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Fabiana, a Brazilian documentary about a transgender woman in her last stretch as a truck driver before retirement, invites viewers into its rhythm with the opening shot — a minute long, uncut close-up of the subject sleeping and then waking up. It’s slow, peaceful and intimate; a mood that director Brunna Laboissière maintains throughout the film.
Laboissière’s approach immerses the audience into the life of a truck driver. The landscapes are gorgeous and gorgeously shot, and left on screen for a while. Profile shots of Fabiana from the passenger’s seat are quiet, with the soft rumble of the truck’s engine almost lulling.
And human interactions are left uncut as well, with the conversations effectively showcasing the spirit of Fabiana and fellow truck drivers. There’s incredible energy and heart in the documentary, but it’s also steady and calm as the subjects trade stories about their lives.
Fabiana seems like someone unafraid of the camera — or even unphased. She’s simply enraptured with her world. Laboissière ingeniously includes small moments of Fabiana’s wonder, from an airport visit to her staring up in silence at fireworks on New Years, and even to her taking a boat ride and looking off at the water and the horizon with clear amazement. Fabiana does a wonderful job at setting up this character study, where both the character and the camera admire the world around them.
But Fabiana also captures the subject’s feistiness, flaws and sexuality. The film shows Fabiana as imperfect, biting toward some of her loved ones, and it digs into the conflict of her impending transition from road to home — she loves the road, but puts undue burden on her partner to take care of everything while she’s gone. Laboissière also leaves open space for Fabiana to tell love stories and sex stories, too, rendering the film incredibly sex-positive.
The space that Fabiana allows stands out immediately. Documentaries always warrant ethical questions about the narrative process, and Laboissière is impressively restrained with her direction. When things from the past come up, such as the subject’s tricky relationship with her father, the film sits with a window shot and only Fabiana’s voice. The immersive and private moment shows what it’s probably like for her to drive and think.
And when the camera focuses on Fabiana and something emotional happens, Laboissière doesn’t pry, allowing for the subject to open up as she wishes. This may be comforting to viewers, but it also shows Fabiana’s entire emotional process, sitting in pain and parsing through her thoughts internally.
At only 85 minutes in length before the credits role, Fabiana could’ve run longer while maintaining the same pace, resulting in a far more wholesome portrait of the subject’s final drive and transition into home life. However, Laboissière’s restraint challenges the conventional narrative expectations that documentaries shouldn’t necessarily have to fulfill.
What’s most impactful about the documentary, even though it may leave one wanting more, is its sense of time, established through the pace and rhythm. Fabiana has seen the roads of Brazil for decades, meeting both lovers and friends, and her stories ache with nostalgia and sit in happy reflection. Perhaps that’s all that Fabiana had to do: give the subject space to tell her stories.
Kyle Kizu (@kylekizu) is a freelance film writer out of Los Angeles. His writing has also appeared in The Hollywood Reporter, IndieWire, Fandor, Crooked Marquee and Film Inquiry.