Film Review & Trailer: VIVA

vivaFrances Winston found this to be a gritty, moving, and realistic film, with a great cast portraying some of what the gay community in Cuba go through every day, dealing with a macho society

Directed by: Paddy Breathnach – Starring: Héctor Medina, Jorge Perugorría, Luis Alberto García, Renata Maikel Machin Blanco, Luis Manuel Alvarez, Paula Andrea Ali Rivera

This movie has been on quite a journey before its cinema release. It was shortlisted for nomination for the best foreign language film at last year’s Oscars, and narrowly missed out on being selected.

It did, however, win the Audience Choice Award at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival, and it has received widespread acclaim.

What is even more extraordinary is, that although this movie is in Spanish, writer Mark O’Halloran (Adam and Paul, Garage) doesn’t speak the language. Despite this, he has written one of the most poignant and moving stories you are likely to see committed to screen this year.

Medina plays Jesus, a hairdresser and sometimes rent-boy, who dreams of being a drag performer, just like those in the Havana nightclub he works in. Encouraged by Mama (García) he finally gets a chance to take to the stage.

However, just as he begins to find his feet as a performer, his estranged father, Angel (Perugorría) returns, and makes his disapproval of his son’s lifestyle known. Setting up home with Jesus, he quickly turns his life on its head, constantly berating the young man for his life choices.

Despite the presence of numerous drag-queens, this is not glamorous. It is gritty and grimy. Medina gives an amazing performance as Jesus. He manages to combine a naiveté with a world weariness that you don’t often see in one so young. He is very much the focus of the story, and when O’Halloran makes a cameo appearance as a sex-tourist who picks him up, you will actually feel grubby watching him (for the record O’Halloran is a lovely guy and not in the least sleazy in real life).

From the very beginning, you feel for Jesus, and find yourself wishing there was some way to help him out of the vicious circle he has become entrapped in. Indeed, the entire cast is wonderful, and García has a couple of amazing scenes as Mama that will blow you away.

The club scenes, with the dramatic lip-syncing to passionate torch songs merely serve to punctuate the underlying tragedy of the story. These are people stuck in a moment, who are fighting against the odds on a daily basis in a macho society. The re-emergence of Angel only serves to reinforce what the close-knit gay community depicted actually go through in real life.

This is tragically beautiful. It is a difficult subject matter, dealing with not only the father/son relationship, but also homophobia and the issues faced by young gay men, but it never feels sorry for itself. It has a dignity and charm that dilutes the seedier moments, and really keeps you engaged.

Deeply affecting, this will stick with you long after the credits roll, and it is a beautiful piece of work that is truly deserving of all the praise that has been heaped on it.

[Note: Viva is also playing at the GAZE Film Festival in Dublin this weekend: www.gaze.ie]

In Cinemas August 19th!

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