This Venice Queer Lion winner sensitively captures a young gay man’s desire for emotional fulfilment, set against the bustling backdrop of Guatemala.
Dir. Li Cheng
2018 | Guatemala | Drama | 85 mins | 1.85:1 | Spanish
Not rated (unlikely to be passed uncut at R21)
Cast: Enrique Salanic, Manolo Herrera, Ana Cecilia Mota
Plot: Aloof and resigned to things as they are, Jose fills his free moments playing with his phone and random sex arranged on street corners and dating apps. When he meets Luis, a migrant from the rural Caribbean coast, they pursue an unexpected relationship.
Awards: Won Queer Lion & Nom. for Fedeora Award (Venice)
International Sales: Rediance
Subject Matter: Mature
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse
(Reviewed on screener)
It’s not every day that you chance upon a film from Guatemala, not to mention one directed by a Chinese, but as far as the Central American country is concerned, Jose ought to be a step forward for its cinema after winning the Queer Lion at the Venice Film Festival.
Still a conservative nation with Christianity a vital cog in daily life, one wonders how a film like this might change perceptions from the outside. As a LGBT film, Jose is a good but not great one, for it is certainly less interesting if the same story had been set in a more liberal part of the world.
Much of what makes Jose a more substantial work than it seems is Li Cheng’s sensitive direction, capturing a young gay man’s desire for emotional fulfillment as he tries to make sense of how his future might unfold.
Over 600 people from all over Guatemala attended the open casting for the film.
The other reason is its cinematography, where the visuals immerse us into local sights and sounds. One great scene involves fireworks at night as two lovers take in the moment together.
Ultimately, Cheng’s work draws emotional gravitas from the titular character’s vivid relationship with his mother—as a maternal force pulls one closer to home, another invisible force marked by desire and discovery pulls one further away.