Brooding and Deeply Ruminative, TREMORS Rattles In The Aftershock Of A Man’s Pursuit Of Happiness
The coming out of an evangelical father shatters his family, his community and uncovers a profoundly repressive society.
Director: Jayro Bustamante
Cast: Juan Pablo Olyslager, Diane Bathen, Mauricio Armas Zebadúa, Rui Frati, Sabrina De La Hoz
Runtime: 107 minutes
Not to be confused with the cult classic starring Kevin Bacon, director Jayro Bustamante’s Tremors is a bleak and intense drama centering on a middle-aged family man’s struggle between his self-identity and love for his family.
Premiering in 2019’s Berlinale as part of its Panorama category, the film opens with family man, Pablo (Juan Pablo Olyslager), rushing home to a hall full of confused and disappointed faces. It is not made clear what Pablo has done that has deeply troubled the family – and it is not until twenty minutes into the film where the stigma towards Pablo’s homosexuality is directly mentioned.
Pablo’s intervention is suspended when a tremor rocks the house, heralding the rest of the film’s exploration of the fallout and struggles of living as a homosexual in deeply religious Guatamala.
Director Bustamante is no stranger to using natural phenomena to frame his stories. In his debut Ixcanul, a volcano looms in the background, signifying the bubbling tensions of a young girl living in a traditional Mayan society. This theme of outdated traditions resonates again in Tremors, this time of a gay married man’s oppression in conservative Guatamala. However, I felt its use of earth tremors came off shaky.
On one hand, earth tremors can come to represent the underlying and hidden tensions of Guatemalans with regards to homosexuality; while it is legal in the country, it is still deeply stigmatised by its religious denizens. Yet, the device’s subtlety and effectiveness is sapped whenever tremors do rock the world of its characters. The tremors’ place in the story felt straight out of a telenovela; as subtle as a lightning strike after a villain’s speech.
Even after he is ousted from his home, Pablo is initially optimistic of the new life he could lead. He decides to share an apartment with his lover, the free-spirited Francisco (Mauricio Armas Zebadua), and work towards having a happy life together. Societal stigmas soon catch up to Pablo when his wife, Isa (Diane Bathen), and his family deny him the right to see his children.
Tremors attempts to present a detailed study of the issues Pablo faces, yet I felt that not all of them were dealt with effectively. Homophobia is a raw – and unfortunately, painfully relatable – reason for the issues Pablo struggle with. Perhaps as equally damning in Catholic Guatemala is Pablo’s extramarital affair with his lover. While Tremors does tellingly illuminate Isa’s pain dealing with a broken marriage and of Pablo’s family handling of the resulting fallout, it felt like it was never an issue for Pablo.
He blames his sexuality as being the key reason for being unable to see his children, while completely glossing over his affair. This, to me, makes Pablo a frustrating lead for a film that wants its audience to sympathise with his pain – unless they are okay with cheating husbands and fathers.
Nevertheless, as a whole, these missteps mean little when paired with the film’s spectacular cinematography and the performances of its cast. The camerawork does a wonderful job of exhibiting Pablo’s emotions and the greater clash of ideals that the film’s theme brings. Backed by excellent sound design, shots of the family house are cold and unwelcoming while Bustamante relentlessly makes a point to showcase the liveliness of the country. Our characters are hardly alone on the crowded streets that vary between comforting or suffocating.
Olyslager’s portrayal of Pablo carries the emotional weight of the film, where his distress is constantly apparent, bubbling just underneath the surface. The standout performance of the film would have to be Sabrina De La Hoz in her role as a woman pastor in the church Pablo’s family frequents. Desperate for help, Isa seeks solace in the pastor’s words, and looks to her for assistance in ‘curing’ Pablo of his sexuality. She commands every frame she is in, leaving ample for compassion while giving the role much needed conviction in the pastor’s crusade, especially towards the film’s disturbing conclusion.
With every frame drenched in its sombre theme, Tremors is a difficult yet necessary watch. One of the last shots of Tremors has Pablo turning around and looking directly at the camera, as if beckoning the audience to question themselves about everything he has gone through. It is an unnerving summary of the film’s confrontational tone and message.
Tremors will open Golden Village’s 11th installment of the Love & Pride Festival on 10th October at Golden Village’s Suntec City theatres. Subsequently, the film will be screened on 14th October and 19th October at GV Suntec City and GV Grand, Great World City respectively.
Check out the trailer here:
About Love & Pride Film Festival
Golden Village’s celebrated Love & Pride Film Festival returns for the 11th year this October and will once again feature an impressive lineup of internationally acclaimed foreign titles.
Curated by the Singapore Film Society (SFS), the highly regarded festival, which takes place from 10th to 20th October 2019, will showcase a slew of LGBTQ-focused independent titles connected with the theme of ‘Sparking Change’. The theme seeks to spark productive conversations on issues faced by the LGBTQ community and encourage a societal change in attitudes.