Cuatro Lunas and Vestido De Novia Illuminate at Latino Film Festival
By Joseph R. Castel
The second annual Latin@ Queer Arts and Film Festival showed two outstanding movies in Hollywood last month, exemplifying the quality of this year’s harvest of films arriving from Latin America. The festival opened up with Mexican director Sergio Tovar Velarde’s poignant narrative of four generational romances in Cuatro Lunas. And the festival closed with Cuban filmmaker Marilyn Solaya’s tragic transgender love story, Vestido de Novia.
Cuatro Lunas centers around four gay couples living in Mexico City: a sensitive pre-teen is secretly attracted to his homophobic male cousin; two long lost friends reunite in college only to ignite a passionate closeted love affair; a pair of out of the closet yuppies’ break up when one is unfaithful; and an aging bisexual poet becomes obsessed with a hot “straight” married bathhouse hustler he can’t afford.
Although the four stories never intersect, they are interwoven thematically by the various psychological stages many gay men go through during their lifetime. Director Velarde examines the complexity of the men’s’ lives and how they differ in class, tradition, religion and generation, and yet, the lessons of self-acceptance and the need for validation echo throughout each relationship.
The best of the four stories is Mauricio’s (Gabriel Santoyo), whose love for his cousin Oliver (Sebastián Rivera) is smashed to smithereens when he is ultimately mocked and exposed by the very one he desires. It’s heart wrenching to watch the adolescent yearn for his cousin’s acceptance, even when it’s clear Oliver is suspicious of Mauricio’s friendly gestures. Clearly, Mauricio is a “maricón” to Oliver. Mauricio’s world falls apart when his intimate advances are exposed to the entire school as well as to his shocked parents. To see a young actor play such a complex role with subtle nuances is really amazing.
The only real downfall with Cuatro Lunas is the story of the two yuppies. Handsome Spanish actor Antonio Velázquez plays the philandering Hugo to the faithful domestic and submissive Andres (Alejandro De la Madrid). There is so much weepy telenovela melodrama going on with this couple that any emotional involvement from the audience would be redundant.
The festival closed with Vestido de Novia, a heartrending story of transgenders struggling to live openly as well as covertly in Havana, Cuba. Rosa Elena (Laura de la Uz) is a nurse who dresses as a man to sing in an all male choir. (spoiler alert ahead) Rosa Elena was a man to begin with and now she’s a woman secretly pretending to be a man again—and to thicken the plot, she just recently married a straight macho construction worker. This Cuban Victor Victoria, however, is nothing like the farcical musical starring Julie Andrews. Rather, this gender bender pelicula is a painful reminder of the excruciating discrimination and violence that many transgenders face in Latin American countries.
The actress portraying Rosa Elena gives a moving performance as the courageous put upon nurse who takes care of her homophobic ailing father and loving, newlywed husband, whose completely unaware of his bride’s little secret. Sadly, Rosa Elena is stalked by her past in the most insidious way and by the most nefarious characters imaginable as they torment and violate her mercilessly. In the end she must choose between leaving Havana with her faithful husband to hide her identity in the countryside or stay in the city to live a more open life like her transgender friend Sissi.
Beautifully shot, edited, and acted both Cuatro Lunas and Vestido de Novia are prime examples of quality commercial films being made today by Latino filmmakers. This cinematic tide of excellence is possible now because of more affordable and readily accessible technology but also because of the fact that Latino filmmakers are finally supporting one another in the art of filmmaking.
The newly formed Latin@ Queer Arts and Media Institute is a prime example of this support. Festival’s organizers, Jonathan Menéndez and Karla Legaspy, are independent filmmakers themselves and their organization offers a platform to local and international Latino filmmakers so they can be seen by a wider audience.
Legaspy and Menéndez also emphasize that their mission is to develop labs, discussions and workshops to teach screenwriting and media arts to upcoming writers and filmmakers. In doing so, they hope to further develop local talent and empower artists to tell their stories. To find out more about Latin@ Queer Arts & Media Institute go to http://lqaff.com/