“Casa Roshell” is a real club in Mexico City where Roshell Terranova gives “personality lessons”. Men who are afraid of showing themselves publicly as transvestites learn how to dress correctly, wear make-up convincingly, and explore what it means to be a “women” in a safe place. Like in Donoso’s previous film NAOMI CAMPBEL, CASA ROSHELL, challenges social definitions of gender.
The film’s introduction takes an observational documentary approach to Roshell’s transformation process. Donoso makes a slow-paced depiction of a transvestite’s make-up process and films it with an odd blocking that doesn’t let us see her face directly. We see her back from different angles, but all the moments we can see her are exclusively in reflection. When Roshell’s transformation is over we can finally see her taking frontal control of the frame. The shy person who was calmly preparing appears now as a master of ceremony of a secret club.
From this moment on the film takes a leap from observation to a chaotic collage of daily moments that wanders through casual conversation and romantic encounters based on the club’s real events. It is in these casual conversations where Donoso’s political perspective appears. Masculine and feminine qualities are discussed in a place where men presenting as women flirt with “masculine” men. In one conversation, a bisexual asks a straight male, how he can be a heterosexual at this club, to which he answers “but they are women.” This shows that inside “Casa Roshell” social gender rules are absent, and anyone can choose their gender or, as Roshell would say, “their personalities”.
With the highest rate of transgender killings in Latin America, there is severe discrimination and danger in Mexico’s capital, but Casa Roshell deliberately ignores the outside world. Donoso doesn’t speechify on these issues, and shows a different kind of political resistance. It is a film inspired inevitably by a larger world of violence, which it choses to answer through this community based on friendship and freedom.