While the film is Ireland’s official Oscar submission due to director Paddy Breathnach’s home country (and source of financing), Viva is a film set entirely in Havana, Cuba, and serves as a window into the unique world of Cuban drag performers at a local nightclub.
Our protagonist, Jesus (Héctor Medina), barely survives off meager wages and temporary work, but dreams of being a drag star like his mentor Mama (Luis Alberto García). His road to local stardom starts out extremely well as he has plenty of potential, but hits a major hurdle when his father, a convict, comes home unexpectedly from prison. As a former boxer, it isn’t surprising to hear that his father does not care for his son’s chosen career path (or his sexuality). The resulting drama is about being true to yourself and following your passions while keeping relationships in your life.
Every character is so distinctly different from the others, and this colorful group gives Viva the necessary stakes to be fully invested in, and truly sell, the movie. Jesus’s father, Angel (Jorge Perugorría), starts out as a one-dimensional brute, but it quickly becomes clear he is much more than that. The machismo culture that is present in this world in direct contrast to its flamboyant opposition in drag queens is a compelling world to occupy.
While the film meanders at times, it thankfully finds enough of a storyline to finish extremely strong and leave the audience emotionally moved. Each of the drag performances is spellbinding thanks to a fantastic soundtrack and outstanding emotional vulnerability from the various entertainers. These performances will be the film’s calling card and what makes it so memorable. As a father-son drama, and as an introduction into a world foreign to many of us (especially here in the U.S., where Cuba just recently opened its doors to foreign tourism), Viva is a success all around. The title stems from the protagonist’s stage name, which is a perfect message for a movie about living life the way you want to against all odds, and stepping out of your comfort zone in pursuit of success.
Viva will be screening 1/23 at the Sundance Mountain Resort Screening Room and 1/25 at the Library Center Theatre.