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The Fisherman’s Daughter (La Estrategia del Mero)

A trans woman returns to the Caribbean island from which she escaped, in a compassionate movie about acceptance - from the First Feature Competition of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival

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Miguel is a young fisherman who regularly goes to an island in the middle of the Caribbean for nets. Directed by one of the older men to grab material from “Samuel’s house”, Miguel jumps through the window and rifles through the brandy cupboard for some refreshment. Thinking the house is empty, he wanders around the place, and is startled by the presence of a person he doesn’t recognise. “Are you a man or a woman?” he gingerly asks. “That’s very direct,” Priscila giggles in response.

As it happens, Priscila is Samuel’s daughter, although the parent refers to her as “Samuelito.” Priscila has returned to the island for reasons she refuses to disclose, and is subjected to direct and indirect abuse from Samuel. Upset by the identity Priscila has chosen, Samuel has given her an ultimatum: Stay hidden from the superstitious fishermen, or find another home. Samuel’s brother is more understanding – surely a few weeks at sea will cure this “faggot” business once and for all? But the more time Priscila spends with her father, the more she realises the anger stems from the years he spent isolated on this island, while Priscila enjoyed a more colourful life elsewhere with her mother.

Frustratingly for Priscila, the majority of characters in the film are unable to distinguish between sexuality and gender identity. And so they see Priscila as a . The only person who sees Priscilla as a woman is Priscila herself, and at no point does any other character refer to her by her chosen pronouns. What’s worse, Priscila rarely corrects her father or uncle on their language, and seems more upset by their aversion to her taste in men, as opposed to her gender truth. Which is more the pity, because there’s an undeniable tenderness between Samuel and Priscila, which grows stronger the longer the film goes on for. In an almost tantric moment of truth, Priscila shows her father the scars she has received defending herself from policemen, who are too afraid to touch her in case they get infected with HIV. Mercifully, Priscila doesn’t have the illness.

The most impressive scenes are shot underwater. Where the island is drab and dirty, the water is rife with colour, character and contradiction, as fish swim side by side like the metropolis Priscila hopes to live in one day. Fastidious in its nature, The Fisherman’s Daughter gets to the point of the story quickly, refreshing in an era of luxuriance, but Samuel’s transition from disgusted, old-fashioned fisherman to caring parent is clumsily handled. Seemingly all it takes is a fish supper – there is no meat on the island – to turn the man from grump to goodie.

Priscila is eventually spotted by the other fishermen, and one reveals himself as a closeted homosexual to her. Once again, there is no mention of her gender identity (the fisherman refers to Priscila as a “transvestite”), but the filmmakers have the good sense to cut away before showing the sex scene in its entirety. It would be remiss not to mention Nathalia Rincón’s central performance, who commands the screen as Priscila with subtle gestures, and frightened, furrowed eyebrows. Roamir Pineda is also noteworthy as the estranged father: Limited by the scope of story, Pineda nonetheless excels as a solitary man experiencing love again for the first time in many years.

The film closes with a quietly beautiful silloutte beneath the sea. Director Edgar de Luque Jácome uses lush lighting to demonstrate the otherworldliness of the ocean, presenting two swimmers floating as effortlessly as the creatures do beneath them. It’s a glorious montage that wraps the story up on a sombre note, free from the trappings and claustrophobia of the island.

The Fisherman’s Daughter just premiered at the First Feature Competition of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.


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