Based on his semi-autobiographical and groundbreaking play, filmmaker Rodrigo Bellott’s Tu Me Manques became Bolivia’s official International Feature Film Oscar entry. Roughly translating to “I miss you in me”, the film tells the story of Jorge (Oscar Martínez), who travels to New York following his gay son Gabriel’s suicide to atone for how he treated his son and to find out more about his life.
As a central storyline, I admit dismissing it as “been there/done that”. How a patriarchal society treats its gay children, using religion and bigotry to justify its actions, feels like a tired trope I had hoped we had moved past. Fortunately, Bellott has more on his mind by introducing us to Sebastian (Fernando Barbosa), Gabriel’s ex-boyfriend. A struggling playwright, Sebastian hopes to mount his new production in Bolivia with a play that can help him better understand his devastating loss. He casts thirty actors to play Gabriel as a way to show his many sides as well as to make the point that as time goes on, his memory of what he looked like fades. The film’s genius is in marrying these plot strands so that real life and the play, the present and the past, all blend together to create a swirling emotional journey. It’s a touching and original approach to coping with loss.
Initially reluctant to help Jorge because Sebastian blames the man and his culture for Gabriel’s death, he eventually he acquiesces, but promises a no-holds-barred approach to filling him in on the real Gabriel. Sensing Jorge’s deep homophobia, Sebastian unashamedly exposes Jorge to the specific details of Gabriel’s gay experience. He takes him to gay clubs and introduces him to their friends, who are initially not given Jorge’s identity. This leads to several very funny scenes involving very frank discussions about gay sex.
Without the daring narrative devices of not only the play but by rotating various actors to play Gabriel in the flashbacks, we would have been left with a touching, yet highly melodramatic film. One can easily see the comparisons to Pedro Almodóvar, especially with the casting of Rossy de Palma as a sympathetic friend. I would have, however, easily forgotten it.
The complexity of the play intercut with flashbacks and present day scenes, sometimes within the same frame, give this somewhat maudlin film a substantial cinematic boost. It may feel borderline pretentious, but it has a warmth, a beating heart, and good intentions. It offers a way for people to speak frankly with parents about their sexuality. It gives parents an entryway to know their children beyond the playground. With solid, committed, and yes, some very sexy performances, I was moved. It may be about too many things, with Bellott adding the power of theater into the mix, but he’s a gifted visual storyteller, so it’s hard to quibble.
By Glenn Gaylord, Senior Film Critic
Tu Me Manques is in select theaters and on DVD and Digital May 4th from Dark Star Pictures.