Monday, April 25, 2016

Ireland's entry into the BFLF sweeps--Paddy Breathnach's VIVA--filmed in Cuba, in Spanish!

Hey -- if France can submit a movie filmed in Turkey in the Turkish language, then I guess Ireland can submit one filmed mostly in Cuba with all the dialog in Spanish. France's Mustang has made it all the way to the final five nominees. while VIVA, the Irish submission written by Mark O'Halloran and directed by Paddy Breathnach, (shown below), managed to be one of the final nine foreign language films shortlisted for a possible Oscar. It's a lovely movie, and while it deals in what some will call cliches of the transvestite/ transgen-der genre, so all-embracing and emotionally resonant is Viva that most audiences, GLBT to arthouse/ mainstream, should find themselves falling for it, heart and soul.

Featuring two terrific lead performances (and a bunch of fine supporting turns), the movie tells the tale of Jesus, a Cuban teen on the cusp of young manhood who does the hair and wigs of the performers at a local trans club but want more than anything else to himself become a performer. With his mom dead and his dad in prison (perhaps dead, as well), he's a near-orphan who has learned to take care of himself with help from a wide assort-ment of friends.

As played by newcomer Héctor Medina (shown above), Jesus is a smart, somewhat scrappy kid, given to luxuriating in certain music and mostly scraping by in today's Cuba, where living above poverty level isn't easy for many people. Into his life one evening comes a man -- played by that wonderful Cuban actor, Jorge Perugorría (shown below, right, and best known here in the USA for Strawberry & Chocolate), the less I say about whom will benefit the movie's plot twists.

The relationship that develops between the two men plays out over the remainder of the movie and it is one that runs the gamut from anger and pain to just about everything else you can pack into a 100-minute movie. This kind of film lives or dies on the quality of its lead performances, and the two men fill their roles as well as you could possibly want. Perugorría has always been an actor of great strength, resourcefulness and subtlety, and he bring just about all he knows and practices into this role of a man who must now learn to go against everything he has formerly known and lived by. You'll alternately want to punch him out and embrace him.

Young Medina possess a wonderful delicacy that goes well beyond anything fey or feminine.  His early renditions of songs for the trans bar possess the kind of subtlety and grace that put to shame most of the drag queen performances we see on film. However, this is not what the usual spectators want, and so Jesus must adapt to the desires of his somewhat crass audience. He does -- losing as much as he gains in this process of adaptation.

Fortunately the movie is about a lot more than drag performances, and the strong pull that this relationship saga offers is what finally makes it so moving and compelling. Friendhip, love, "family," and more coalesce into a drama of great strength and power, making Viva the kind of keeper you don't initially expect.

From Magnolia Pictures, the movie opens in theaters this Friday, April 29. in New York City (the Angelika Film Center); in the Los Angeles area (Laemmle's Playhouse 7Monica 4-Plex and NoHo 7, and at the Sundance Sunset Cinemas); and all over Southern Florida at nine different venues. Click here to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.

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