FILM REVIEW - VIVA
Running Length: 100 minutes
Release Date: 19th August 2016
Directed by: Paddy Breathnach
Cast: Jorge Perrugorría, Luis Alberto García, Héctor Medina, Luis Manuel Álvarez
Written by: Mark O’Halloran
Cinematography: Cathal Watters
Profoundly moving and deeply affecting.
Paddy Breathnach enjoyed an early career peak back in 1997 with the marvellous I Went Down (if you haven’t seen it, do). But it seemed to be too much too soon, and the director has spent most of the last century lost in a wilderness of low budget horror. This strange concoction – Irish writer and director working in Havana with Cuban actors funded by Irish money – narrowly missed out on the Best Foreign Picture shortlist at this year’s Academy Awards. But no matter; Viva is utterly superb, and a most welcome return to form for Breathnach.
Jesus (Héctor Medina) is eking out a living in Havana. By day he is a hairdresser to the elderly and at night he works as wig master at a drag club. Jesus has aspirations of becoming a famous drag artist like his mentor, Mama (Luis Alberto García). When one of the drag queens at the club does a bunk, Jesus is allowed to perform as his alter ego, “Viva”. He quickly finds his stride, but when his absent father suddenly reappears, his dream ends before it’s even begun.
Angel (Jorge Perugorría), an ex-prize fighter, walked out on Jesus when he was three years old and has been serving a prison sentence for murder. With nowhere else to go, Jesus is forced to let his wayward father share his tiny apartment. And it goes without saying that the son’s lifestyle doesn’t sit well with the father.
Angel could easily have been rendered as a one dimensional avatar of homophobic prejudice, but thanks to some clever writing and the robust work of Perugorría, this unlikeable character is transformed into something entirely different.
Part kitchen sink drama, part high camp excess, Viva is a bit like Rocky in drag. Mark O’Halloran (Adam & Paul, Garage) has written a movie with a lot of heart, and it’s to his credit that Viva never leads you to where you’re expecting to go. This is an uplifting, affirming story that turns tragedy on its head. Set against the backdrop the colourful, glamourous slums of Havana and with faultless performances from all three leads, Viva is profoundly moving and deeply affecting.