REVIEW OF ‘FABIANA’ – DOCUMENTARY ABOUT BRAZILIAN TRUCK DRIVER

Fabiana, a trans woman, lives as a nomadic truck driver all over Brazil for more than thirty years. Now she is approaching retirement and should leave behind her adventures on the road.

Film blurb from IMDb

The documentary ‘Fabiana’ was shown as part of the Scottish Queer International Film Festival. It begins strongly, a blank screen with gentle bird song, the rhythmic sound of distant traffic slowly bought in. Fabiana appears, the camera sympathetically observes him as he sleeps in the cab of his truck, hair gently blown by the breeze. The noise suddenly increases and we are at a depot. Hard angular lines of a tunnel and cargo fill the screen, it’s all very grey. Men work. The message is clear, Fabiana a fragile but colourful bird surviving in a man’s world.

The spell is broken moments later when chain-smoking Fabiana chestily slurs that he once told a female conquest she was like a ‘freight plane’ that he wanted to ‘fly in’. Another ‘moaned too loudly’ catching the attention of other truckers. He tells coarse little anecdotes like this throughout, punctuated by smutty cackles.

There are various set ups in the film. The first is when Fabiana visits a female friend to relay two implausible pieces of information, one is that Fabiana is 56 years old and the other that it’s now time for him to retire.

Another very obvious one is Fabiana with two truckers at a petrol station. They pretend not to know Fabiana’s secret. ‘Don’t you know?’ says Fabiana coyly, giggling, legs held uncomfortably together. Then Fabiana reveals ‘I like the same fruit as you’. ‘Seriously’ the trucker says, pretending to be surprised and tells a joke about wanting to be a lesbian himself. (NB the secret here is that Fabiana is a lesbian, not that he is, in fact, transgender – we’re supposed to believe no one realises he’s a bloke.)

One of the few things we learn about Fabiana is that he has been married in the past to a woman who left her husband for him. Fabiana helped bring her kids up and had a kid with her too. Moments later he assures us that his thing is ‘pussy’.

Another moment of revelation comes when Fabiana is again animatedly holding forth in his cab about yet another conquest. This time his slurring is bad and he’s drinking from a can. He tells us about the time he stayed the night at a woman’s house in her spare room. He told her he couldn’t sleep because the fan was broken and it was too hot. She invited him to come into her bed instead but didn’t know that he was into women. ‘Did you tell her whether or not you had surgery?’ the filmmaker probes further. ‘No,’ responds Fabiana tersely, staring ahead and suddenly quiet.

I have to admit that the entrance of Priscilla into the story was a twist that I did not anticipate. Priscilla is a man that Fabiana is sort of in a relationship with. The director was desperate to create the impression that they are a pair of bickering queens but their arguments are utterly devoid of any intimacy or affection. Or humour. Priscilla tell us that when he first met Fabiana he locked him up in his truck, so that he couldn’t escape. He also promised to buy Priscilla breast implants but never did.

We don’t learn a single thing about Fabiana’s ‘transition’ story or anything about his hopes and dreams. Why did he spend his entire working life on the road seems too obvious a question, but it would have been a starting point. The entire narrative is made up of Fabiana’s made-up sex life. It’s a portrait of a lonely friendless man, possibly alcoholic, certainly dreary, but it’s hugely complicated by the fact that the director has absolutely no idea who she’s dealing with.

Later in the Q&A Brunna Laboissière, the director, claimed that the idea for the film came to her when she hitchhiked across Brazil, because she didn’t have any money, and was picked up by Fabiana. She said when she saw him she was relieved that she had come across a ‘woman’. I somehow suspect this story is not true. I don’t believe a nice middle class young woman, like herself, need resort to hitchhiking in such a dangerous country. No way.

Below responses taken from travel boards about the safety of hitch hiking in Brazil.

Perhaps not surprisingly it has won many film awards in Brazil and the director certainly does have a feel for creating images, the shots of the road are hypnotic and eerie, especially when night falls and the small white lights of cars approach, it literally saves the film as it distracts greatly from Fabiana’s alternatively coarse and banal musings. With the right trucker it could have been a fantastic documentary. What a shame.

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