VIVA, Paddy Breathnach’s memorable film about “self-identity” and “owning your truth,” is directed in a style of standpoint shots that gives audiences the feel they are inside the life of Jesus (played by Héctor Medina), a hairdresser who manicures the wigs at the local dinner-and-drag cabaret, aspiring to become one of the “ladies” himself and a tumultuous relationship that finds him.
Submitted by Ireland for a Best Foreign Film Oscar (it didn’t get nominated), VIVA is a 2016 Official Selection for the Sundance Film Festival and Telluride Film Festival. The film was screened Wednesday night by the MiFo LGBT Film Festival at O Cinema in Wynwood and officially opens throughout South Florida in April.
VIVA takes place in Havana, where viewers are given more than just the “tourist” view of the city. Jesus, known around the neighborhood as a “good kid,” is running low on money and sprints at the opportunity to make extra income when a slot suddenly opens after a fight among the sassy drags of the cabaret.
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At first, Jesus is anything less than a contender. His stiff movements, awkward stage presence and inability to appropriately “tuck” have Mamá (Luis Alberto García ), the club’s madam, reconsidering he can engage the audience and keep patrons from leaving.
One night after threats of losing his latest gig for lack of talent, Jesus takes to the stage and engages with a stranger in the audience. A quick jab to the face knocks him to the ground, and the drunken perpetrator is escorted out as he angrily shouts to Jesus that he is his father.
Angel Gutierrez (played by Jorge Perugorría) abandoned Jesus and his mother for a short-lived boxing career when the son was 3. He has returned with a secret and to assume the “fatherly” role he long ago discarded. After a night out, Jesus returns to find the “stranger” sleeping in his bed with clear plans for an uninvited extended stay.
In one of the films many poignant scenes, Jesus explains to his father how show business makes him feel hoping to gain his blessing. For him the only way to live authentically is to step to the stage and embrace his persona.
“All my life I’ve been made to feel guilty for who I am, and when I’m on stage I feel strong and sincere,” Jesus says. “I sing with my soul. I’ve never felt that before.”