In commemoration of pride month, Cinema Tropical recommends some recent LGBTQ film titles from Latin America that you can watch at home on VOD (in the United States) through different streaming platforms. As Latin America has broken production records in the past few years, the number of LBGTQ-themed films has also increased. By no means this is a comprehensive list—unfortunately the number of Latin American films available for distribution in the U.S. remains limited—but rather a casual guide to enjoy some LGBT narratives emerging from the Americas. All of the films listed were made in the last four years.
Sexy and heartfelt, the handsome drama Esteros explores a second chance at love as childhood friends Matías and Jerónimo reunite in their hometown of Paso de los Libres, Argentina, on the banks of the Uruguay River. The summer before high school, the teens’ close friendship transformed into something deeper, but their mutual attraction never came to fruition. More than a decade later they meet again, and the chemistry between them is palpable, but now Matías has a girlfriend who has traveled to his hometown for Carnival. Seeing his old friend, now so comfortable and confident in his skin, reawakens Matías’ feelings. A powerful film that elicits feelings of nostalgia for our own adolescence and for the long-forgotten romances from our past, Esteros offers a satisfying glimpse into what might have been (and what might still be).
Every afternoon Noelí, a young Dominican girl, goes to the beaches at Las Terrenas. Along with her boyfriend, they look for ways to make a living at the expense of one of the hundreds of tourists that wander the beach. As people parade through her life, Noelí has a steady client, a mature French woman who, as time goes by, has found an ideal refuge on the island to spend her last years. Noelí’s boyfriend feigns to be her brother and outlines a plan in which Noelí travels to Paris with the old lady and sends him money every month. For Noelí, the relationship with the old lady is one of convenience, but the feelings become more intense as the departure date closes in. Featuring a riveting performance by actress Geraldine Chaplin, Sand Dollars was directed by the acclaimed duo of Laura Amelia Guzmán and Israel Cárdenas (Jean Gentile).
"A touching and humorous coming-of-gender story, Bad Hair chronicles the life of nine-year-old Junior, living in a bustling Caracas tenement with his widowed mother. Junior fears he has pelo malo – bad hair. For his school photo, he wants to iron his stubbornly curly mane straight to resemble one of his pop star idols. His mother, unemployed and frazzled from the pressures of raising two children in an unforgiving city, has serious misgivings; she suspects her son is gay. Grandma is more accepting, teaching Junior to dance to one of her favorite ‘60s rock ‘n’ roll tunes. Writer-director Mariana Rondón grounds her film in the cultural realities of working-class Venezuela – and, by dint of two remarkable performances, finds warmth and humor between mother and son, even as the uncertainties of pre-adolescence threaten to pull them apart. Winner, Best Film, San Sebastian Film Festival, and winner of directing, acting, and screenwriting awards at numerous festivals throughout the world." —Film Forum.
Chavela is the captivating look at the unconventional life of beloved performer Chavela Vargas, whose passionate renditions of Mexican popular music and triumphant return to the stage late in life brought her international fame. Born in Costa Rica in 1919, Chavela Vargas ran away to Mexico City as a teenager to sing in the streets. By the 1950s, she became a household name in her adopted country, delivering her performances with a raw passion and unique voice. Just as influential were her cultural contributions; Chavela was a bold, rebellious, sexual pioneer who was known for having many female lovers at a time when being out in Mexico was dangerous. Chavela centers around a 1991 interview—the singer's first public appearance after 15 hard years lost to alcoholism and heartbreak. In the final years of her life, Chavela openly comes out as a lesbian and rises into her momentous third act, becoming a muse to filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar, earning a Lifetime Achievement Grammy, and selling out performances at prestigious concert halls around the world.
Part gay romance, part inquisitive self-journey, Futuro Beach by acclaimed Brazilian director Karim Aïnouz is a stunning examination of lives lost and found. Donato (Wagner Moura) works as a lifeguard at the spectacular but treacherous Praia do Futuro beach in Brazil; Konrad is an ex-military thrill-seeker from Germany vacationing with a friend. After Donato saves Konrad from drowning, but fails to save his other friend, initial sexual sparks give way to a deeper, emotional connection. Donato decides to leave everything behind, including his ailing mother and younger brother, Ayrton, to travel back to Berlin with Konrad. There, he finds both confusion and liberation, and his journey for love soon turns into a deeper search for his own identity. Eight years later, an unexpected visit from Ayrton, brings all three men back together as they struggle to reconcile the pain of loss and longing, instinctively drawn to each other in search of hope and a brighter future.
Critically acclaimed by IndieWire as, "a landmark documentary", Mala Mala explores the intimate moments, performances, friendships and activism of trans identifying people, drag queens and others who defy typical gender identities in Puerto Rico. The film features Ivana, an activist; Soraya, an older sex-change pioneer; Sandy, a prostitute looking to make a change; and Samantha and Paxx, both of whom struggle with the quality of medical resources available to assist in their transition. Hailed as “Sensitive and thoughtful” by the New York Times and winner of the audience award for documentary film at the Tribeca Film Festival, Mala Mala affirms that the quest to find oneself can be both difficult and beautiful.
Set in 1950s Brazil, this sumptuous drama recounts Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Elizabeth Bishop (Miranda Otto of Lord of the Rings) and her love affair with architect Lota de Macedo Soares (the wonderful Glória Pires), the designer of Rio’s famed Flamengo Park. Initial hostilities between the pair make way for a complicated yet long-lasting love affair that dramatically alters Bishop’s relationship to the world around her. From Oscar-nominated Brazilian director Bruno Barreto (Four Days in September), Reaching for the Moon is an intimate snapshot of the search for inspiration, wherever and however you find it.
