A rocky reunion

Director Paddy Breathnach’s award-winning, Cuban-set drama Viva is another, albeit sympathetic, variation on the age-old conflict between fathers and sons.

Jesus (Hector Medina) is a gay hairdresser whose surrogate family is comprised of the drag queens and prostitutes who populate his impoverished neighborhood. Desperate to assert himself, he desires to join his performer friends by adopting the guise of “Viva” and performing at the local nightclub.

It is there that he is reunited with his father Angel (the superb Jorge Peruggoria), and in unforgettable fashion – Angel decks him when he croons too close. Once a promising boxer, Angel’s life descended into drink, despair, and eventually a lengthy prison stint. Now he’s out (and bottomed out), and although neither is very pleased about it, Jesus and Angel are now forced to face each other, man to man – on equal terms.

Medina, in his feature debut, plays Jesus as something of an innocent, despite his seedy surroundings and the overall cynicism of his close friends. Even when forced to turn tricks, the character still seems a trifle naïve. That the father is named “Angel” and the son “Jesus” is indicative of screenwriter Mark O’Halloran’s storyline, which follows a familiar trajectory, right down to the reason that Angel has re-entered his son’s life at this particular point in time. Nevertheless, the story is imbued with considerable sympathy – for Angel and Jesus, and many of the other disenfranchised denizens of this depressed world.

As Jesus finds his voice, both literally and figuratively, both as himself and as Viva, reconciliation and acceptance are not far behind. It would not be a surprise to see an “Americanized” version of Viva before too long, given the industry’s penchant for doing so.

(In Spanish with English subtitles) !