'Viva': Seeking A Spot In Havana's Spotlight Viva is a father-son drama from Havana — one of the first from Cuba to be commercially released in the U.S. in decades.
NPR logo

'Viva': Seeking A Spot In Havana's Spotlight

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/476464483/476498803" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
'Viva': Seeking A Spot In Havana's Spotlight

Review

Movie Reviews

'Viva': Seeking A Spot In Havana's Spotlight

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/476464483/476498803" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

For decades, few films made in Cuba have found their way to U.S. theaters. But with diplomatic relations restored between the two countries, that is starting to change. A father-son drama called "Viva" just opened in New York, and critic Bob Mondello says it's about a Havana subculture that may be almost as unfamiliar to Cubans as to American.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Jesus is a delicately handsome young man who makes his living - a very small living - as a hairdresser for the performers at a transvestite club in Havana. The day we meet him, the drag performers are fighting, and one is on the way out.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "VIVA")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As Character, speaking Spanish).

(CROSSTALK)

MONDELLO: Which prompts Jesus to say he'd like to try performing himself. The club's proprietor, a burly drag queen known as Mama, wonders why.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "VIVA")

DANILO GARCIA: (As Mama, speaking Spanish).

HECTOR MEDINA: (As Jesus, speaking Spanish).

MONDELLO: "I don't know. It's strong."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "VIVA")

MEDINA: (As Jesus, speaking Spanish).

MONDELLO: "It's pretty."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "VIVA")

MEDINA: (As Jesus, speaking Spanish).

MONDELLO: But Jesus is also at loose ends - mother dead, dad in jail. I want something for me, he says.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "VIVA")

MEDINA: (As Jesus, speaking Spanish).

MONDELLO: "I don't have anything..."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "VIVA")

MEDINA: (As Jesus, speaking Spanish).

MONDELLO: "...Nobody..."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "VIVA")

MEDINA: (As Jesus, speaking Spanish).

MONDELLO: "...No family."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "VIVA")

MEDINA: (As Jesus, speaking Spanish).

MONDELLO: So Mama lets him try out - stage name Viva, lip synching to a torch song he likes in a dress he makes himself. And he's not terrible.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "VIVA")

MEDINA: (As Jesus, singing in Spanish).

GARCIA: (As Mama, speaking Spanish).

MONDELLO: "Practice, practice, practice," says Mama afterwards. "This isn't a charity. Show us something real, or we'll get someone else." Next time Jesus goes out on stage as Viva...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "VIVA")

MEDINA: (As Jesus, singing in Spanish).

MONDELLO: ...He's in a white dress, pearls and a scarlet boa.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "VIVA")

MEDINA: (As Jesus, singing in Spanish).

MONDELLO: The audience finds him real all right. He's a knockout, and he gets knocked out by a drunk at the bar...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "VIVA")

MONDELLO: ...A drunk he is horrified to learn is his father just released from jail and coming back to live with him in the family apartment that they both have claims on. Complications ensue and a power struggle in the household, a struggle that gains complexity from a cleverly meta bit of casting.

Filmmaker Paddy Brannoch has placed newcomer Hector Medina as Jesus opposite one of Cuba's most celebrated actors, Jorge Perugorria, as his homophobic father. That's an intriguing bit of role-reversal since Perugorria became celebrated two decades ago by making his own debut as the gay lead in "Fresa Y Chocolate," "Strawberry And Chocolate," the Oscar-nominated film that is probably Cuba's best-known.

The two actors are well-paired here in the story that's perhaps over familiar - all about identity and family - but that benefits enormously from its setting - the cobbled streets of Old Havana where the colorful hues of antique cars and crumbling storefronts brighten the grittier world they inhabit, much as Jesus wants to brighten the world around him as Viva. I'm Bob Mondello.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.