Eric Brach’s sensitive and gently observed “Mute Havana” indicates the enormous difficulties for everyday Cubans wanting to work abroad through the case of a mute bisexual man with one seriously complicated life. Open enough in its narrative to suggest good and/or questionable motives on the part of several participants, the docu avoids a maudlin tone as it traces a love affair that turns into something more unexpected. LGBT fests will need to take a number, since pic is sure to be in great demand, and seems prime for a dramatic feature spinoff.
First seen tending to pigs, handsome but poor Eglicel “Chino” Gainza splits his time between Havana — where he scrounges for odd jobs from rolling tobacco to working at a pizza stand — and the rural town where his g.f., Anailys Albaguez, lives with her two kids, Elis and Elisabeth. Speaking, arguing and laughing in Cuban Sign Language, Albaguez and Gainza have worked out a relationship in which he spends time with her and provides as much as he can for the family, but is also free to date men in Havana.
One of them proves to be crucial to his life: Jose Antonio Cordero, a Mexico City-based man who’s fallen in love with Gainza. This odd couple (Gainza is young, svelte and a bit shy, while Cordero is tubby and outgoing) struggles with their options: Should Gainza go through the long process of seeking residency in order to begin a common-law marriage with Cordero, or should the younger man simply visit Mexico with no hope of staying there?
Meanwhile, Gainza’s buddy Belkis Vallejo warns him how dangerous Mexico is compared with nearly crime-free Cuba, and that he must be certain Cordero is on the up-and-up financially. Complicating matters, Albaguez begins to see Cordero as a source of monetary aid.
“Mute Havana” appears to be structured in roughly the chronology of events as they happened, though some of Brach’s touches are certainly staged if not prearranged, including a key dinner encounter with Albaguez, Cordero and his Mexican friends. Gainza’s life points to the fact that the former Cuba that harshly treated and imprisoned gay men is no more, and his elastic sexuality underlines a personal freedom that clashes with foreigners’ limited notions of Cuban life.
Certain narrative transitions are fairly rough, and provoke more questions than perhaps necessary, but Brach’s nonjudgmental approach always errs on the side of sympathy. Vid lensing and sound are adequate, with decent music selections sprinkled into the soundtrack.