In an era where trans people are fighting to be treated with respect, Soy Niño (★★☆☆☆) is a pressing tale of a young boy’s fight to be himself in Chile.
Told from the perspective of his cousin, director Lorena Zilleruelo, the documentary follows Bastion, formerly David, as he grows from 12 to 18 years old while dealing with his family and a changing country.
Playing like a family diary, the documentary begins with the narrator, also Lorena, introducing her family and Bastion before he begins to fully transition. After telling his family, Bastion agrees to film himself over the years to document his changes as he medically transitions and lives his life as a man.
The film lacks a firm story in favor of segmented updates on Bastion. The distance from the subject’s family becomes very apparent pretty early on, with the narrator’s sporadically poetic updates not really letting the family tell their own story.
With the narrator not being able to be there more than once every six months to a year, the updates do more telling than showing. However, even when Bastion and his family are present, there is still a distance between the words you are hearing and what’s happening on screen which translates to distance from its subjects.
The documentary is barely over an hour, but its long scenes often drag on pretty scenery and music, interspersed with some family events and interviews with Bastion. It’s a shame that Bastion’s parents, who support their trans son and often go the extra mile, fade to the background in favor of shots of family dinner with narration.
Bastion’s father, who ends up traveling across Chile giving speeches to help parents and their trans kids, doesn’t factor in as much as it feels like he could, which makes it hard to connect to the story.
Bastion’s mother, who helps form a foundation to further trans rights in Chile, often appears as an afterthought. Initially, it’s hard to tell how Bastion’s parents feel about his transition, with the film incrementally showing they support him, while never really gaining a specific focus.
While Bastion and the narrator do a good job telling his story, Soy Niño often tunnel-visions on its subject, leaving out other voices and leaving long spans of quiet that meander instead of telling a story. Some segments of the film drag on, jumping around Bastion’s life to try to craft its bare story. Bastion is very open and honest, but clearly a kid trying to figure out who he is, making the unconscious restraint linger too long.
Soy Niño is beautifully shot and edited film, but lacks the powerful narrative structure it needed to flourish. While there are trials to Bastion’s story, the much-needed tension solely comes from the narrator, with the imagery of Bastion and his family often too tame to render any visceral imagery or feeling.
Mixed with somber music and poetic narration, the documentary feels like more of an art piece than a story of a trans boy becoming an adult.
Soy Niño is only playing in the virtual festival through Sunday, Oct. 23 at 11:59 p.m. Click here to purchase passes.
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