Young hairdresser Jesus (Héctor Medina) is considered a great listener – a thankless role in his Havana community.
While in his presence, faithful clients (including drag performers) find it easy to unwind their thoughts to Jesus. Meanwhile, the polite hairdresser provides support in return. Jesus, however, is interested in the local drag club and the colourful personalities inside. He also finds the idea of alluring an entire crowd exciting, which means he’ll have to be more courageous through his demeanour. When Mama, the leader of the stage show, gives the beginner a shot at the spotlight, a violent confrontation between Jesus and a barfly breaks out and leads to a shocking discovery – the barfly is Jesus’ long lost has-been father, Angel (Jorge Perugorría).
Viva has the appearance of a risqué Billy Elliot, with Angel unwilling to give his bold son the respect he deserves. Angel’s neglectful cold shoulder is especially disheartening since we’ve seen how the eager amateur is able to undergo an astounding process that flawlessly turns Jesus into “Viva”.
Director Paddy Breathnach (Blow Dry, Shrooms) and screenwriter Mark O’Halloran, however, are in agreeance that the dynamic between the central male characters has more endurance than the mesmerizing cabaret (even though the audience could easily watch an entire movie devoted to the entrancing musical numbers). This choice ends up paying off for the duo since the conflict between father and son is what keeps the audience emotionally invested.
Viva is a story about the effects of scrutiny, and how it weighs on family and ambitions. Confrontations between Héctor Medina and Jorge Perugorría are gripping because of the authenticity at foot throughout these tales of redemption. While Perugorría makes a great scene partner for Medina, the latter does a phenomenal job at captivating the audience during his personal journey. Medina grabs our attention as Viva, and keeps us clinging on to Jesus’ passion as he tries to rediscover his dignity.
By no means is Viva an easy watch, but it’s a fierce and fantastic film. Viva Viva!
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie