Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh

A transgendered prostitute dreams of saving enough money to dispense with the 20 centimeters of flesh standing between her and womanhood in Ramon Salazar's dark musical. Sweet-natured Marieta (Monica Cervera) was once Adolfo, but illegal hormone shots and a hot-to-trot wardrobe go a long way to disguising that fact. What gives Marieta away is the something extra that, ironically, keeps so many customers coming back for more. But Marieta doesn't want to be a streetwalker: She wants a family and a normal job — she's a natural mother, always looking after people like Tomas (Miguel O'Dogherty), the dwarf who shares her apartment, or and little Paulito (Richard Shaw), whose mother, Berta (Concha Galan), lives upstairs and is often at work when he comes home from school. Marieta retains an optimistic faith that things will work out, and it seems as though they finally are when she meets Raul (Pablo Puyol), who stocks fruit at the market where she shops every day. Against all odds he turns out to be something of a rough-hewn knight in shining armor, and she'd never have met him had it not been for the narcolepsy that leaves her vulnerable to rough customers; without it, she wouldn't have fainted at the market and he wouldn't have felt obligated to accompany her to the hospital. Marieta's narcolepsy also cues the film's lavish musical numbers, which help lift it above the usual slice of low-life drama. Set to pop standards in English, Spanish and French, they range from the perky "Tombola" ("Life Is a Lottery") to creepy horror pastiche "I Want to Be Sanctified" and two grim paeans to the lives of pavement princesses. Salazar lacks Pedro Almodovar's perfect pitch (though Almodovar regular Rossy de Palma stops by for a one-scene cameo) and can't juggle all the subplots he sets in motion, but Monica Cervera's fearless performance as the homely Marieta, whose movie-made dreams of glamour will never come true, is mesmerizing. (In Spanish with subtitles)