(director/writer: Jacques Audiard; screenwriters: Thomas Bidegain, Nicolas Livecchi; cinematographer: Paul Guilhaume; editor: Juliette Welfling; music: Camille Clement Ducoi; cast: Zoe Saldaña (Rita Moro Castro), Selena Gomez (Jessi), Adriana Paz (Epifania), Karla Sofia Garscon (Emilia Perez/Manitas), Mark Ivanir (Dr. Wasserman), Edgar Ramirez (Gustavo); Runtime: 132; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Jacques Audiard, Valerie Schermann, Pascal Cauchelaux, Anthony Vaccarello; Vixens; 2024-Mexico/France/USA-in Spanish, with English subtitles)

“Strange identity story that’s boldly told through a musical in the form of a crime pop opera.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

French stylistic director Jacques Audiard (“Rust and Bone”/”The Sisters Brothers”) and screenwriters Thomas Bidegain and Nicolas Livecchi bring us this strange identity story that’s boldly told through a musical in the form of a crime pop opera. 

Rita (Zoe Saldaña) is a gifted young defense lawyer from a big Mexico City law firm who is summoned by the feared male boss of a Mexican drug cartel, Manitas Del Monte (Karla Sofia Gascón, a trans actress), to help him change his sex to become the female Emilia Perez (for the last few years has received female hormone therapy). She goes to meet him in his secret country hide-out with a hood on.

In secret, without anyone’s knowledge, Rita takes his rich payment and stages his death, and relocates his family to Switzerland. A few years later the former crime boss as a she meets Rita in London as Emilia Perez. He asks her to bring his widow Jessi (Selena Gomez) and his two sons, who were staying with him in Switzerland with new identities, back to Mexico, as she lived under the guardianship of her pretended to be long lost aunt Emilia, who never told the family the truth.

Problems arise as Jessi is in a romance with Gustavo (Edgar Ramirez), as we wonder how the former crime boss will react.

But Emilia becomes peaceful in her transformation and starts La Lucecita, an NGO set-up to help grieving family members find their missing relatives. Emilia also falls in love with Epifania (Adriana Paz).

The film seeks to know if characters who undergo sexual changes really can change for the better. In this case, is it believable that they can change so much for the better and make society a better place.

Audiard got the film’s idea from the Le Monde editor Boris Razon’s 2018 novel “Ecoute.” 

It played at the Cannes Film Festival.

REVIEWED ON 5/26/2024  GRADE: B+