When Valentina moves to a new town with her mother, she has the normal worries any teenager would – wanting her freedom and to make friends. But as a transgender teen in Brazil, she risks facing significant challenges and stigmas within her school and local communities if she cannot get her absent father to sign documentation. Her situation is made worse when she suffers a traumatic incident at a party once separated from her friends.
Valentina is a story about a trans teenager, but there is so much more to the film than just this. Not focussing on the transition story, but instead, Valentina’s human want and desire to live her life, to have the freedom to go to school and see her friends and walk down the street, it allows further discussion of the traumas faced by young teens of any gender in society. A warning that there are issues of sexual assault and consent within the film, but these are handled with grace and maturity both from the characters on screen and the direction and writing from Cássio Pereira dos Santos.
Grounding the film are two central performances from the titular Valentina played by Thiessa Woinbackk and her mother Márcia played by Guta Stresser.
In her first lead performance, Woinbackk delivers an outstanding portrayal of someone who just wants to live their life unbothered. Selling scenes of joyous fun with her classmates down to more intense scenes of harassment or vulnerable scenes dealing with her father, she’s able to hit every note with ease and make sure it’s an honest but moving portrayal. Stresser plays her mother, bringing such warmth to the role but also portraying sheer determination and strength – the writing of Márcia is beautiful and Stresser embodies this. If there was an award for a fictional mother, she not only wins it for 2021 but is a firm contender for the hall of fame. A beautiful scene where Valentina confides her troubles to her mother midway through the film cements their bond and is the true heart and force of the movie.
The supporting cast are equally strong, quickly become friends with classmates – one gay, the other pregnant – the film is able to cover a lot of ground with Valentina’s dedicated support network, as well as through her opposers.
Whilst dealing with a myriad of sensitive and difficult issues, Valentina is at its heart a feel-good and affirming film. It reminds the audience to think of the human, not the label – highlighted even more so by the real-life statistics at the end of the film.
See all photos >>