In 2015 Guatemalan Director Jayro Bustamante received an Oscar nomination for his debut feature, Ixcanul, and the Alfred Bauer Prize at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival for the same feature. With his latest picture, Tremors (Temblores), Bustamante delves into the world of gay conversion therapy, family and faith in a polarised Guatemalan community.
Tremors is not the first film in recent years to explore the interface between religion, sexual orientation and community, with Boy Erased and The Miseducation of Cameron Post offering a window on similar themes. However, unlike its predecessors, Tremors attempts to unpick the role of status, wealth and community in controlling an individual’s destiny while focusing its narrative on the lives of older men, who should, in theory, have control over their own destiny.
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The film opens with Pablo (Juan Pablo Olyslager) driving up to the family home during a violent storm, where his extended family sit waiting for his arrival. Pablo knows why they are waiting and that a long-held secret is now out in the open; his relationship with a local man, Francisco (Mauricio Armas Zebadúa). But in a family of staunch Christian values, Pablo knows he will be required to seek spiritual help and guidance to atone for his transgressions. Then there’s his wife and children; how does he maintain a relationship when his actions are seen through a lens of sin? However, as the family begin to unpick Pablo’s life as if he isn’t there, the night is cut short by a powerful earth tremor.
Bustamante cleverly uses the earth tremors on which the film’s title is based to reflect the inner turmoil and decisions Pablo navigates and the junctures of his journey. But the tremors carry little power compared with the church, its doctrine, the family, and its manipulation. 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 choices are constantly hampered by the social prison surrounding him – a prison built on his social standing and wealth. Here the church, community and family live in a bubble of self-righteous power while justifying their actions through misguided faith.
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Bustamante makes no direct comment on the lives of gay men living in Guatemala, focusing his energy on the societal structures surrounding two men of different social backgrounds. Here their sexual orientation feeds into broader issues of class, power and place. More than a simple critique of the horrors of gay conversion therapy, Tremors is also an assured exploration of social control, deftly exploring the interface between wealth, power and church in maintaining social divides.