The Last Match Review

Although it offers no great surprises, this leisurely tale of two best friends who develop a mutual attraction is a well-crafted, engaging effort.

Life gets complicated for two best friends in Havana when they begin to acknowledge a same-sex attraction between them in “The Last Match,” a solid drama from director/co-scenarist Antonio Hens (“Clandestinos”). Shot in Puerto Rico, this leisurely tale offers no great surprises in the way it considers the relationship between cultural machismo and the closeted life, or in its eventual turn toward tragedy. But it’s well crafted and cast to a sum effect that’s consistently engaging, if not quite memorable. After a fest run, “Match” will make its U.S. theatrical bow Jan. 24 on Landmark screens in San Francisco and Miami, with modest expansion likely.

Yosvani (Milton Garcia) and Rey (Reinier Diaz) play on an amateur slum soccer team.Yosvani lives with his fiancee, Gema (Beatriz Mendez), and her black-marketeer father, Silvano (Luis Alberto Garcia). Rey’s more impoverished circumstances are with wife Liudmila (Jenifer Rodriquez), their baby, and a shrill mother-in-law, Teresa (Mirtha Ibarra), who openly encourages him to sell his body to tourists in order to pay the bills. Neither Yosvani nor Rey seem half so interested in their ostensible spouses as they are in playing soccer and hanging out together. It’s taken for granted that any kind of regular employment is a vain hope.

For a while, Rey’s prospects rise when he hooks up with Juan (Toni Canto), a handsome visiting Spaniard. Yosvani’s awareness of this oldest-profession sideline, though discomfiting, also awakens a curiosity that soon turns into an aggressive, even possessive new interest in his pal. But Rey’s momentarily flush status, thanks to Juan, leads him into debt with Silvano, who is not to be fooled with. Then, as Rey gets scouted for a possible pro soccer career, providing another reason to keep non-platonic involvement with Yosvani on the downlow, the latter’s home situation suddenly takes a turn for the worse.

The story’s mix of secret love, sex for hire, athletic aspirations and criminal intrigue feels familiar. But “The Last Match” avoids obvious melodrama, at least until the end. (There’s also an oddly placed final sequence showing a character running down a street — someone we’ve already seen breathe their last.) Though there’s nudity here, the pic avoids the sense of forced “Oops I forgot to wear my briefs again” titillation often common to films aimed at gay niche auds.

The attractive, personable newcomer leads etch uncomplicated characters unaccustomed to thinking very far ahead, while veterans Garcia, Ibarra and Canto confidently portray different types of more jaded life experience. Puerto Rican locations stand in ably enough for Havana; packaging is competent, if not particularly stylish.

Film Review: 'The Last Match'

Reviewed online, San Francisco, Jan. 12, 2012. Running time: 93 MIN. Original title: "La partida"

Production

(Spain-Cuba) A Canteen Outlaws (in U.S.) release of a Malas Companias, Doce Gatos and El Azar production. Produced by Antonio Hens, Julio Gutierrez, Vanessa Portieles.

Crew

Directed by Antonio Hens. Screenplay, Abel Gonzalez Melo, Hens. Camera (color, HD, Yanelvis Gonzalez, Raul Rodriguez; editor, Julio Gutierrez; production designer, Alain Ortiz; costume designer, Vladimir Cuenca; sound, Federico Pajaro, Evelio Manfred Gay, Esteban Bruzon; assistant director, Hoaris Chiong; casting, Yeandro Tamayo.

With

Milton Garcia, Reinier Diaz, Luis Alberto Garcia, Mirtha Ibarra, Toni Canto, Jenifer Rodriguez, Beatriz Mendez, Saray Vargas, Carlos Enrique Almirante, Blanca Rosa Blanco, Jose Luis Hidalgo, Sergio Buitrago, Ernesto del Canal.

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