Directed by Paddy Breathnach
Jesús, a young hairdresser, works at a Havana nightclub for drag performers, and dreams of being a performer himself. Encouraged by his mentor, Mama, Jesús finally gets his chance to take the stage. But when Angel, his estranged father, abruptly reenters his life, his world is quickly turned upside down. The macho Angel, recently released from a 15-year stint in prison, tries to squelch his son’s ambition to perform in drag. Father and son clash over their opposing expectations of each other, struggling to understand one another and reconcile as a family. Shot in a gritty neighbourhood far from the Havana most tourists know, Viva is a heartrending story of music, performance and survival.
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★★★★½ review by franki_xcx on Letterboxd
This was EMOTIONAL. Ugh such a heartfelt film, Viva is such a great title for this, and I really, really, really liked it. The music, the humor, the drama, and the mix of hope in a bleak life just made this enjoyable as hell. I'm a sucker for movies like this and it won me over from the very beginning. I've been wanting to see this since I heard it was on the shortlist for Best Foreign Language at the Oscars last year and now seeing it I wish it had made it all the way. It's on Netflix, which I don't know if it's just me but there are so many good movies on there all of a sudden.
★★★★½ review by Zā on Letterboxd
I think I tried too hard with analyzing this film without just feeling it. Is it possible to do both? I tried. The first half was a lot of analytical viewing and the second half was my heart sinking to the ground. I couldn't get a good balance of the two.
I think my favorite part of the movie was Jesus. He's a great character. Everyone has such high expectations to be a good person and he's so selfless. He wants to have a relationship with others that matter before he does something for himself. Hell, I think he would have given up drag for his father if it didn't mean some easy money. There were some extremely awful scenes involving Jesus that made me want to cry so badly, but not once did I ever feel like I wanted to give up on him.
It's a lovely drag queen movie. I absolutely adore showing what drag is a valid thing for someone to do for whatever reason rather than some gag. Drag is an art form that can be a form of escapism. No matter what ailment you may experience, being in a drag show or attending one just takes you out of all your worries and you embrace what is going on in front of you... as long as it's a good performance.
I think it did a good job of showing poverty. Not only Jesus's home, but there were good details. Like, at first I was bothered that all of the queens kept using the same outfits, but then I realized that they can't afford to get new outfits or wigs. They used their tips to survive.
I think what ultimately made me decide this was a movie I loved was the final drag number. I almost started sobbing in public.
I definitely recommend this. It was a finalist to be considered for a best foreign language Academy Award and it's currently on U.S. Netflix
★★★½ review by gabe on Letterboxd
Though it is flawed, this film does a remarkable job of portraying Cuban culture. Being Cuban myself, I felt very at home with the scenery, characters and atmosphere. Jesús is a struggling young gay man living in Havana (my hometown!). He soon discovers his love for performing as a drag queen and his life is altered by this and the arrival of his father.
Some scenes in this film are remarkable, the scene in particular where Jesús is standing on his balcony singing along to a song is beautiful, and the very last scene when he is performing gave me goosebumps. The characterization of his persona and everyone around him is amazingly done, it feels genuine and real and I know exactly who Cecilia, Ángel and Nita are. However, this film lacks in emotional power; a lot of scenes could’ve been a lot more impactful, but this chance was not taken and it substracted from the overall quality of the film. The score was beautiful, it felt so magical and soft and added to the simplistic style of the film.
I’m incredibly thankful a film like this was made; it’s new and personally, it hits me very close to home to see someone who, in a lot of ways, is like me, portrayed and correctly shown as a multi dimensional human being on screen.
★★★★ review by Oti on Letterboxd
Va de menos a más, con un trance amargo y hasta deprimente, pero termina con una fuerza desgarradora.
★★★½ review by Michael Casey on Letterboxd
Jesus (Héctor Medina) is a young hairdresser at a Havana nightclub that specializes in lip-syncing musical numbers in drag. It’s pure camp, but it’s beautiful and Jesus dreams of commanding and captivating the audience. At home, his life is destitute. His father — the famous boxer, Angel — ran out when he was three, his mother died, and now Jesus scrapes by, sharing his flat with a woman who routinely kicks him out on the street so she can sleep with her boyfriend. It’s not much, but it is something. Then, suddenly, Angel (Jorge Perugorria) shows up.
Angel is no longer the physical specimen of his boxing youth, but an old man, greying with an extra three or four or 50 pounds tacked on to his frame. The timing seems suspect; Jesus is just about to make his debut on the stage when Angel comes knocking. Could he have planned it? Or is he here just to ruin his son’s life? Unfortunately, Jesus quickly realizes how important Angel’s timing is.
Viva, Spanish for long-life, is set in the vibrant and noisy city of Havana, Cuba. Irish director Paddy Breathnach mines the locale for all the flavors he can find and as an outsider infatuated with a people and a place, it shows. His infatuation may remain on the surface, but it is a beautiful surface. Not every movie must break the mold, and Viva relies heavily on some familiar tropes, but it is a new spin on an old tune, sung beautifully by Medina and Perugorria.
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