Recently, I read "My Tender Matador" (the book) for the first time, and it was fantastic. A dynamic story that painted a complete portrait of late 80's Chile: the slow but steady decline of Pinochet's dictatorship, intertwined with the progressively louder protests against the brutal regime. In the midst of all that, comes the romance between the Queen of the Corner and Carlos, two souls brought together by seemingly random circumstances, but ultimately through their actions will come to participate in the determination of the fate of their country.
As I said previously, the book is great: jumping back and forth through different perspectives and interesting scenarios, it manages to tell a dynamic story while also portraying the state of Chile during the late 80's. This movie, however, doesn't come even close to replicating the same tone, themes or entertainment that the novel came to offer. Sucking most of the soul from the story, this film manages to take the most superficial elements from the book, and pretends that that is enough to pay homage to Pedro Lemebel's work. Well, it's just isn't.
Before I get into spoilers, I just want to say that there are things to appreciate on this movie: the acting for the most part is really good, even though the characters personalities are nothing like their book counterparts. The visual direction and cinematography looks really nice, specially during the ending. And finally, the art direction is excellent. There is nothing in the frame that makes you feel that what you're seeing isn't from 1980's Chile. The problem really comes with the script.
Now into my spoilery rant. First of all: what's up with the slow snail's pace? I know it's just an hour and a half long movie, but it felt like two hours and a half. The book is so fast paced, interesting and full of life on every page, that reinterpreting it this way feels almost like an insult. I really think that a big part of it was a consequence of eliminating the entire Pinochet/Lucia Hiriart subplot from the movie, a thing that added so much interesting dynamics to the book. Now, I know that it's just a movie, and I understand that when you're adapting a book to the big screen you have to make some cuts. But if you're gonna do that, at least try to compensate it by not making the Queen of the Corner/Carlos interactions the most boring thing on the planet. Or at least try to inject some energy by, I don't know, focusing a bit more on Carlos and actually showing the assassination attempt against Pinochet. And it baffles me because the book is written in a way that it feels like you're watching a movie, and a really good one at that.
My second complaint comes with the characters: what the heck? I read the book a couple of weeks ago and I don't remember them to be this stupid. For instance: In both the movie and the novel, Carlos, a shadowy militant from a revolutionary group, is given the task of hiding boxes with guns somewhere in Santiago. In the book, the guy is discrete, calm, reserved, but with enough charisma to convince the Queen of the Corner with letting him hide the boxes in her house. In the movie, Carlos comes off as a showy, irrational, emotionally unstable prick that comes very close to revealing his plan to the world in more than a few number of times. On the other hand, the Queen of the Corner was not nearly as butchered, but still had a few inconsistencies that bugged the hell out of me. The most glaring one being her relationship with the Frog, "La Rana". In the book, more than a friend, the Frog functioned as a motherly figure to the Queen. This added so much depth to both characters, and spiced things up with a bit of conflict between them. Also, by the end of both the book and the movie, the Queen leaves Santiago and says goodbye to the Frog. The thing is: in the novel, the Queen never said why she was leaving to the Frog, because she knew that if she told her, the Frog would be at risk of being interrogated by the government. In the movie this doesn't matter of course, and the Queen just flats out tells to the Frog that she got into trouble with the military. WHAT?!.
But the biggest complaint I have overall with this movie is how it butchers the original message of the book. In the novel, despite the failure of both the attack on Pinochet and the romance between the Queen and Carlos, it still ended on a hopeful note. The Queen, although a very passive character, went through so much during the course of the story, that at the end it didn't even matter that she couldn't get a successful relationship with Carlos. Because at least she tried. They failed, but they tried. And that's the truly important thing. Because ultimately, this novel is not about the failure of a romance, or the failed attempt on Pinochet's life. It's about how the oppressed in Chile learned to regain their bravery, despite the failing in their plans. The movie fundamentally misread this message and concluded that the story was about the suckier part of failure: the sadness, the remorse, and the thing that could've been, but wasn't. Every character ends up sad and alone, and there's absolutely no sign that the dictatorship will end anytime soon. The Queen of the Corner ends up alone and full of melancholy, instead of her book counterpart, a hopeful character that looked back at her experiences in the story with so much wisdom and respect. Because that's the most glaring issue: in the book, the characters learn to be hopeful despite their failings. In the movie, they don't. They just complain, and get sad that nothing worked their way. And that's what's so wrong about this movie.
As I said somewhere in this review, technically and artistically, this movie has some merit. But the story from the source material ended up being so butchered and wasted that I don't even see the point about it. Overall rating, 4,5/10