For his sophomore film TREMORS, which is also the 2nd movie from Guatemala with an LGBTQ story line, the award-winning writer/director Jayro Bustamante was met with some resistance at the casting stage when over 80% of the local actors refused to play a gay man. He needn’t have worried though as he chose the extremely talented actor Juan Pablo Olyslager whose finely nuanced performance as the lead character makes this very disturbing drama so utterly watchable.
Olyslager plays 40 year Pablo, father of two children, and husband to his young wife Isa (Diane Bathen) and the film starts with him driving home to his heavily fortified family mansion to be confronted by his entire family. He has been outed as gay and all his devout Evangelical relatives single-mindedly refuse to admit that this is no more than an aberrant one-off accident and that they, and God, can bully him back to a path of righteousness.
Upset as he is and almost persuaded by his family’s insistent pressure, Pablo still leaves home and Francisco (Mauricio Armas) his boyfriend finds a small flat in the heart of the city to move into. It is a far cry from the trappings of his usual comfortable life but part of his attraction to massage-therapist Francisco, who lives an almost shady life on society’s edge, is because he has a real zest for life which Pablo seems to have been missing for so long.. He also is genuinely in love with Pablo and when the family bar him from even seeing the children, Francisco takes it upon himself to discreetly try and intervene resulting in one of the tenderest moments in the movie.’
The family’s wrath knows no-end though and they soon get Pablo fired from his job, and without a decent reference that he can get re-employed. The only place he can get any work now is at the family’s church and despite all the abuse hurled upon him, Pablo has somehow kept his faith.
However he really stands no chance against the powerful and unforgiving church who insist if he is to get any redemption he will need to undertake their somewhat barbaric therapy to be de-gayed. Faced with the stark choice between being able to see his children on one hand and on the other give up the one person who genuinely seems concerned for his actual happiness, Pablo has to make a very difficult decision.
Guatemala is still the world’s 3rd most violent city and although Pablo’s family are reasonably safe living in their stockade even they cannot avoid the high moral code that society demands. Despite the fact it seems to have made them all increasingly unhappy, they seem desperately anxious to perpetuate it.
The story may have these very melodramatic layers to it but Olyslager and Armas’s performances highlight their predicament in such an authentic and extremely relatable manner. They are a joy to watch despite the overwhelming sadness of the situation.
It will be very interesting to see what LGBTQ audiences make of the film when it starts playing in their festivals. Many will be shocked that this is a contemporary story where it still nigh on impossible about being open with one’s sexuality.