The story of Jesus, a Cuban boy who is trying to make ends meet, when he gets his big break in the Drag Club where he looks after the wigs of the other queens. As he learns how to emote, perform, and connect with the audience his estranged Father turns up. Angel is a former boxer who went to jail for murder and has been released now. Angel and Jesus must share the small apartment and little food that they have as they come to terms with their relationship.
As I’ve mentioned before to the three people who read these reviews that keep me up nights I don’t watch trailers or read movie descriptions before going into the press shows. This is so that I’m getting entertained or disappointed in the moment rather than in advance. Also I believe we know too much about films before we see them in these modern days. Half the films during my life before reviewing that I truly enjoyed were the ones I went to see that I didn’t know anything about, they either started at a time I was bunking off school or work, or I had seen everything else on in the multiplex. Two cases would be The Fog of War and Dead Mans Shoes. So what happens is this, the PR people send an invite with the date, time, and location of the screening, I turn up, watch film, go home and have a think. Then go back to the email and get all the relevant information that I need to be up at midnight and typing this review. So when I sat down to watch Viva in The Lighthouse Cinema in Dublin I thought it was going to be a more emotional version of The Birdcage. What I got is one of the best dramas that I’ve seen this year.
Set in Cuba, and with a cast of actors that you’ve never heard of before, all of which give performances that will leave you wondering why they are not on the highest paid lists of actors, and with a script that has so much heart it is bursting out of the seams. This is the drama that you need to see this year.
The main focus of the film is the relationship between Angel, the Macho Dad, coming back into his son’s life after a long absence and inflicting his alcohol and beliefs on his son. Jesus is played by relative newcomer Hector Medina and his touching and emotional performance is just something to behold. He’s trying to make ends meet and get on stage as Viva, his Drag Queen personality, where he feels truly alive. He’s also very honest about his sexuality. The scene where Angel introduces himself back into the life of Jesus is so powerful it’s a knockout punch to both the character and to us. Angel is trying to rebuild his life, getting back to the gym where he had some success as a boxer before being incarcerated for murder. He places his foot firmly down and stops Jesus from being Viva. The owner of the Drag Club is trying to do the right thing for the relationship of Father and Son and Mama as he is known is wonderfully played by Luis Alberto Garcia.
This is an Irish Cuban movie, which may sound strange, but a lot of the crew on the film are from my own Emerald Isle. It’s scripted and shot in a way that injects you straight into the natural life of the characters. No one is over the top, everyone is trying their best to survive, and the characters reactions are those that would happen in real life. This organic script, the honest performances, and the setting in Cuba, which one character calls the most beautiful slum in the world, just provides a rich textured canvas that is gloriously painted for us to watch.
The only gripe that I had with the film, and to some it would be minor, but to me it has become a major psychotic event, is that when the Drag Queens are miming to the songs they don’t tell us the lyrics through the subtitles. The passion of the miming performances are powerful stuff and if we knew the lyrics it would have aided us somewhat to get to know more about the performers. I don’t care what you watch this year, but I do care that you watch this, we need a film like this to make us feel the hope and love in the world. In all things be true to yourself and to others be helpful!
Director: Paddy Breathnach
Writer: Mark O’Halloran
Stars: Héctor Medina, Jorge Perugorría, Luis Alberto García