Tu Me Manques

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Tu Me Manques
"Rodrigo Bellott, who adapted the film from his own play, employs multiple layers of fiction to explore themes around loss, rejection, redemption and that deep human longing to understand what's going on inside the minds of those we love."

It's one of the ironies of attempting to destroy a way of life through social ostracism: the shared experience of parental rejection is one of those things that binds the LGBT community together. It's not that it happens to everyone but it's common enough to have an effect on social interactions. People don't make the same assumptions that happen in society at large. When something is wrong, it's assumed that friends have a duty to step in because there may not be anyone else. Naturally this subject has been explored in cinema time and again, yet there have been relatively few films looking at what it means to a parent to lose a child in this way. Most parents don't reject their children due to some innate monstrousness. They do it because they feel compelled to and it leaves a void which no such community is present to try and fill.

Tu Me Manques is such a film. Despite the French title - a consciously obscure phrase picked from a Facebook love letter - it's concerned primarily with two Bolivians in New York. One of them is Jorge (Oscar Martínez), an older man who has recently had to deal with the death of his son Gabriel. The other is Sebastian (Fernando Barbosa), a young man who was Gabriel's partner. Although Jorge is hostile to Sebastian at first, blaming him for Gabriel's death, his longing to know more about his son's life gradually overwhelms this feeling and inspires him to reach out. As Sebastian introduces him to a world full of people he has always disdained, and as he finds himself drawn into the play about Gabriel's struggle that Sebastian is working on, Jorge undergoes a transformation that not only brings him closer to his son but changes his whole outlook on life.

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Taking home the Best Screenplay award from this year's Outfest Los Angeles, writer/director Rodrigo Bellott, who adapted the film from his own play, employs multiple layers of fiction to explore themes around loss, rejection, redemption and that deep human longing to understand what's going on inside the minds of those we love. Its conclusion invites us to question much of what has gone before but also to do what every playwright must and look inside ourselves as we search for the truth of others' experiences. It also examines the risks inherent in empathy, especially for those unable to meet the standards set by others.

Though Barbosa is likeable and often sympathetic, it's Martinez who carries the film, letting us see the barriers that guard Jorge's emotions gradually break down as the haunted father not only begins to process his grief but also finds different ways of expressing his masculinity. Repeated reference is made to the idea that certain things just weren't possible for his generation, especially in Bolivia, leaving it to the viewer to think about what (and who) facilitated change. The serious themes are leavened with comedy, such as a delightful little vignette about what can be discerned from someone's Grindr photo, and these in turn pointedly satirise parts of the gay scene (New York-centred but familiar enough elsewhere), the events of the film gently undermining some of the snarkier observations made.

With many of its own sharp observations made in passing, this is a film that feels extraordinarily light and easy to watch given the weight of its subject matter. It's bookended by emotionally intense scenes which serve to remind us of what's at stake. Although it still feels a little stagy in places, Bellott makes good use of the flexibility offered by the screen and relishes what can be conveyed in close-ups. Naked bodies lose their individual meaning, moving like automata. Sebastian laments the emptiness to be found in spaces that focus too much on the sexual, though he understands the relief from stress that they provide. To him, what matters is something more personal. Bellott finds it in the eyes.

Reviewed on: 06 Aug 2019
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Tu Me Manques packshot
Following his son Gabriel’s death, Jorge travels from conservative Bolivia to New York City to confront Gabriel’s boyfriend Sebastian. While the two battle over Jorge’s inability to accept his son, Sebastian channels his grief into a bold new play in honour of his lost love.

Director: Rodrigo Bello

Writer: Rodrigo Bello

Starring: Fernando Barbosa, Oscar Martinez, Rossy de Palma

Year: 2019

Runtime: 105 minutes

Country: Bolivia, US

Festivals:

OutfestLA 2019

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