‘Monica’ review: Trace Lysette is a revelation in Andrea Pallaoro’s delicate story of family and acceptance [B+] | Venice Film Festival
Our lives can sometimes be impacted by irreparable trauma, and even though we heal from it, it will leave us scarred. A parent’s rejection of their child, for whatever reason, is probably one of the most terrible, terrifying experiences someone could go through. What happens when that parent needs help? Does the dust get swept under the rug in the name of familial love? Does a confrontation ensue? The protagonist of Andrea Pallaoro’s Monica has to make this kind of choice.
Monica is a sex worker, even though she doesn’t like the unsolicited attention men reserve her. She’s in a difficult relationship with a man named Jimmy, a man whose face we don’t see and whose voice we don’t hear, because he keeps eluding Monica’s calls and messages. There is one call that Monica is able to make: her sister-in-law tells her that Eugenia, Monica’s mother, is dying of cancer. Monica agrees to go back to her childhood home, back in the American Midwest, to take care of her mother and to see her brother and his family for the first time since Monica’s gender transition. Adjusting is not easy, because memories of the place haunt her: her mother’s rejection still hurts, and the efforts she makes to build a new bond with her seem to clash with a storm of sentiments of insecurity, anger, frustration. When Monica seems ready to give up and leave, something pusher her back to her mother: she desperately needs closure and peace.
Monica is a beautiful film centered on ellipsis. It’s a movie that finds its place in its silences, in its unsaid, in its unshown. Trauma always takes something away from us, a part of us and of our identity, making us feel incomplete. There is something about Andrea Pallaoro’s direction that is poignant and soulful: it’s not just the 1:1 ratio that instantly gives us the idea of a cage, of something boxed in that is desperately trying to break out, he also films people in silhouettes, from their side, he rarely offers a close-up, a frontal frame. I like to believe that he wants to protect his characters, shield their vulnerabilities. In this very delicate, minimalist film, restrain is the key word: no dramatic outbursts, no overblown scenes, just the natural flow of life, and a group of people trying to reconnect and come to terms with their own ghosts.
Trace Lysette is absolutely perfect as Monica, the woman stuck between the present and the past. In just one look, one line, you can sense her insecurity and longing for reconnection, as well as her anger and her upcoming grief. It’s a performance that peels the layers away very slowly, revealing a tremendous actress who will hopefully have more roles in the future. Patricia Clarkson is the ideal, heartbreaking counterpart, a perfect fit for a role that required ability for understatement and a natural talent in emoting. Their relationship in the film is both touching and surprising, turning Monica from an LGBT-themed picture into a universal story of love, acceptance and humanity.
This review is from the 2022 Venice Film Festival.