Deirdre Molumby headed along to Paddy Breathnach’s Viva, which closed this year’s Audi Dublin International Film Festival.
This year, the Audi Dublin International Film Festival closed with the Cuban-shot Irish-produced feature Viva. The screening had generated great anticipation as Viva was one of nine films shortlisted for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar this year, and it received critical acclaim at the prestigious Telluride Film Festival last September. Viva also won the Dublin Film Festival’s AUDI-ence award.
Set in Havana and directed by Paddy Breathnach (I Went Down, Shrooms, Man About Dog), Viva follows an eighteen year old named Jesus (newcomer Héctor Medina) who works as a hairdresser and make-up artist for drag performers at a local night club. With his mother deceased and his father in prison, the sweet-natured Jesus makes just enough of a living that he can maintain his humble flat but he dreams of playing a bigger role in the club – performing on stage as a drag act. When one of the show’s lead performers abruptly walks out, auditions are held for a replacement and Jesus gets his chance to shine. However, he is young and inexperienced, and is criticised by his mentor, another performer named Mama (Luis Alberto García), for not delivering feeling on the stage. But Jesus soon has something much bigger to worry about. His father, Angel (Jorge Perugorría), returns from prison, and is determined that Jesus will not perform.
At one point, Angel describes Havana as ‘the most beautiful slum in the world’, and indeed the film paints a beautiful portrait of the city. At the ADIFF screening, star of the film Luis Alberto García, who plays Mama, said the film ‘gave a dignity to poverty’, and this context is very much visible in the film as well. The world is both accessible and welcoming through its smart screenplay and colourfully drawn characters. It is also a relief that while the drag performers are fun and vibrant, they never become silly caricatures as one would see on something like TV reality show Rupaul’s Drag Race. In Alberto García, Héctor Medina and Jorge Perugorría, we get three strong performances and engrossing characters that keep the audience on their toes as their contrasting wills battle out.
Mark O’Halloran’s previous screenwriting credits include Adam & Paul and Garage, two critically acclaimed features directed by Lenny Abrahamson which did wonders for both their careers. Here, O’Halloran again looks at marginalised figures in society and exercises the minimalism he demonstrated in his previous work in this film also. Very little actually happens in Viva and there is a tangible sense of realism in this. We are given a real insight into the place, its characters, and are granted a much more satisfying cinematic experience which opposes escapist fantasy as a result.
At heart, Viva is an age old story about being true to oneself. But with its talented cast, stunning Cuban backdrop, and slowly enrapturing screenplay, it is one with a difference.
Viva screened on 28thFebruary 2016 as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 18 – 28 February)