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« Tribeca: Madly | Main | Pfeiffer + Aronofsky = !!!!!!!!!!! »
Saturday
Apr162016

Tribeca: Of Straight Charros & Gay Uncles

Team Experience is at the Tribeca Film Festival. Here's Manuel on two Latino HIV flicks.


Charro de Toluquilla

Following a straight Mexican charro (“cowboy”) who makes a living fronting a mariachi band and who’s living with HIV sounds like a pretty fascinating premise for a doc. Imagine the film you could make. It could tackle ideas of masculinity and machismo, of HIV prevention and education. It’s a film I’d love to watch. Unfortunately, El Charro de Toluquilla is, to its detriment, a portrait of a man who embodies every Mexican macho stereotype you could think of.

He’s a proud womanizer (he’s constantly on his phone texting women, even sometimes while on the phone with his girlfriend who he plans to wed, and with whom he has a kid), an irresponsible father (you cringe when you see him doing nothing as his little girl picks up his loaded gun), a raging sexist (he calls out his girlfriend for jeering at him for cheating), and a rampant homophobe (within the first five minutes of the film he admits gay men with HIV shrivel up and die because of shame). You can tell that in his head, he's just a lovable cad, but by god is he insufferable. I kept expecting the filmmakers to give me a reason for watching this narcissistic, peacocking macho guy. But this observational documentary never quite convinced me that it had anything interesting to say about el Charro, so that by the end when it indulges its subject in recreating scenes right out of a Western serial (complete with corny music cues and a white horse), all I could do was roll my eyes and pray the film would be over soon.

Grade: C

Memories of a Penitent Heart

Memories of a Penitent Heart is a family scrapbook. It was born out of Cecilia Aldarondo's attempts to learn more about her uncle Miguel who, having fled Puerto Rico to New York to pursue his acting career, became “Michael” to his close circle of gay performer friends. Seeing as he was in New York City in the late 80s you can perhaps guess why he died at a young age. Except, of course, that the mystery surrounding his death remains elusive considering Cecilia's family (in particular Miguel's mother) never addressed it. The title, as cumbersome and unwieldy as it is, gets at one crucial part of Miguel/Michael's family history: facing death and egged on by his devout mother, he presumably repented his sins (read: his homosexuality) in order to die in peace.

The initial desire to solve that mystery is just the first step into what turns out to be a much richer and complicated history that has Cecilia trying to track down Miguel's longtime lover who no one in her family has seen since the funeral all those years ago, as well as learn more about the many secrets and resentments that her family has accrued over the years. Smart, warm, and visually inventive, this doc has been growing on me since I first saw it ahead of its festival premiere (even if its final turn still strikes me as faltering, perhaps a reminder that real life often doesn’t lend itself very well to the types of narrative denouements the doc structures itself around). Here’s hoping it nabs a distributor so that more people get to see it.

Grade: B+

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