REVIEW: Viva

27 04 2016

VivaSundance Film Festival

Recent scientific research, reissued after some unfortunate plagiarism tainted the initial study, suggests that people have the ability to durably change their views on a given topic like transgender issues. The stipulation, when extrapolating from specific to broad, is that the issue must be new enough to the person that they do not have extremely calcified position – and they must also have a conversation with someone in the out group under the current status quo.

So apparently science backs up Paddy Breathnach’s “Viva,” which essentially makes the same case in more emotional and narrative terms. Aimless Cuban teenager Jesus (Héctor Medina) finds meaning and identity by, ironically, assuming that of another person. On stage in drag as Viva, Jesus finds something that gives him some sense of purpose and happiness.

None of this comes to the delight of his ailing father Angel (Jorge Perugorría), long a distant memory for Jesus who reappears out of the blue. Being from an older generation, Angel unsurprisingly holds very rigid ideas about gender roles and grants little fluidity. Yet in their forced time together, much of it painful and unpleasant, Jesus begins to soften his father’s heart.

That knowledge and empathy are key components of understanding and ultimately acceptance is not a new idea. But “Viva” demonstrates how what we believe to be true can still move us powerfully. Stirring and sweet, Breathnach’s film offers uplift and hope that feels genuinely earned. B+3stars

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