(Portugal 2022; Dir: Ary Zara)

An Avocado Pit

Living on the threshold

review by Sam Moore

An Avocado Pit

original title: Um Caroço de Abacate

length: 20

year of production: 2022

country of production: Portugal

director: Ary Zara

production: Andreia Nunes, Frederico Serra

director of photography: Leandro Ferrão

editing: Sara Marques

sound: Cyril Santos

music: Xinobi

cast: Gaya de Medeiros, Ivo Canelas

festivals: Queer Lisboa 2022, London Short Film Festival 2022, IndieLisboa 2022, BFI London Film Festival 2022, Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival 2023, Festival Regard 2023, Filmfest Dresden 2023,

© images: An Avocado Pit (Ary Zara)

The relationship at the heart of ‘An Avocado Pit’ — Ary Zara’s intimate, beguiling portrait of a trans sex worker — is defined by tension. The dynamic between Larissa and Cláudio exists on the precipice of something, and the uncertainty of knowing what direction it could go in gives the film an unexpected edge. As much as Zara’s film challenges the stereotypes and expectations of trans storytelling, it’s unable to completely disentangle itself from them, something that works, surprisingly, in the film’s favour.

There are scenes in ‘An Avocado Pit’ that feel familiar: a trio of trans sex workers standing by the side of the road, waiting for prospective clients to make their way over. But the clients never come; they just wait in their cars, staring. And while, at first, this gives the impression that the film will be a retread of images and ideas that feel all too familiar, ‘An Avocado Pit’ needs to create these expectations, setting them up in order to subvert them. This is where the tension comes in, and the way that Zara’s film deals with this not only makes it subversive but also takes trans storytelling in new directions.

As Larissa’s eyes are drawn to an older man sitting in his car and watching the three women, one of them tells her, “You won’t find a boyfriend here.” We’re never explicitly told if a boyfriend is what Larissa wants; as the film unfolds, it becomes clear that she’s looking for a different kind of connection. But she still crosses the street and finds herself in a car with this man after a moment of miscommunication on why the passenger-side door was opened — a moment that lingers between awkward comedy and uncertain tension.

This is where ‘An Avocado Pit’ begins to trade on tension; on the anxiety of existing in a trans body around a cis person, especially as he drives Larissa away (she asks to simply get dropped off down the street). As they sit together in silence, he says, “I’m not a fag.” This line doesn’t seem to have much impact; Larissa responds, “Great, I’ve never been one either.” In moments like this, ‘An Avocado Pit’ reveals the interesting layers it’s been hiding beneath expected plot beats. A line that might typically create a dangerous shift in atmosphere, or be a precursor to violence, is simply shrugged off with a one-liner. As much as tension and even the spectre of violence propels the early interactions between Larissa and her not-client, this simple misdirection allows Zara to reveal his hand. There’s a moment that verges on the romantic as the two of them keep driving, the tension of their silence replaced by sweeping synths.

Larissa asks him why he keeps returning to that street corner, looking at the women but never going to them. He responds that he finds them fascinating. He’s uncomfortable with the language when Larissa tries to draw out the kind of woman he thinks of as “fascinating.” He settles on an awkward, unfinished, un-finish-able sentence: “Women with…” Again, this is something that Larissa brushes off, saying that it’s no problem and that he likes what he likes. Even though she knows nothing about him: the first time he tells her his name, he lies and says it’s Carlos; he constantly keeps himself guarded, even as Larissa reveals more and more. This is where ‘An Avocado Pit’ is most engaging; when the guards on these characters slowly come down. Larissa sometimes calls herself “her,” claiming it’s “easier to talk about ‘her’ than about myself.” Through these lines that initially seem offhand, Zara captures unique, precarious feelings of trans life. Being on the threshold of becoming another person, the uncertainty of meeting new people, and even the danger that can so often be associated with trying to find intimacy. ‘An Avocado Pit’ is powerful because, rather than removing the possibility of risk, and the feeling of uncertainty, from the equation entirely, it understands that these feelings need to be reckoned with before moving in a different, more exciting direction.

This works so well because of Larissa’s character and the strength of Gaya de Medeiros’ performance. Larissa spends much of the film being pushed closer to what seems like the brink. She knows all too well what can happen if a line is crossed and there’s no way back. As much as she hopes for intimacy, Larissa’s guarded, uncertain nature is always lingering just below the surface; the danger of the situation spiralling out of control is seemingly always on her mind. That makes the gradual peeling away of layers, of protective armour, in both of these characters so compelling. Cláudio remains enigmatic even as he gradually reveals more about himself — his real name, some hobbies; things that let Larissa see him as more than just the fetishist she accuses him of being. There’s a simplicity to these scenes, a stripped-back realism; Zara refuses to play into melodrama or shock. There’s something almost star-crossed in Larissa and Cláudio: the idea that they might have a different connection in another time or place.

Instead, they’re simply ships passing in the night; the things they offer each other remain implicit, unexplained. This isn’t a film that needs to trade in revelation but in the simple intimacy of being seen as you are. By emphasising the power behind simple gestures and moments, ‘An Avocado Pit’ can foreground something quietly radical: Larissa’s agency. So much of the film hinges on this, something that feels worlds away from the more didactic storytelling of mainstream films with trans* characters.

Larissa takes Cláudio back to a party her friends are throwing, and he stands on the periphery, watching them dance. Here, the film inverts its outsider politics from the opening scene — when Larissa arrives at her friends’ house, conversations about national identity cards and hormone injections are overheard — with Cláudio on the outside looking in. When the two of them dance together, when they’re physically and emotionally closest to each other, they realise how wide the gap between them still is. While Cláudio says it isn’t a fetish, Larissa completes his thought sadly: “It isn’t love either.” What makes ‘An Avocado Pit’ so quietly powerful is that it doesn’t need to be love, just understanding, just safety. Just that strange feeling in-between, where you’re able to see someone as they are.