The debut feature by Miguel Ferrari, winner of Spain's Goya Award for Best Ibero-American Film, is the story of Diego, a young and successful photographer, lives in the glamorous but shallow and excessive world of fashion. A tragic accident turns his world upside down; his partner Fabrizio is now in a coma. Unexpectedly, and right at this inopportune time, Diego's estranged son Armando shows up. Now, both of them have to adapt to each other; Armando to the unknown, homosexual world of his father, and Diego to the closed attitude of his teenage son. My Straight Son is dramedy that will both touch and amuse.
MEMORIES OF A PENITENT HEART
Directed by Cecilia Aldarondo, Puerto Rico/USA, 2016
Premieres on PBS' POV on July 31, 2017
Combining a wealth of recently discovered home movies, video, and written documents with artfully shot contemporary interviews and vérité footage, Memories of a Penitent Heart is a documentary that cracks open a Pandora’s box of unresolved family drama. Originating from filmmaker Cecilia Aldarondo’s suspicion that there was something ugly in her family’s past, the film charts her excavation of the buried family conflict around her uncle Miguel’s death, and her search for Miguel’s partner Robert a generation later. After two years of dead ends, Robert turns up: but he’s not the same man. He’s reinvented himself as Father Aquin, a Franciscan monk with twenty-five years of pent-up grief and bitterness. For the first time, a member of Miguel’s family wants to hear Aquin’s side of the story—but is it too little, too late?
In a time of turmoil for Ecuador, Juan Pablo, 16, travels to the family hacienda in the Andes, where his uncle, facing a corruption scandal, has taken refuge with his wife and teenage children. There he meets Juano, 17, an enigmatic, self-assured black-metal fan from the nearby pueblo, who opens his eyes to a new, liberating universe. As his country and family is heading for the abyss, the two boys budding friendship develops into a fragile romance and Juan Pablo is forced to define himself against his chaotic surroundings. A sweet romantic fable of young love against the odds, Holiday bubbles with tension.
Acclaimed as "the most ravishing and powerful expression in the history of out gay cinema" (Armond White, Out Magazine), the most recent film by Mexican director Julián Hernández tells the story of Emiliano (Hugo Catalán), who looks at his life with the eyes of a film director, mixing the objective reality with the processes of the artistic creation. The story he is filming flounders with his daily life, until his world is trapped in the lens of his camera. Confused, always alone and in front of a screen, now become a transfigured reality, but at the same time a measurable, controllable and manipulable one, he listens in loop to a song: one of those songs you sing or repeat as a prayer and forcing you to remember, believe and convince yourself.
Directed by Davi Pretto, Brazil, 2014
Available on Fandor
Davi Pretto's debut documentary feature, nominated for Best Director in the documentary category at the 5th Cinema Tropical Awards, tells the story of João, a fifty-two year old actor who lives with his seventy-two year old mother, Celina. He spends his time between his work at night as a cross-dresser in small gay bars and the roles he portrays in modest plays, movies and television shows. Tormented and haunted by ghosts from his past, João’s day-to-day life starts to merge with the reality in which he lives and the fiction he is interpreting.
A sexy and romantic gay male film, The Last Match is set in a poor, steamy Havana and centers on an intense love affair between two hitherto heterosexual young men. Reiner and Yosvani (Reinier Diaz and Milton Garcia) are best friends and soccer mates. Handsome Reinier, in order to support his mother, wife and their baby – as well as his gambling habit – prostitutes himself at night to older male foreigners along the waterfront. Meanwhile, the shy Yosvani is reluctantly engaged to a girl and lives with her and her bombastic loan shark father. After a furtive kiss at a nightclub, the two young men, barely containing their pent-up desire, follow up with a lusty roof top encounter – where the two quickly fall hard for each other. And as their love intensifies, the challenge is not with them but with the unforgiving outside world… a world they so desperately want to escape from.
An award-winning festival favorite by Sebastian Silva (The Maid), Nasty Baby centers on Freddy (Silva), a Brooklyn-based artist who, with his boyfriend, Mo (Tunde Adebimpe), and their best friend, Polly (Kristen Wiig), is trying to have a baby. As this trio deals with the complications of conception and creating the "new normal" family, their bliss is clouded by a series of confrontations with an annoying neighbor who just might be a madman.
Winner of the Golden Lion Award for Best Film at the Venice Film Festival, a first for a Latin American production, Lorenzo Vigas' debut feature follows wealthy, middle-aged Armando (played by Pablo Larraín's regular Alfredo Castro), who lures young men to his home with money. He doesn’t want to touch, only watch from a strict distance. Armando’s first encounter with street thug Elder (Luis Silva) is violent, but this doesn’t discourage the lonely man’s fascination with the tough handsome teenager. Financial interest keeps Elder visiting him regularly and an unexpected intimacy emerges. However, Armando’s haunted past looms large, and Elder commits the ultimate act of affection on Armando’s behalf.
And be on the lookout as new LGBTQ titles are headed to U.S. theaters this fall including A Fantastic Woman by Sebastián Lelio, Chavela by Catherine Gund and Daresha Kyi, Nobody's Watching by Julia Solomonoff, Santa & Andrés by Carlos Lechuga, and No Dress Code Required by Cristina Herrera Bórquez. For additional Latino LGBTQ film recommendations check out the list of "10 Latino LGBT Films You Should Watch for Pride Month" from our friends at Remezcla.