English title: Holiday
Directed by Diego Araujo
I’ve seen two Spanish-language GTMs recently that feature characters from disparate social and economic classes, the other being Peyote, from Mexico. Both dramatize the different ways individuals approach desire, how individuals allow desire to approach them and how the rules and customs surrounding the expression of same-sex desires differ or are similar between different classes and types of men and boys.
In Feriado, the additional wrinkle is that the main protagonist’s object of desire is not only from a different socio-economic class, but also has a different racial ancestry. Juan Pablo is a 16-year-old upper-class Ecuadorian — his father runs a bank. He’s on holiday at his equally wealthy aunt and uncle’s hacienda. I’m assuming he’s from Quito, based on the urban skyline that opens the film and gets featured toward its end, but I can’t remember its being stated.
While at a family party near the hacienda in the country, Juan Pablo catches two young guys stealing hubcaps off the rich folks’ cars. All hell breaks loose as the men and boys chase down the thieves and end up catching one and beating the crap out of him. Juan Pablo’s stomach turns at the sight and he can’t watch.
Rather than returning to the party, shy, quiet Juan Pablo wanders around and runs into the second would-be thief and inadvertently helps him escape from the searchers and their dogs. Juan Pablo, known to his family as Juampi, jumps on the back of the fleeing boy’s motorcycle and ends up going home with him to meet his family, and to find his missing friend whom the cops have taken away.
It turns out that the boy’s family is Quichua, or at least partly Quichua. (Find out more about The Quichua. The Quichua are the largest indigenous population in Latin America, and yet they have a tiny Wikipedia entry.) Juano is also un blackmetalero —he loves black metal —and he has long black hair that’s usually held back in a dense ponytail. Juampi, by contrast, gets mistaken for an Argentine by a young, modern Quichua woman who tries to seduce him later at a party. In other words, he looks white European.
Where the two boys live could not be more different. Juampi lives in a high-rise with his parents. His building has a portero, whose skin is a few shades darker than Juampi’s but about the same as Juano’s. It’s there that Juampi kisses his new friend, who returns it at first, probably because of all the alcohol the two had drank on the rooftop together, and then thinks better of it, escaping quickly on his motorbike back to his small village, his rough, cement-block hut with its dirty, unfinished, spare-wood door.
I was mostly bored with the film’s familiar and often awkward presentation of an adolescent’s coming out and more intereseted in the details of the characters’ cultural and social settings. Writer and director Diego Araujo not only contrasts Juampi’s and Juano’s but situates the impossibilitiy of their friendship within the broader economic crisis that engulfed Ecuador in 1999. Juano’s grandmother, Mama Rosa, in fact, lost her savings due to the shady dealings of Jaumpi’s father. But she’s not alone in that. Millions lost their savings, as well, and 70% of banks closed. The banking crisis of 1998-1999 resulted in Ecuador’s abandoning its own currency. Now it’s US dollar-based.
On the way out of the house to deliver a final message to Juano, Juampi ignores his family’s pow-wow with their lawyers, as they come to realize that they, the rich, stand to lose everything, too. So it’s fitting that Juano rejects Jaumpi, handing him back his little page of poetry and a drawing of the two of them together on the roof, looking at the world together upside down.
Jaumpi: I love to see the city like this, upside down. Sometimes I just stare and stare, and I stare for so long I don’t know anymore…if it’s me that’s upside down…or the city?
Juano, who then looks at him somewhat incredulously: I think it’s the city, yo.
And they both laugh.
This is my favorite scene in the film, and also the only one in which Araujo breaks away from traditional narrative and visual normativity. Not because the view is flipped but because the succession of images could not possibly have been visible from the boys’ vantage point on the roof, unless we think about who’s looking and how. So, the view from there becomes political, for us and for them.
So there’s an implicit critique of certain class-based ways of looking at life, and a gentle ribbing of youthful poeticism, and what it takes to live wherever one is. Juampi comes off as clueless and slow, an assessment that’s confirmed in the film’s weak final scene, in which a worldly friend, a young woman, comes right out and asks him if he likes guys. His pauses were interminable for me, but he eventually says, Creo que sí. He thinks so.
If Araujo had been less preoccupied with the coming-out narrative and its tropes and better at integrating Ecuadorian history and culture, which he’s clearly interested in, as well, I would have enjoyed the film more. But perhaps the real fault is having such a dull character at its center, and directing to convince us of that, over anything else. It’s hard to imagine Jaumpi doing some of the things that were necessary to keep the film going — jumping on the back of the motorcycle while it’s in motion and kissing Juano out of the blue, to name two.
Still, like all films I value, it did push me to do some research about The Quichua and Ecuador, and to consider how common is the trope of cross-cultural love affairs, not only in film but also in literature, at least as early as Romeo and Juliet.