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2016年4月8日 星期五

Viva (古巴女孩)

In these days of globalization, sometimes one can be struck by the most unbelievable combination. When the film Viva (2015) opened last night, I saw Mediterranean style low buildings amidst an occasional palm tree or two; I heard songs with lively Latin rhythms sung in Spanish; the facial features of the characters appearing on the screen definitely betray their Latin origin; when they speak, they talk in Spanish, not in English and most certainly not in Gaelic. Yet it's Ireland's entry for this year's Oscar! It's a film written by Mark O'Halloran and directed by Paddy Breathnach, starring Héctor Medina as the 18 year-old hairdresser Jesus, Jorge Perugorría as Angel, Jesus' father, Luis Alberto García as Mama, the singer-proprietor of a drag club in Havana, Cuba, Renata Maikel Machin Blanco as Pamela, a hot teenage whore and Paula Andrea Ali Rivera as Nita, wrinkle faced grandma of Jesus and the script writer  Mark O'Hallaran as Ray, a gay who was Jesus' first client for sexual services. 

It's a very powerful movie about growing up and finding one's identity amidst some rather unusual conditions. Jesus lives alone in his father's old house. Angel is an ex boxer, just released from a Cuban jail, where he had been locked up for 15 years for a murder, since when Jesus was 3. Jesus earns just barely enough to keep body and soul together as a hair dresser for some old ladies but mainly for a Havana drag club owned  and run by Mama, where Mama sang his heart out every night with some 6 or 7 other other drags. Jesus has no recollection of his father. The only things which connect him to his father and his deceased mother was a pile of old vinyl records and an old fashioned record player left behind by Angel when he was sent to jail, records from which Jesus learned to sing.


When the film opens, we see Mama singing and Jesus hanging around, watching. We see how the other drags engage in small talk, with their petty tauntings and bickerings. Then we see Jesus being accosted by the teenage whore  Pamela who felt horny in the middle of the day and asked him for some spontaneous sex, a futile attempt as Jesus simply acted as if he never heard anything and a little later Pamela asked to borrow his place to entertain her boxer client turned lover. Jesus reluctantly agreed to one hour but she wanted three. When he returned,Pamela and her boyfriend were still there. The boxer asked who the man in the yellowing black and white photograph on the wall was and was told that it was his father. He asked him about how his father was but Jesus was unable to reply because he knew next to nothing about him. Probably due to carelessness, Pamela left behind a lipstick and for no apparent reason, Jesus picked it up, put some on his lips, looked at himself in the mirror and suddenly decided to audition as one of the performers in Mama's club. To his surprise, he was accepted but was told to practise because Mama told him he was not running a charity. Jesus practised hard.

During his first appearance, he approached one of the men sitting there, displaying his feminine charm as part of his act. He was punched on the lips. He did not know that the man happened to be his father until some days later, when he returned home after a hairdressing appointment and found Angel sitting on his bed. His father, a drunkard on cheap rum, had come to stay as if it were his right. He complained of the quality of Jesus' cooking. Gradually, however they began to speak to each other. His father took him on to the roof, where he said it was the most beautiful slum quarter in the whole of Havana and how he was in prison because he killed someone and asked him whether his mother ever talked about him and was told that she did not and then he asked Jesus to cut his hair after which he took Jesus to his former boxing club where he was not recognized initially because he had put on so much weight but once he revealed who he was, he was warmly welcomed. But he didn't get any paid employment there. Angel told Jesus, he felt ashamed of Jesus displaying himself as a woman entertainer before the gawking eyes of other men and made Jesus promise to stop doing so. Jesus reluctantly promised but continued frequenting the club performing in the sly  because there, he got the attention that he craved, until Angel found out by accident and expressed his dislike of his son continuing in that role. To Mama's surprise, Jesus decided to quit. After a short while, Mama went unannounced to his house to check him out in the hope of winning him back and suggested that Jesus might come and live with him and continue his very popular appearances. Mama had a confrontation with Angel. We could see that Angel was not at all pleased at that intrusion. Caught between two conflicting desires and loyalties, Jesus told Mama, after a moment's hesitation, that he preferred to stay with his father rather than moving out. We can see how Angel restrained himself and didn't give Mama a bloody nose or a fractured rib or two. Just before he left, Mama asked Jesus how he expected to support himself and his drunken father. Jesus said he did not know. However, just before he left, Mama repeated that his offer stays open should Jesus decide to change his mind on the matter. Then we see Jesus turning to male prostitution for survival and how he met his first customer Ray, from whose wallet he stole some cash while Ray was in the loo after the latter's refusal to pay Jesus more than the previously agreed price of 40 pesos.

One day Jesus found Angel collapsing on the floor at home, coughing severely and having some severe pains in the stomache. He took very good care of him.  Angel told him why he was released: he had a problem with his lungs, a cancer. Without a word nor showing any obvious emotion, he continued to look after Angel and after another serious collapse, brought him food in the hospital and even some cigarettes which was strictly forbidden there and which Angel enjoyed on a bench outside the hospital. After Angel was discharged from the hospital, he continued to drink and smoke and carried on his hopeless existence as before, knowing that not much time was left to him now..

Jesus did not like being a male prostitute. His heart was set on being a performer. After seeing another of Mama's performance, he told Angel he had decided to go back to being himself and do what he enjoyed doing because only then did he feel honest and strong.Angel said he did not want to know and did not understand why the whole of the island was so keen on drama. But when Jesus staged his stunning return performance at Mama's club, his father was in the audience. Jesus put everything he's got into the show. He deliberately approached Angel's table when he sang the last part of his song right before Angel's face, and looked into his eyes. When he was done, Angel slowly stood up and gently pinched Jesus on one of his powdered cheeks. They embraced. Shortly thereafter, Angel died. The screen then intercuts between Jesus adjusting his long gloves as a performer and wiping the bloated body of Angel's body on a bare table in the morgue. When the film ends, we see Pamela living in Jesus' house with a two or three-year-old boy and another of Jesus' friends who eked out a living by begging as a fake cripple. 


I like the film. The acting by Héctor Medina as the teenage hairdresser turned drag performer who hasn't the heart to ever refuse anyone's request for help and whose heart is filled with nothing but sympathy, care and concern for others, Jorge Perugorría as the macho ex-boxer drowning in cheap rum and regrets at the end of his tethers and Luis Alberto García as a drag determined to sing out his pains and his love are convincing and most persuasive. It's clear what the director Paddy Breathnach wants to portray in this film: salvation comes, not from open displays of macho strength but with tiny acts of feminine gentleness and the associated feelings of care and concern from a soul full of meekness and humility and the kind of unconditional and almost impersonal love which Aristotle called agape and filia. And he portrays what he wants to portray with the very warm and sensuous colors of the carefully crafted composition of his cinematography, with touching sensitivity to the unpredictable ebb and flow of fleeting feelings and moods of his characters, helped not a little by Stephen Rennick's music direction, appearing in the audible form of the  passionate music during the climaxes, the solitary guitar notes in the quieter scenes when father and son sat silently opposite each other on a bare wooden table during their scanty meals and the lively rhythm of Cuban dance music during the narrative sequences whilst the characters are moving from one place to another  A movie which is most moving in more senses than one.