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. With his latest film Tremors (Temblores) Bustamante delves into the world of gay conversation therapy, family and faith in a polarised Guatemalan community.
Tremors is not the first film of recent years to delve into the interface between religion and sexual orientation. Coming on the back of the 2019 Boy Erased and the 2018 Miseducation of Cameron Post. However, unlike both of these films Tremors is different in style and approach. Offering a highly effective and nuanced discussion on the role of communities, religion and family in controlling individual destiny. Focusing 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 secret love affair with a local man Francisco (Mauricio Armas Zebadúa) out in the open, his middle class family in crisis. Pablo’s comfortable is life turned upside down as his families staunch Christian values come into conflict with the his extra marital affair. The fact that it is with a man, consolidating their belief that Pablo needs spiritual help. His journey back to the wife and children he has betrayed consuming each family member. However, the night is cut short by an earth tremor. Pablo rushing to check on his children, only to be instantly dismissed.
The tremor reflects the inner turmoil and decisions Pablo is trying to navigate. Ultimately leading him to try and embrace a new life with Francisco. Renting an apartment in the city, and accepting his right to define his own sexuality.
However in a society of polarised communities, where status and wealth ensure power and place. Pablo’s decision is not easily contained. His wife removes contact with their children claiming he is a danger to them. While his job fires him for his perversions, and his family enlist the help of the church in pulling him back into the fold. His partner Francisco struggles to maintain Pablo’s confidence in the decision he has made. While also understanding the community pressures and homophobia inherent in the city in which they live.
When Francisco returns to the apartment after being attacked in the street. A second earth tremor once again shakes Pablo’s inner world. His journey of self discovery in a community of constraint taking him back to the church for support. A realisation dawning that his life is no longer purely his own control.
Tremors exploration of the interface between sexuality, family, community and religion is assured. This is a film that understands how religion is given power and voice through the rules of the communities it inhabits. Here religion is a part of community structure, dovetailing with wealth, status and social power. Its control and vice like grip welcomed and encouraged, its rules less about who you are and more about who you should be.
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, as a family man of the upper classes his choice is not purely about love and connection. His choices are rooted in social image, place and position. His sexual orientation tied by the fabric of his own life, and his ability to handle the isolation of his choices.
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, justifying their actions with misguided belief.
Bustamante makes no direct comment on the lives of gay men living in Guatemala. Focusing his energy on the community constructs surrounding two men of differing social backgrounds. Their sexual orientation feeding into the wider issues of class, power and place. Equally there is no attempt to critique the final choices Pablo makes. The audience understanding his dilemma, and the community pressure surrounding him. However there is a cutting dissection of the power of the church in controlling those who feed it with money. The power of its doctrine only growing the more the audience sprinkle it with their wealth. In a relationship of money, power, position and control.
More than a simple critique of the horrors of gay conversation therapy, Tremors is an 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.
Writer/Director: Jayro Bustamante
Cast: Juan Pablo Olyslager, Mauricio Armas Zebadúa, Diane Bathen
Guatemala / France / Luxembourg 2019