Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"Bustamante employs physical earthquakes as well, with a similar subtlety that he goes on to use the myth of La Llorona in his follow up film" | Photo: TuVasVoir

"I didn't come here to speak of God," says a church pastor, part way through Tremors, "I came here to make sure you understand the rules."

It's a statement that cuts to the heart of the Guatemalan filmmaker Jayro Bustamante's second feature, which examines the cultural constrictions of the country's hierarchy. Rules, it seem, trump even the Creator when it comes to 'polite society'.

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Pablo (Juan Pablo Olyslager) - who is a God-fearing family man - has just broken the rules quite spectacularly, by cheating on his wife with another man, Francisco (Mauricio Armas Zebadúa). As the title of the film suggests, we meet him not at the exact moment of the explosion of discovery but during the aftershocks that follow as his family kick him out, he loses his job over what his employers consider to be dubious morals and those in his church pray for his soul. Bustamante employs physical earthquakes as well, with a similar subtlety that he goes on to use the myth of La Llorona in his follow up film - letting their unexpectedness add to the instability that surrounds Pablo and his family ties.

The environs of the upper middle-class life of Pablo's family, with their tasteful reception rooms, strict codes of conduct and hired help (Bustamante regular Maria Telon again putting in a sympathetic and nuanced performance) are all shot in melancholic blue tones by Luis Armando Arteaga. By contrast, the cinematographer allows warm sunshine or lamplight to spill in to the moments Pablo spends in a down-at-heel flat with Francisco or in the local bar - all in all, Arteaga is building quite the CV with his work for Bustamente and films including The Heiresses.

The tension in the film stems not from Pablo's doubt about who he is - it's clear he is at home in with hissexuality when we see him in tender moments shared with Francisco, even if he is wrestling with Catholic guilt. Rather it comes from whether he is prepared to permanently turn his back on that element of his life in order to have access to his young children, which will otherwise be denied him. That the Church, too, seems to be going through the motions of 'praying the gay away' as much to maintain the received social norms than from any real sense of hell and damnation only adds to the film's sense of mourning for change.

While a little more social detail regarding the state of play for the gay community in wider Guatemalan society would be welcome, Bustamante maintains a strong emotional focus, letting events play out elliptically, while giving room for Olyslager to explore the conflict of his character. The importance of children also comes to the fore, not just as pawns in the game but as people who, as yet constrained by society's wider rules, make up their own explanations and draw their own less prejudiced judgements. Bustamante's last two films have been tucked away in festival sidebars - Berlin's Panorama and Venice Days - but they deserve more attention.

Reviewed on: 12 Jan 2020
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Tremors packshot
The coming out of an evangelical father shatters his family, his community and uncovers a profoundly repressive society.

Director: Jayro Bustamante

Writer: Jayro Bustamante

Starring: Juan Pablo Olyslager, Mauricio Armas, Diane Bathen, María Telón, Pedro Javier Silva Lira

Year: 2019

Runtime: 107 minutes

Country: Guatemala, France, Luxembourg

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