its struggle with gravity very palpable. But behold, when he takes the stage in ‘La Bodega Bohemia’, a miracle happens. There he is one of the stars who entertains the audience with song, dance and lots of mischievous, knowing glances and witty remarks. The energy and zest for life splash from him. And so it is with all the ‘stars’ who perform there, including those who, like Mario, are well past retirement age.

The one who keeps everything and everyone together in this colorful microcosm is company manager Enrique. For a few decades now, he has been making sure that the place is running smoothly, assisted by his wife Carmen and jack-of-all-trades Jordi, who now and then also performs a song. Enrique not only makes sure that the customers and artists have fun, but also takes care of them outside the club. This even goes so far that he has adopted the mentally handicapped Juan José in a figurative sense. This middle-aged man used to come with his mother as a customer, but since her death he lives with Enrique and Carmen and is cared for by them. And when La Manuela, the old woman who sells cigarettes outside the store, is caught again and fined, he picks her up at the police station and pays the fine for her. His place in heaven may be clothed with velvet because of the naturalness with which he does all this.

It is clever of Sonia Herman Dolz that she has portrayed all these at first sight strange persons so lovingly that you sincerely mourn with them about the imminent closure of the center of their existence. They are eccentric, but definitely not portrayed as freaks. Rather the opposite, you get admiration for the way they get through life, while clinging to who they want to be as much as possible. And the way in which the half-blind and almost deaf landlady Maruja coquettishly makes the castanets sound, evokes exactly that beautiful mix of melancholy and admiration to which she is entitled, given her age and her still musical talent. The trust that the people have placed in the director by sometimes literally exposing themselves in front of the camera, she has beautifully returned with this funny, melancholy and loving documentary.

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