Viva | Director: Paddy Breathnach | Rating: 7/11 |
Viva, a hit of the 2015 Telluride Film Festival, focuses on many traditional themes present in many LGBTQ stories while maintaining a fresh feel. Set in modern day Cuba, Viva follows Jesus (Hector Medina) a young, gay hairdresser who works in a drag club that he one day dreams of performing in. As he is encouraged by his mentor and the premiere queen of the show, Mama (Luis Alberto Garcia), Jesus begins to pursue a career in drag. However, once his long-lost father Angel (Jorge Perugorria) shows up at his doorstep, his entire world is turned upside down. At first, the two men clash against one another, but as time goes on, they begin to develop a real father-son relationship.
The relationship between Perugorria and Medina is the true highlight of the film. Since Angel is a boxer trying to reclaim his former glory, it’s understandable that he would not comprehend his son’s passion for drag. When Angel first threatens his son against performing, he comes off as the stereotypical macho father, an archetype who is easy to root against. However, as he attempts to better understand his son’s sexuality and explain why he left in the first place, Angel becomes a more sympathetic character who does not seem so one dimensional. Although the story between Angel and Jesus takes a rather cliche turn toward the film’s second half, it is interesting to see the different sacrifices he makes (and justifies) for his father.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for all of Jesus’ fellow drag queens. Although the other performers have some great one liners (one queen quips, “My dad was nasty too. Until I hit him with a tire iron. Then he wasn’t so nasty then.”) and help Jesus with his own drag, they do not have discerning personalities of their own. While Jesus and Angel are fully fleshed out characters, the drag queens feel more like a simple obstacle in the way of their relationship. The biggest obstacle of all is Mama, who comes across as a far too stereotypical drag queen to be wholly believable.
Despite some of the characters lacking development, Irish director Paddy Breathnach manages to capture the vibrant culture of Cuba. Some of the film’s most brilliant scenes are just of Jesus making his way through Havana. Angel describes their neighborhood as the “most beautiful slum in the world,” and he’s not entirely wrong — despite the mind-boggling poverty that Jesus and Angel live in, their slum is strangely beautiful.
Viva’s strength is its heart, not necessarily it’s depth. Similar in tone to Billy Elliot (albeit much darker), Viva is the type of inspirational film that will leave its audience rooting for its main character, but not exactly craving more once it’s over.