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.
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.