Life for gay men in Cuba is explored via six protags in novice helmer Christian Liffers’ handsome “Two Homelands. Cuba and the Night.” Nicely structured without being rigidly tied down, docu steers clear of colonialist patronizing or prurient exploitation, aiming instead for a more nuanced view of the Cuban character and gay life under Castro’s homophobic rule. Respectful p.o.v. may leave those with pre-set notions wanting more, but Liffers doesn’t go for polemics. A busy fest schedule could lead to arthouse play targeting the pink dollar.
Each of the six men profiled is introduced reading passages from Reinaldo Arenas, who acts as an invisible guide to the Cuban mentality and a tragic godfather of gay sensibilities. Liffers chooses his protags carefully, each representing a different social class or aspect of the scene — intellectual, drag queen, artist, transsexual. Only one, Tomas, knew Arenas personally, but all are presented as heirs to the poet’s yearnings for a specifically Cuban openness and sense of personal freedom.
Filming was done below official radar, at homes, illegal gay parties and, of course, the Malecon, Havana’s main outdoor salon comprising both a rendezvous point and street theater. All the men speak of the frustration of not having official venues to meet others, yet only the flamboyant Alexey wants to leave the country.
Everyone steers clear of the often abusive police, though Tomas offers a hesitant note of optimism when he talks of small improvements.
“For us gays in the tropics, loneliness is something horrible,” comments Tomas, though it’s not clear why equatorial geography makes loneliness more difficult. The most marginalized figure, gorgeous black transsexual Isabel, is also the most affecting, her palpable sense of difference escaping through the swaggering, flirtatious stance she maintains on the Malecon.
Docu’s one major oversight is the absence of any real discussion of prostitution and sex tourism in particular. However, Liffers is guided into some of the mysteries of Santeria by devotee Tomas, who explains the accepted, and respected, role gay men play in the religion’s pantheon of deities.
Music’s all-important place in Cuban life is celebrated through the pic’s structure, each protag bookmarked by street musician Michael Espinosa Rodriguez’s songs on acoustic guitar, the lyrics beautifully tied in with the different characters.
Digital quality is flawless, and visuals are first rate considering the minuscule budget and the difficulties of an unauthorized shoot.