In 2015 Guatemalan Director Jayro Bustamante received an Oscar nomination for his debut feature Ixcanul. While also winning the Alfred Bauer Prize at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival for the same feature. Now with his latest picture Tremors (Temblores). Bustamante delves into the world of gay conversation therapy, family and faith in a polarised Guatemalan community.
Tremors is certainly not the first film in recent years to delve into the interface between religion and sexual orientation. Arriving after both Boy Erased and The Miseducation of Cameron Post also offered a view into this barbaric global practice. However, unlike it predecessors, Tremors is not only different in style, but also far more nuanced in delivery. Offering a highly effective discussion on the role of communities, religion and family in controlling the destiny of an individual. While focusing its narrative on the lives of older men, who should in theory have control over their own path in life.
The film opens with Pablo (Juan Pablo Olyslager) arriving at his family home during a storm, his whole extended family waiting. His once deeply held secret now out in the open, as the secret of a love affair he has been having are outed. However, this is not only a relationship with a local man Francisco (Mauricio Armas Zebadúa). But also a knife in the heart of his families staunch Christian values, and his heterosexual marriage. The family immediately enacting their belief that Pablo needs spiritual help and guidance. While rebuilding his relationship with his wife and children. However, the night is cut short by an earth tremor. One that leads Pablo back into the arms of his male lover. But with family pressure growing, and his own religious guilt building Pablos journey is far from over.
The films narrative cleverly uses several earth tremors during the course of the story. Each one reflecting the inner turmoil and decisions Pablo is navigating. While also demonstrating the power of community, family and church in steering individual choice and destiny.
Equally Tremors understands how religion is given power and voice through the rules of the communities it inhabits. Providing us with a clear example of the ability of both religion and community to create one over arching structure of control. While also exploring wealth, status and social power and its links to religious power in communities based on image and position.
Homosexuality is not illegal in Guatemalan society, and there is never any question that Pablo should have the right to choose his own destiny. However, his real choices are stymied by his place and position, as much as the religious community surrounding him. Ultimately leading to choices that are rooted in social image as much as religion and belief.
Meanwhile the hypocrisy of the Church, dovetails with charade of the community surrounding it. The division between rich and poor embedded in religious beliefs that only further increase the social divide. The church, community and family living in a bubble of self-righteous power, while justifying their actions through misguided belief.
Bustamante makes no direct comment on the lives of gay men living in Guatemala. Focusing his energy on the societal structures that surrounding two men of differing social backgrounds. Their indivdual sexual orientation feeding into wider issues of class, power and place. Equally there is no attempt to critique the final choices Pablo makes. Both director and cast understanding the ultimate dilemma he faces.
More than a simple critique of the horrors of gay conversation therapy, Tremors is also an assured exploration of social control. A film that explores the divide of wealth and power and the role of the church in maintaining its strength in such divides. The role of the man defined by religion; the power of that role only acting to increase social divide and control.