The programmers of the Miami portion of the 2016 MiFo Film Festival, running from April 22–May 1, have stumbled upon an interesting cinematic trend. At least four of the best films showing during the first week deal with queer teens and the coming out process in various parts of the world. Below are reviews of two films, one set in the South of France and one set in Cuba. (Advance tickets are available at mifofilm.com).
Departure (BFI), the feature length debut from writer/director Andrew Steggall, in English and French with English subtitles, poses an interesting question. Can you know something, good or bad, before you know it? It’s not clear whether or not it answers the questions, but most of it is worth watching to find out.
Beatrice (the amazing Juliet Stephenson) and her son Elliott (Alex Lawther, young Alan Turing in The Imitation Game) are driving to their holiday home when they hit something. It’s dark, and there’s nothing in the road, but Elliott is convinced it was a deer. In fact, he spends much of the rest of the movie dwelling on that fact.
When he’s not worrying about the possibly wounded deer in the woods, he’s jerking off to his image in a mirror, writing poetry and plays in his journal at a café, helping his mother pack up the house because it is being sold, or pining over stunningly beautiful Clement (Phénix Brossard), a perfect specimen of modern day old-school rough trade. The kind of guy who thinks nothing of skinny dipping, at a moment’s notice, in the questionable reservoir.
After pursuing Clement, Elliott is thrilled that he doesn’t mind hanging out, helping him and his mother pack up the house. It also does Beatrice some good to get some attention from hot Clement as she senses that the sale of the house is another loose thread in her unraveling marriage to Philip (Finbar Lynch). Clearly Clement doesn’t mind being fawned over either, which includes a kiss from Beatrice and a hand job from Elliott. But Clement is a complicated guy, ill at ease dealing with feelings, and struggles to cope with his mother in hospice in Paris.
Volatility is the name of the game and dishes are being broke, punches are being thrown and memorabilia is being burned. The problem is that everything is too drawn out – we already feel their pain, we don’t need to drown in it. Still, Stephenson and Lawther are a convincing mother/son duo and Brossard is simply a delight to observe. (Screening on 4/26 at Regal Cinemas South Beach.)
Set in the slums of Havana, a region we will no doubt be seeing more of onscreen and elsewhere with the change in U.S./Cuban relations, Viva (Magnolia) is a touching film about Jesus (Héctor Medina), a young gay man just trying to survive. Jesus does hair and has a variety of regular clients. There’s elderly Nita (Paula Andrea Ali Rivera), who promised Jesus’ late grandmother and late mother that she’d look after him. Jesus also does the hair and wigs for Mama (Luis Alberto García) and his drag troupe of performers including Pamela (Renata Maikel Machin Blanco) and Cindy (Luis Manuel Alvarez).
Jesus’ father Angel (Jorge Perugorría), a boxer whose glory days are behind him, isn’t dead, but according to Nita, he “might as well be.” Nita’s granddaughter Cecilia (Laura Alemán), Jesus’ best friend, is dating rising boxer Javier (Oscar Ibarra Napoles) and occasionally borrows Jesus’ apartment for their amorous rendezvous.
Jesus, who has “no one, nothing,” and “wants something for himself,” asks Mama if he can audition for the troupe. Mama agrees to let him audition, on the condition that he still has to do Mama’s wigs. Choosing the name Viva, Jesus shakily passes the audition. The night of Viva’s debut performance, Jesus didn’t tuck properly, and Cindy and Pamela observe that “they can see her cock from Cienfuegos.”
Everything changes on the night of Viva’s second performance. Angel, who has been missing since Jesus was three, has returned to town and is in the audience. He assaults Viva during her number as a way of reintroducing himself to his son. With nowhere to go, he not only insinuates himself into Jesus’ apartment, but also forbids his son from performing. This leads Jesus to hustling as an alternate means of making money.
From here on, Viva, which could also be called The Cuban Girl, becomes an intimate examination of the father/son dynamic. The two men struggle to find a way to accommodate each other while also continuing to stake out their own territory and identities. There is tragedy and triumph throughout and Medina, who makes his feature length debut in Viva, portrays Jesus with sensitivity and authenticity, bringing him vividly to life. (Screening on 4/27 at Regal Cinemas South Beach.)