It seems like every other day or so there are news reports of the latest state to honor marriage equality, either through the legislative process or through a court rejection of discrimination. The tide has turned quickly in this country on the issue of gay civil rights, and it’s obvious to all but the most closed of minds that’s in no longer a question of “if” but “how soon” before the gay community is seen as just another fully acknowledged component of our magnificent multicultural society.
In other countries – not so much. Putin’s anti-gay crusade in Russia and his counterpart in Uganda demonstrate that simply being gay is still a dangerous proposition in many parts of our world. This global struggle, reduced to the microcosm of two young men in Cuba, is at the heart of “The Last Match” (La Partida), director Antonio Hens’ latest examination of the lives of gay youth.
*Warning* – This trailer is fairly explicit.
Reinier (Reinier Diaz) and Yosvani (Milton Garcia) are two young men surviving in the barrios of Havana. Reinier, who is married and has a child, supports his family (with the explicit approval of his mother-in-law) by prostituting himself to wealthy male tourists. Yosvani, engaged to the daughter of a black marketer, is living off the largesse of his soon-to-be father-in-law (Luis Alberto Garcia). The two come together on the local soccer field and become fast friends. After a night of partying at a local disco, they find themselves sharing a quick kiss. This initial physical interaction leads into a physical relationship that quickly grows into a deep, emotional bond.
But life in Cuba is not easy, and being gay in Cuba isn’t going to make it any easier. Reinier is more grounded in reality, as harsh as that reality may be. One escape for him may be to go back to Europe with a wealthy tourist (His mother-in-law’s preferred action. She wants him to go back to Spain and marry the guy – because it’s legal there – then send for her and his family.) Another escape may be via joining a national soccer team.
Yosvani wants nothing more than to be with Reinier. He sees money as the solution to their problem. With enough money, they can just leave and go anywhere they want and be together. Rainier’s simple, pitiful response – “Where?”
“Where?” indeed. Both young men act on their desire to escape, culminating in a quietly devastating conclusion that is sure to annoy some. Director Hens may be accused of adding another entry to the long line of “gay lovers are doomed” canon, but an honest examination of the story and the circumstances portrayed should lead one to see that it really couldn’t end any other way.
As the leads, Diaz and Garcia give affecting performances. While the film has its sexually explicit moments (and there is obviously a level of commitment and comfort required to pull those scenes off) it’s in the quieter moments that these young actors really impress. One gets a real sense of the longing and passion these two characters share for each other, and one’s heart breaks (as Yosvani’s does) as the passion gives way to practicality.
With genuine, heartfelt performances by the two leads (and good supporting work from Luis Alberto Garcia as the menacing profiteer), “The Last Match” is a well written and sensitively directed look at love from a different cultural perspective – the love that, sadly, still ‘dare not speak its name’ in too many languages and in too many places in this modern world.
“The Last Match” opens in the San Francisco Bay area on Friday, January 24th at Landmark Theatre’s San Francisco Opera Plaza Cinemas. Check your local theatre listings.