This film is very complex and multilayered. It is about finding love where you least expect it, then losing it when you discover you want it the most. It is more than just a budding relationship in Cuba; it’s about surviving.
Forgive the long review – I delved into this one a little deeper than usual. I found the film to be a mosaic of details and themes, so I expanded a little on them.
Here’s the official synopsis: Reiner and Yosvani are best friends and soccer mates. Handsome Reinier, in order to support his mother, wife and their baby – as well as his gambling habit – prostitutes himself at night to older male foreigners along the waterfront. Meanwhile, the shy Yosvani is reluctantly engaged to a girl and lives with her and her bombastic loan shark father. After a furtive kiss at a nightclub, the two young men follow up with a lusty roof top encounter – where the two quickly fall hard for each other. And as their love intensifies, the challenge is not with them but with the unforgiving outside world… a world they so desperately want to escape from.
I’m going to slightly disagree with the provided synopsis a bit. The description says that the “challenge is not with them,” but in fact part of it is with them. They appear to start out the film as heterosexual men. Obviously this isn’t the case, but the fact that they have a journey to take to get to be where they are means there is more to this than just the world around them. This makes for a very complex story, one which sometimes becomes overwhelming especially when one factors in the poverty, family situations, and their personal issues.
Rei and Yosvani meet playing soccer in their neighborhood and become friends. Both of them are with women at this point – Rei is married and Yosvani is soon to be. But in the course of their friendship somehow they awaken something that draws them together. It starts with an innocent, drunken kiss goodbye that makes Yosvani pause.
Later when Yosvani’s girlfriend tempts him him with honey smeared about her bosom it seems like a chore for him. She says “c’mon” about 7 times before he approaches her. There are other indications that all is not well in Yosvani’s mind concerning his relationship with Gema. There is a scene later in the film where they are picking outfits for their upcoming wedding and Yosvani’s emotions seem more appropriate for a funeral.
During a night at the disco when Yosvani is having some ecstasy he imagines Rei dancing with him instead of his girlfriend, Gema. Later in the bathroom, after he gives Rei some ecstacy, he kisses him rather frantically. But Rei ultimately rejects his advance at this point, even going as far as to ask him if he thought he was a fag. However, after they get home things change. Yosvani kisses him again, but this time there is no resistance and things go a bit further.
They apparently spend part of the next day together ending up on a rooftop where their realtionship goes to the next level. This is important because when Rei is with his clients there are certain things he doesn’t let them do. Those boundaries were non-existant with Yosvani. But their relationship is not linear in the traditional sense. The next day they are at the beach and amusement park with their girlfriends/wives. The look on Yosvani’s face when Rei kisses his wife is telling. Of course at the end of the day we find them together in the men’s room.
Rei is a prostitute and also has a gambling problem. Great combination eh? Rei continues to sleep with his primary client (Juan) even after he and Yosvani have gotten together. In this context, I get it – he needs to make the money to survive. And although it’s obvious that Yosvani is not happy with this arrangement, he gets it as well. But when Yosvani sees Rei with Juan (the client) it changes things. It’s also apparent that Rei didn’t want Yosvani to see him with Juan either. Interestingly, Rei’s family is all about Juan. I find this ironic in that in an ideal world they would be happy to see that Rei and Yosvani are falling in love. Instead, they would find that disgusting and yet they encourage Rei to sell his body to Juan.
I think it’s at this point that their relationship starts to have issues. Rei sees Yosvani at the soccer game, but Yosvani isn’t happy with Rei. Rei tries to make up for the last scene with Juan and gives Yosvani a photo of himself. Their conversation turns sour, but later they meet up on the roof again and reconnect. But after Yosvani’s family starts to catch on they start to meddle and keep the two apart. Rei keeps trying to meet up with him, looking for him at the soccer game and trying to call. But the relationship starts to drift away from them at this point.
Families in this story are non-supportive in multiple ways. The most up-front is that they would not and do not support a gay relationship. However, Rei’s family fully supports him being a prostitute even over the possibility of going to school. They need him for money. Yosvani’s family (which is apparently his future wife’s family) is even worse. You can see from the trailer how money driven this story is, and I understand why in such a poor society. Everyone is poor and just trying to survive. It adds a cultural dimension to this story that makes it feel very raw and complex.
Family matters get even worse when Yosvani’s future father-in-law pits Yosvani against Rei. It is at that point Rei starts to disconnect from Yosvani. He rejects Yosvani several times, even when it is very apparent that Yosvani wants to be with him. I’m not sure Rei knew just how far he had gone to try to make things work for them.(Although I wonder why Yosvani kept interrupting him in the middle of soccer practice – it would seem an inopportune time to discuss relationship issues. Why not wait until practice is over when he can have Rei’s full attention?)
The more I think about it, there was little chance of Rei and Yosvani having a relationship. Despite the fact that they were both in heterosexual relationships society would not have made that possible. I see this in their issues coming to grips with what is happening between them as well as their reactions to each other in public. The family issues put the final nail in this one to a disheartening finale.
I watched this movie twice. I felt like I missed some things the first time, and I wasn’t sure if maybe I was just tired when I watched it or perhaps I was being culturally ignorant. I think what I’ve found is that there are two intermingling issues. The first is the story about men in love in Cuba and the societal issues surrounding that. The second is that Rei is a very complex person. He can be selfish, compulsive, and not the best person to be in any kind of relationship with. This makes the story very complicated, and makes you wonder at times why the characters are behaving as they do.
There is a song that is sung at a party that happens after Rei and Yosvani’s fall out on the soccer field. I think it’s appropriate to end on…
Today you ask me for love
and I can give you nothing
please don’t go on
because the flame of love
can’t be lit with wet powder
Trailer: On YouTube
(I don’t think the music for the trailer is fitting for the movie…)