His best friend Yosvani (Milton Garcia), who lives with his girlfriend and her black-market kingpin father (Luis Alberto Garcia), isn’t quite as comfortable with his pal’s occupation, but he’s content to look the other way, because in Havana, people make do however they can. The two young men are inseparable, playing soccer with the other kids in the neighborhood and going nightclubbing and dropping ecstasy. Then one night, a drunken Reinier leans in for a kiss. Yosvani recoils and walks away, stunned by the advance. But the incident awakens something between the two friends, and soon they’re having sex on rooftops, bathroom stalls and alleyways, any place they can find away from prying eyes.
Like most films about modern-day Cuba, La partida is about desperation and yearning. Reinier talks about someday buying himself a Suzuki; Yosvani dreams about the two of them leaving the island together. Director Antonio Hens pays careful attention to the everyday details, such as the way in which some of the characters scarf down their dinner like they haven’t eaten for days or how a new pair of Adidas can make you a target for a mugging.
Garcia and Diaz, who look like they were born on the island of Abercrombie & Fitch, fare well at depicting their characters’ irrepressible happiness when they finally let down their guards and give in to their desires. Their relationship is tender, and the danger of discovery adds an edge of tension. But once the premise has been established, Hens and co-writer Abel Gonzalez Melo come up with a pile of hackneyed contrivances to separate the couple, requiring the sort of acting that is beyond the reach of this cast. The sex in the movie is excessive and has a prurient undertone (the camera often feels like it’s leering) and the inevitable tragic ending is badly bungled; it makes you wince. La partida closes with a long, uninterrupted shot that achieves a nice bit of poetry, a metaphor for a life on the run, constantly looking over one’s shoulder. But the rest of the film is a superficial take on a fascinating cultural hypocrisy, doused in sudsy melodrama and wobbly acting.