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  • David Zak

Let JOSÉ take you on a journey

Winners of the Queer Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival often have been major studio efforts like A SINGLE MAN and THE DANISH GIRL. Lately, that list of 14 annual winners has included small features, like The Prince from Chile (2019), The World To Come from the United States (2020), and The Last Chapter from Italy (2021).

The 2018 winner, JOSÉ, from Guatemala and the US, is a layered and honest story about a young man, burdened with the care of his mother, yearning for love and freedom. The film is nuanced and vivid and may inspire a trip to this seldom-seen country.

Sensitively directed by Li Cheng in the neorealist tradition, JOSÉ is a slice of Guatemalan life with the characters trapped in a web, not of their making. Enrique Salanic plays the title character with grace and simplicity, sharing his emotions in sly glances and furtive couplings. Manolo Herrera is Luis, a handsome man who is also making a choice. Ana Cecilia Mota brings a raw, unfettered approach to Jesse’s mom, and she will stay with you long after the film is over.

There are beautiful travel sequences in JESSE that show off the poverty and the beauty of this undiscovered country. The lovers' motorcycle trip is a joyful centerpiece to the film. The scenes of their regular coupling in a love motel are frank yet demure and understated.

Chen Yao's spare score is elegant and is an excellent match for Paolo Giron's cinematography.

JOSÉ is a powerful introduction to the struggles of youth, and it may take you on a journey you will long remember.

I found JOSÉ on Dekkoo and Prime Video.

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