Chino, the center of "Habana Muda," is a curious subject. His basics- that he is a gay deaf-mute farmer working to support his wife and two kids in Cuba- suggests that he has an interesting story to tell. Adding to this and complicating it is the fact that he mostly comes across as an overgrown adolescent with a raging libido and eagerness to answer the call to adventure, as well as his wife’s almost unflinching support of his (physical, emotional, sexual) wandering.
Chino has a Mexican lover, Jose, who fills the role of the father figure or sugar daddy, in that he has money and a comfortable existence in Mexico, where Chino would like to go for better work. Though it’s not clear what the age difference is between them, there is a distinct difference in maturity and lifestyle. The ever-smiling Chino is smitten; one question that runs through the film is whether he is sincerely elated in Chino’s company or simply elated by access to his funds. There is evidence for the latter, but the film also suggests implicitly that there is a grey area. Clearly, Chino is driven by money (and sex, although the appeal of Jose is primarily financial); but there are certainly moments in which he seems to care for this man, whom he and his wife refer to as ’the Mexican’ most of the time, as they are discussing financial needs and Chino’s risky traveling and emigrating plans.
One might expect Chino’s wife, Anaylis, to be jealous or insecure at least, but she is a smiling supporter throughout. One can only conclude that economic need trumps conventions around fidelity. In the very beginning of the film, following shots establishing Chino as a pig farmer, the couple has a candid conversation about Jose, in which Chino shows photos to his excited wife, who then makes jokes as if a schoolgirl titillated by her best friend’s sex story.
Later, when Chino and Jose’s ambiguous relationship has developed further, she confronts him, on the beach while he is holding their two young children, with the requirement that they use condoms during sex from then on. Chino amicably assures her that he is careful with the Mexican and that she needn’t worry, but she insists that the two of them will only have protected sex. There is no bickering or accusations; it is a pragmatic, good-natured exchange.
These exchanges sometimes feel unreal, and one wonders how the subjects were prompted or guided by director, Eric Brach. They sometimes seem too simplified and devoid of conflict to be natural. Were they instructed to recap discussions that occurred off-screen? Of course, capturing the dynamic between a couple is challenging, and the camera can’t always be where it needs to be when it needs to be there.
This is simply to say that there are times in which it feels that important moments are being summarized or contrived rather than presented authentically. Relatedly, Chino and Anaylis, as compelling as their story is, mostly come across as two-dimensional actors in a ploy to better their conditions (which aren’t adequately details- how exactly does their existence leave them in want?)
That said, there are reflective moments that go a ways in filling in blanks. For example, Jose evinces doubt about Chino’s commitment and his motivations. The film, at an hour, never feels boring or frivolous, even when its human subjects do. The scenario retains its intrigue. Where will these players, whose plans and emotions we can only nominally know, wind up?
This article is part of our "17th Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival" series. Want to read more?
Here's the full list»