Can a prison romance exist in the outside world? That’s the central question filmmaker Jon Garcia asks with Luz, the story of Ruben (Ernesto Reyes) and Carlos (Jesse Tayeh) who struggle to translate their secretive relationship into an open one when released.
The dynamic between the men changes and evolves from reluctant cellmates, to mentor/mentee, to friends and lovers. Through the complexity of learning to survive within a prison’s unique ecosystem to testing the strength of their feelings among the pressures of family and outside scrutiny, the Ruben and Carlos change and grow.
Luz is a great looking film, cinematographer Sarah Whelden gives each frame a layer of clarity sometimes lacking in low budget indie cinema. From the crisp white walls of the prison to the more subtle tones of the Latinx community the men live in. It’s an easy film to let wash over you. Two strong, appealing leads get plenty to play with and the camera draws us in.
Garcia’s script is simplistic, verging on melodramatic and the performances follow suit; the emotions are big and clear. Some moments are overly declarative, rather than heartfelt, while other scenes feel like they are running through their paces in order to get to the next plot point. And there’s a lot of plot to get through, too much in fact, to the point that it distracts from the emotional heart of the movie. I wanted Luz to either chop a subplot (and about 15 minutes runtime) or to expand in order to let these stories breathe and grow. The result is that both prison life, and the travails outside, feel truncated.
When many queer films veer too far into character moments with stories that barely seem to move, Luz brings a more commercial mindset to the screen, giving us characters that have conflicts from within and without, and a plot that races. It left me yearning for a deeper dive into the characters’ lives and a more nuanced portrayal of this Latinx world.
By Chad Armstrong
Luz will receive its Australian Premiere as part of Queer Screen’s Mardi Gras Film Festival on Saturday February 27th. It is also available on demand. Find out more, and book tickets, via the Queer Screen website.
Luz will be released in select US theaters March 19th and on DVD and on digital April 6th from Dark Star Pictures.