La Partida/The Last Match
The films that are currently emerging from behind the veil of Cuba reveal more about our neighbors inside the secretive jewel of the Caribbean off the coast of south Florida. Narratives built on defined and strong character development, without compromise to the complexities of a culture and people rich in history and fearlessly embracing the art of filmmaking, are capturing snapshots of a society working to remain relevant in a world that is moving at light speed. "La Partida," a film by Antonio Hens, bravely exposes the passions of forbidden love in a society that does little to nothing in coveting its gay expression.
La Partida - the film’s title - has many translations, including "The Last Match," and even the literal "What is Broken;" its many meanings encompass a profanity and common gay slur. This film follows the tale of two young men.
Reinier has the ambition of becoming the next greatest soccer player to emerge from the poverty of the Cuban slums. He’s good at the game, and fancies the fame and fortune that will come with nationally recognized sports stardom. To survive and provide for his baby, his baby-mama and the baby-mama’s mama, Reinier hustles for his luxuries and uses his Abercrombie & Finch good looks on the beaches of El Malecón for Spanish tourists looking for companionship... and willing to pay for it.
Yosvani is getting set to walk down the aisle and lives in with his girlfriend. He works for her father and doesn’t feel comfortable or worthy of her affection, but he has little else going for him, and this may be as good as it gets on this island where survival is for the fittest. The two neighborhood friends’ lives become intertwined when a group of thugs attacks Yosvani, stealing his brand new sneakers. Reinier defends him, scaring off the thieves before they can get away with any more.
Grateful that Reinier came to his rescue, Yosvani gets closer to the young aspiring soccer star. The first time they kiss, it’s in a drug-hued frenzy brought on by a hit of Ecstasy, but eventually that stolen kiss becomes something more and both Reinier and Yosvani find moments of intimacy. They climb rooftops and hide from their girlfriends in public restrooms.
The film puts the spotlight on Cuba’s notorious hustler trade, and its often-subversive gay community. The LGBT community must keep itself ghettoized in order to protect itself from persecution. Though frowned upon, hustlers keep the tourists engaged and coming back, infusing a desperately needed economic boon to the depressive economy.
When Reinier’s ambition gets the best of him, money becomes scarce, and he even exaggerates his importance. When he can’t pay back a debt to Yosvani’s boss and Yosvani won’t enforce punishment on Reinier, the two of them find themselves cast out and alone. Reinier throws himself into winning a position on Cuba’s elite Spanish soccer team. Yosvani turns tricks and steals from his former employer in an obsessive attempt to win Reinier’s affection.
Mostly, the contemporary Cuban culture appears much more progressive than imagined or approached by the standards of its American cousins. Nearly frozen in time, by all accounts, the Cuban society appears to be wrestling to catch up with the times, especially in its extrapolation of gay themes and its arrogantly machismo nature. Captivated by capitalism, but unable to match it by Western standards, the film’s backdrop on Cuba’s economic depression breathes an unbridled realism into the story.
There are many comparisons in "La Partida" to similarly styled gay love stories, especially "Brokeback Mountain," but this film touches beautifully on a still mysteriously unattainable culture and how it’s connecting with an all-encompassing gay explosion. "La Partida" is revelatory in its realism; its passion is taut and unbridled - fearless by any comparison.