Monday, January 18th, 2016


There are two very distinct parts to Havana the capital of Cuba . One is the colorful picturesque area that has been freshly renovated and is where the tourists hang out, and the other is the seedy dilapidated streets where the local inhabitants struggle on a daily basis just to make ends.  This story of Jesus (Héctor Medinaan 18 year old hairdresser who is desperate to break out of his very sparse and miserable existence and make something out of his life, is very firmly set in the later.  
Jesus has been living on his own since his mother died years ago, and he hasn’t seen his father who disappeared when he was a toddler.  When he is not cutting the hair of elderly neighbors who can rarely afford to pay him, he helps out at a local nightclub teasing the wigs of all the drag queens who perform there. The older gay man who is the owner and also the star of the nightly show is known to all as Mama (Luis Alberto Garcíaand he acts as a mentor to young Jesus encouraging him to follow his dream of being a performer.

On Jesus’s very first night as ‘Viva’ his act was erupted in mid-flow when a drunk man in the audience attached him and punched him really hard.  The assailant turned out to be Jesus’s ex-boxer father Angel (Jorge Perugorría) who had just been released from prison and had come back to the city to move into Jesus’s cramped small apartment whether he likes it or not. Angel is appalled by the fact that his son is so open about his sexuality and forbids him to ever go back to the club, let alone perform in drag there.

The two men are not only total strangers but they soon discover that they have absolutely nothing in common, and the strain of having to feed and pay for booze for his unemployed father out of his own meager wages, soon brings the young man to breaking point. When ‘Mama’ gets wind of what’s going on he and Angel get into a fight with what is best for Jesus, but despite how awfully his father treats him, Jesus opts to stay with him.

When the real reason for Angel’s return becomes apparent Jesus’s desperation for money to support them both, means that not only does he insist on going back to perform in the Club but he finds himself doing something he swore he never would and ends up turning tricks with tourists for some much needed dollars. As Angel starts to lose his strength, Jesus finds his as he realizes that it rests in performing as on the stage he can truly become himself.

This very compelling melodrama is surprisingly the work of two Irish filmmakers, one of whom can barely speak Spanish.  In fact director Paddy Breathnach had visited a Drag Club in Havana some 20 years ago and it inspired him to create a movie with similar very colorful characters that he had encountered then. The script by openly gay award-winning playwright Mark O’Halloran gives a fresh new take on a fairly old tale of a young man’s reconciliation with his reluctant father as he makes Jesus’s journey of self discovery such a poignant one. 

Viva has such pitch perfect performances, especially from a very inexperienced Medina who positively shines as he transforms himself into this confident young man and a rather electrifying performer too. Breathnach astutely does away with subtitles when the drag queens are lip-syncing to their highly theatrical ballads so not to distract from all their wonderfully exhilarating but very-over-the-top performances which help make this movie such a sheer joy to watch.

Viva was Ireland’s official submission for a Nomination for a Best Foreign Picture Academy Award : a remarkable and well-deserved achievement for this powerful LGBT drama.


Posted by queerguru  at  17:19



Genres:  coming of age, trans

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