Film review: Viva is a heartwarming and emotional drama


Héctor Medina stars as Jesus in Paddy Breathnach's Viva. Photo courtesy Magnolia Pictures.

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Life in Cuba is not easy for the poor and when you are a young gay hairdresser it gets even tougher living in such a macho culture.

In Paddy Breathnach’s Viva, which opens in theatres on April 29, young Jesus has dreams of something better. As he styles wigs and costumers in a small Cuban club that features drag queens, he has aspirations to be their next big star. Just as he gets his big break as “Viva” though, his estranged father, recently released from prison, punches him in the face and forbids him from performing in drag.

The clash between male identities, masculine and feminine, runs through the film. Jesus’ father, Angel, is a former boxer, and coupled with the fact their neighbour is also dating a fighter, there are a number of scenes set inside boxing rings. But there are also fights backstage between the trans and non-trans performers, with dresses torn and faces scratched. The story is set: will the father and son grow to understand each other, and will Viva ever become a big star in the club?

Director Paddy Breathnach and writer Mark O’Halloran capture the flavor of Cuba. The film is handsome to look at, and the performers are wonderfully captivating. Héctor Medina who plays Jesus is handsome with an expressive face and brings a deep sense of longing to the character. Jorge Perugorria as the explosive father balances a threatening demeanor with parental worry. Another stand out in the cast is Luis Alberto Garcia as the club owner affectionately called “Mama” who laments at one point: “why is everyone on this island addicted to drama?”

The film dialogue is in Spanish with English subtitles except for the drag songs, which is a little frustrating. One assumes the writer and filmmaker wanted audiences to feel the songs more, but Spanish speaking people would be understanding the lyrics so why can’t we?

Viva is full of colour and glamour amidst tropical poverty. It’s a about strength and beauty and although its storyline is rather predictable, the location and the acting lift the movie to heartwarming and emotional drama. Viva!

Viva opens at the Vancity Theatre (1881 Seymour Street, Vancouver) on April 29 and runs until May 5. Visit for tickets and information.

David C JonesDavid C. Jones is an arts lover and a critical thinker. He makes films, directs plays, teaches, is a professional emcee and writes for the OUTtv website and Vancouver Presents.

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