A complex film dealing with an even more complex subject matter, Tu Me Manque (I Miss You) (★★★★☆) can vary wildly between outstanding drama and preachy afternoon special, often with little grey area in between. But when writer-director Rodrigo Bellott’s script is firing on all cylinders, delivered by two incredible performances from stars Oscar Martínez and Fernando Barbosa, it is frequently breathtaking in its depth, eloquence, and emotional resonance.
Based on Bellott’s award-winning Bolivian play of the same name, it deals with Bellott’s real-life experience of losing a closeted boyfriend to suicide, after he struggled to deal with the prospect of his parents learning his true identity. Here, Bellott’s film centers on a fictional version of the play, as well as delving into the relationships behind its creation. Told in flashback and constantly shifting between present and past, the end result is frequently messy, particularly when scenes move between timelines without any real indication of what’s going on or where we are in the story.
While it can be confusing, stripping Bellott’s narrative flourishes back reveals a solid core built on the performances of Barbosa as Sebastian, the playwright, and Martinez as Jorge, father of Gabriel, Sebastian’s ex. After accidentally talking to Sebastian on Facebook, Jorge travels to New York City to find out the truth about his son’s life — and what exactly led to his death.
The scenes between Sebastian and Jorge are where Tu Me Manques shines brightest, particularly when emotions boil over and Bellott’s bilingual script allows both actors to let loose in their native Spanish. Barbosa and Martinez deliver astonishingly nuanced portrayals of grief, both in a partner still struggling to process the loss of a great love, and a father figuring out that he didn’t really know his son at all.
Bellott can sometimes stray into contrived, preachy, or overwrought territory — including a couple of scenes where Sebastian and his friends “teach” Jorge (or, rather, the audience) about LGBTQ people — but he is also capable of some truly beautiful writing, such as a powerful scene between Jorge and a local priest, as they discuss the possibility that Paul the Apostle was gay, or a later scene between Jorge and Rosaura (Rossy de Palma), who took Sebastian and Gabriel under her wing in New York and has her own experience with devastating loss.
While the confines of Tu Me Manques‘ stage origins can often be felt — literally so, in the scenes where Sebastian prepares his cast for opening night — it also led to some interesting creative choices. Gabriel, for instance, is played in the film’s flashback scenes by three different actors — a nod to Bellott casting 30 men in his original play so as not to allow one actor to become the memory of his ex-partner.
Bellott also makes the decision to portray Gabriel’s death through Sebastian’s version of the play, in a scene that is as devastating and affecting on screen as one imagines it was on opening night in Bolivia in 2015. Tu Me Manques may not be easy watching, both for its subject matter and its structure, but you’ll be hard pressed not to find yourself emotionally drained and reaching for the tissues when the curtain closes and the credits roll.
Tu Me Manques screens as part of this year’s Reel Affirmations Film Festival. For more information about the festival or to purchase tickets or festival screening passes, visit https://reelaffirmations.eventive.org.
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