Jayro Bustamante put Guatemala on the cinematic map with the impressive Ixcanul. In his new film Temblores, he shows us the horrific treatment of a father who comes out as gay.
Guatemala is a country of extreme opposites, it appears. Antigua or Tres Marias coffee beans make the most delicious and subtle coffee, for example, but the treatment of homosexuals could not be more inhumane. That is if this film by Jayro Bustamante is to be believed.
He made his international breakthrough with Ixcanul, a film that won numerous awards and which tells the story of a strong, pregnant girl from a Maya village high up in the mountains whose chances in life are thwarted by poverty, superstition, and colonialism. Temblores is not set in a volcanic landscape, but in the city and it is not centred around a penniless girl but around a rich man in the prime of his life.
There are nevertheless striking similarities. Pablo also clashes with his environment and society in the most horrific way. Inciting the rage of his wife and the rest of the family, Pablo confesses that he is in love with another man. He loses his job, is cut off from his children, and is eventually convinced to take part in therapy sessions that his church organizes to cure homosexuality. Each heinous claim hurts more than the last.
People are not put on earth to be happy but to make sacrifices for God. Pablo’s wife is asked if she satisfies him enough orally because that might be a reason to look for other men. The strangest ideas are spouted just to keep denying that homosexuality is as natural as the world is round. We not only see the terrifying power of the church, but also the hypocrisy of Pablo’s surroundings and the most toxic ideas about what it is to be a man.
The careful cinematography, soundtrack, and sombre colour palette evoke an oppressive atmosphere, but the script leaves little room to manoeuvre. It doesn’t sit well that Temblores leaves you feeling bitter, but it is not immediately clear if that is due to the bitterness of the reality depicted or because of the film’s dark conclusion.