Vancouver Queer Film Festival: Mía's compelling story of yearning transcends boundaries

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      Two universal themes of yearning—wanting what you haven't got and wanting the freedom to be yourself—find themselves wistfully conflicted in the well-crafted Argentine dramatic feature Mía. While the film includes transgender issues, writer-director Javier Van de Couter incorporates them not necessarily as a focal point but to inform and illuminate the depths of a layered, compelling story.

      A demure, thoughtful trans woman named Alé (Camila Sosa Villada) ekes out a humble existence in Villa Rosa, a marginalized community for queer people and outcasts perched on the outskirts of Buenos Aires (it was inspired by a real-life shantytown destroyed in the 1990s). But Alé secretly pines for life beyond the fringe and it's this desire that propels the narrative's undercurrents.

      While going about her daily search for cardboard to recycle (her means of income), Alé witnesses a father, Manuel (Rodrigo de la Serna), fighting with his preteen daughter, Julia (Maite Lanata), in their upscale home. When the father throws away a birthday present, Alé salvages it, discovering a journal written by a suicidal mother named Mía. Engrossed and moved by the story written inside, Alé attempts to return the diary to its intended recipient.

      Although Manuel rejects her initial efforts, Alé remains undaunted. While Manuel drowns his sorrows in drink, Julia, a rebellious spitfire, establishes a clandestine friendship with Alé that rapidly evolves into a tight bond. In fact, Julia arouses such strong maternal instincts in Alé that Alé becomes driven to work her way into a household imploding with grief.

      Alé's tenuous bid for upward mobility is set against the backdrop of a pending eviction (and police harassment) faced by the Villa Rosa residents. The group's leader and founder, Antigua, provides a resolute, alternate view that being an outsider is merely dependent on perspective. It's one Alé doesn't buy, but it provides an astute counterpoint to the aching of her heart. She's all too aware that she doesn't fit comfortably into the lives of Manuel and Julia—but that doesn't stop her from trying.

      Writer-director Javier Van de Couter shows an even, sensitive hand in maintaining a pitch-perfect tone throughout his debut feature. Amid a strong cast, Sosa Villada quietly steals the show with her nuanced, understated, and affecting performance. The film, one of the gems of this year's Vancouver Queer Film Festival, illuminates not just queer but human issues that, like Alé herself, aspire to transcend boundaries.

      The Vancouver Queer Film Festival presents Mía at the Centrepiece Gala on Thursday (August 23) at 7 p.m. Director Javier Van de Couter will be in attendance. The film also will play at the Vancouver Latin American Film Festival on September 1.

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