Leo, Alicia and their four-year-old daughter, Dafne, live happily together in Madrid. But when Alicia dies suddenly, their comfortable family life is turned upside down, leaving both
Leo and Dafne desolate and stranded. While struggling to overcome his own grief, Leo must be both mother and father to Dafne.

3.5
A bizarre yet touching family drama.

SPANISH FILM FESTIVAL: There’ll be no film at this year’s Spanish Film Festival that is as brave as Achero Mañas’ cross-dressing gender/parental dissection, Anything You Want. It’s one thing to accept the premise that a widower would don drag to help his pre-school tot cope with the sudden death of her mother; it’s quite another to watch it play out. Expect Australian audiences to be split right down the middle in their opinion of this film, festival director Natalia Ortiz’s boldest programming move in some time.

The strikingly handsome Juan Diego Botto plays alpha male Leo, a self-absorbed mid-level law firm partner whose upwardly mobile life is thrown into disarray when his wife Alicia (Ana Risueño) experiences a very public and fatal epileptic seizure. (The scene is as horrible as it sounds.) Leo is left with his daughter Dafne (Lucía Fernández), who is flesh and blood but for all intents and purposes, is as distant as the family court clients he deals with daily.

Unable to connect with Dafne, Leo grasps for insight into the child’s mental state in any way he can. The child responds most to Leo’s ex, Marta (Najwa Nimri), and this development inspires him to assume a feminine appearance so as to placate the child’s grief. Soon, Leo is 'Fake Mum’; his own function as a father is all but negated, and the masculine role he once played has disappeared in the eyes of Dafne. A profoundly existential conundrum messes with Leo’s psyche: Should he assert himself as the father figure or subvert his reality to appease his grieving child?

Mañas succinctly touches upon the accepted social mores such a concept calls into question, acknowledging the attitudes of family and friends as reflections of the larger community’s tunnel vision view of parenting. But this is Leo’s and Dafne’s tale, an achingly personal drama that asks as much of its audience as it does of its leads. What would you do to ensure your family’s happiness? Would you walk the streets in a wig and skirt if it helped your only child cope with losing her mother?

The writer/director’s narrative goes off the rails somewhat when Leo takes his charade public. The reactions of hotel clerks and waiters to a transvestite accompanied by a young child are entirely plausible and highlight the great leap in faith audiences need to take to make Mañas’ film succeed.

All aspects of Anything You Want are expertly handled. Botto is truly leading man material; Fernández is supremely natural in her debut performance. The extended scenes establishing the daddy-daughter dynamic are superb. Sentimental moments that would have played to the back row in the hands of Hollywood hacks are gently and smoothly realised by Mañas and his cast (though wildly weepy passages are assured, I promise).

The narrative pulls a long bow but an open heart and broad mind are crucial to enjoying the film. Some will buy into the emotion of the relationship; others will find it ludicrous. Those willing to embrace the cross-dressing conceit will be entranced.

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1 hour 41 min

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