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2016 Milwaukee Film Festival – Review – VIVA

Posted on Sep 25, 2016 by | 0 comments

I’ve seen a few films in advance of the 2016 Milwaukee Film Festival. One of them is VIVA which is part of the Worldviews program at this year’s festival.

VIVA centers around an aspiring drag performer Jesus (Héctor Medina) who aspires to be a drag performer in a popular nightclub under the alter ego Viva. Things look promising until Jesus’s father Angel (Jorge Perugorria), a former boxer, reenters his life, fresh out of prison. Angel, without anywhere else to go, moves in with Jesus and proceeds to dominate his life with his old fashioned, macho outlook which forbids Jesus from doing the one thing he loves doing. The film is the story of the two of them coming to terms. And, perhaps, Angel represents the old Cuba finding acceptance.

The film is shot in Havana and features Cuban actors, but surprisingly the behind the camera crew, including director Paddy Breathnach and writer Mark O’Halloran is Irish. I don’t know if that outsider perspective on Cuba is fundamental to this picture, and clearly it was shot in cooperation with the Cuban authorities so it can’t be viewed as too radical, but clearly they’re siding with Jesus here. They’re wearing their politics on their sleeve here as they’re clearly on the side of tolerance and acceptance and the film ends with a non-traditional family of a sort.  Beyond that, the film makes wonderful use of the streets of Havana, really gets to cut loose in how the drag performances are shot, and is well acted across the board.

You have to accept that you’ll see where this story is going right from the beginning. We’ve all seen this story before, albeit we haven’t seen it in this setting and drag milieu. But, it’s a well done version of this familiar story and what’s new that’s brought to the table help make this a cinematic experience. Plus, it has the old fashioned virtue of featuring strong lead performances. All of which makes it a trip well worth taking.

VIVA screens two more times atthe Milwaukee Film Festival, Thursday, September 29, 2016 at 1 pm at the Oriental Theatre, and Saturday, October 1, 2016 at 9 pm at the Oriental Theater. Tickets can be purchased online at Milwaukee Film’s website.


Robert Reineke
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