Ramón Salazar’s 20 Centimeters, just to balance all its plot complications, assumes the frenetic pace of those people spinning plates on the tops of poles on the Ed Sullivan Show to the accompaniment of the Sabre Dance from Khachaturian’s Gayane. Certainly Salazar has loaded plenty on his plate: Marieta (Mónica Cervera) is a hooker and a pre-op M2F transsexual and a narcoleptic. What’s more, every time she nods off she has fantasies somewhere on the continuum between high-budget music videos and low-budget Hollywood musicals, and, oh, did I mention she lives with a dwarf who wants to learn the cello? You’d expect this to have a high WTF quotient, and of course it does, but it’s just insane enough to work.
Not as angry as Hedwig and the Angry Inch and a lot more European than Transamerica, 20 Centimeters fits into no particular niche: it’s a romantic comedy, maybe, but it’s also rather gritty in a dreamlike sort of way, as though Scorsese had been working for the old Arthur Freed unit at MGM, and there’s far more in the way of punchlines than I expected. The musical numbers are somewhere between wacky and wondrous, and my old rule of thumb really drippy love songs work better in Spanish than in English is seriously put to the test, especially when one Spanish-language number drifts imperceptibly into “I Only Want to Be With You.” The only real misfire is the finale, which is set up beautifully but which is choreographed to too earnest a version of Queen’s “I Want to Break Free,” and while Cervera is game, she succeeds mostly in reminding us how much we miss Freddie Mercury.
The title? Well, Marieta is every inch a woman, except for, um, eight inches. (Do the math.) As a motion-picture epic, it ranks somewhere below, say, Fellini’s 8½; as the answer to the question “What would you get if Pedro Almodóvar decided to remake Grease?” it’s very good indeed.
(Disclosure: Reviewed from DVD purchased by me.)