Fiction, 107’, Guatemala
Jayro Bustamante’s second film, Temblores, a film set in grey and gritty Guatemala City - takes us into the world of the evangelical Latin American elite and follows Pablo, a gay man, and his venture into conversion therapy to avoid loosing his wealth, status, and children. Opening with a soap opera style chamber intervention where Pablo entire family has gathered in their lavish house after the revelation that he has a gay lover. The dramatic performances, explanatory dialogue and TV style shot reverse shot was off putting to say the least. As someone who speaks the language, it was almost unbearable. Coupled with Latin women crying, I was convinced this was going to be a train wreck. Nevertheless, as the story developed and we followed Pablo’s struggle to reconcile his homosexuality when he is pushed out of society, performances became easier to forgive. Juan Pablo Olyslager, who plays Pablo, brings some complexity to the character, especially as he tries to fight his impulses to be with his beloved gay lover, Francisco but ultimately remains distant and impenetrable.
Throughout Pablo’s traumatising and compelling journey, the most poignant character was his lover Francisco, whose genuine love was tangible and unconditional, making him the only redeemable character. Even Pablo’s motivations were muddled, and my empathy for him wained as he was so blindly concerned with what people were saying and his status. The brainwashing tactics was presumably what Bustamante wanted to explore, yet a lack of intimacy—palpable by the distant and drifting camera that followed the supporting characters more than Pablo—caused his journey to fall flat. As he enters conversion therapy, we watch him follow the step-by-step programme and never really obtain an insight into his struggle, in fact, the one moment it seems Pablo has relapsed, it turns out to be a ploy to get Francisco to witness the last step in conversion therapy. Does Pablo genuinely want “cure” himself or is it purely due to societal constraints? Bustamante misses out on a great opportunity here to explore the complexity of Pablo’s decisions, skims the surface and refuses to spell out any specifics of Pablo’s situation, which in this case are a disservice to the already telenovela-esque plot.
The cinematography, shedding light on the grey and darkness of Guatemala, was one particular highlight of this film as the textures and spaces were rich and a pleasure to watch. The sombre and dark images favoured this film greatly and elevated the disjointed character development and predictable screenplay.