When we heard that José was named the Queer Lion winner at the 75th Annual Venice Film Festival, we knew we were in store for something special. (FYI: The Queer Lion is the trophy awarded to the “Best Movie with LGBT Themes & Queer Culture”.) Not bad for the first-ever Central America film at the prestigious festival
José is a gripping, layered and beautifully honest story about one working class young man’s struggle to find himself. Made in the neorealist filmmaking tradition, the film is a nuanced and vivid look at being gay in Central America.
José (magnetic newcomer Enrique Salanic) lives with his mother (Ana Cecilia Mota) in Guatemala City, where they survive on her selling sandwiches at bus stops and with him working at a local restaurant. In this poor and sometimes dangerous country dominated by conservative Catholic and Evangelical Christian religion, living as an openly gay man is hard for José to imagine. His mother has never had a husband, and as her youngest and favorite son, on the edge of manhood at 19 years old, she is determined to hold on to him.
Reserved and private, José fills his free moments playing with random hook ups arranged on his phone apps and meeting in clandestine sex houses. When he meets the attractive and gentle construction worker Luis (Manolo Herrera), however, their affair develops into a passionate romance; José then must choose between running off with Luis or remaining at home with his mom who needs him. As he is thrust into new passion and pain José is pushed into never before self-reflection. Will his reluctance to take a leap of faith lead to happiness?
Director Li Cheng and producer George F. Roberson lived in Guatemala for two years to make the film using all-Guatemalan cast and crew and all non-professional actors. Researched in the 20 largest Latin American cities, they built the José story based on interviews with hundreds of young people about their hopes and dreams. They restricted the story around answers to three key questions: Which person are you closest to in your life? What’s your most unforgettable memory? Have you been in love?
The film was researched in a dozen Latin countries, and filmed in Guatemala because of extreme homophobia and the young population; half is under age 19.
“We lived in different zones and neighborhoods,” recalls Cheng. “We’d take long walks in the city and see many dramatic, cinematic places. The first scene of José walking to work has a bus, metro station and a chicken bus station. It’s a crossroads. There’s prostitution, drug dealers, a market and it’s dangerous at night; it’s a mix of everything. It’s a big transition place. We saw these iconic places and how people are living their lives. They take two hours to go from the slums to get to the city early in the morning to make money. I wanted to create a kind of reality—where and how these characters lived their lives. We wanted to respect the people and their dignity.”
José was sparked from anger and disappointment in the world situation today and the film emerges with hope in the new generation of young people poised to reshape the world in breathtaking ways.
The film has much sex and nudity. It is nothing offensive. As Cheng explains: “For the sex scenes, many gay films are afraid to show a penis, or a complete sex scene. They cut to someone’s face or show a side butt. We need to be honest with gay sex scenes and make them like straight sex scenes. We should see a man’s sex organ like a woman’s. We insisted on this when we prepared with the actors. They were nervous and afraid, but they were bold. For the motorcycle scene, we had the actors sit behind each other, and touch each other. My direction was, “You need to get a hard on. Be intimate with each other,” so that’s what we prepared. I wanted to use this film to show that sex with love is more attractive, and valuable, and passionate. ”
Jose opens nationally on January 31.
January 31 New York, NY
February 7 Los Angeles, CA & Chicago, IL
February 14 Miami, Boca Raton, FL;
San Diego, CA; Phoenix, AZ
February 21 Palm Springs, CA
[other cities to follow; visit outsiderpictures.us/movie/jose
Coming to DVD on March 10 from Film Movement and winner of the Grand Jury Prize for Best Narrative Feature at NewFest 2019:
is Temblores. In this deeply personal follow-up to his landmark debut Ixcanul, director Jayro Bustamante shifts his focus from rural Guatemala to Guatemala City, but once again sets his sights on an individual caught between two seemingly irreconcilable worlds.