By filming four independent stories on gay men at various life stages, Director Sergio Tovar Velarde keeps the focus on universal humanity.
Cuatro Lunas (2014) is a Mexican romantic drama that portrays four self-contained modules of life for gay men against a Mexico City backdrop. By switching life arcs and characters, Director Sergio Tovar Velarde keeps the focus on the shared humanity and search for love (both self and romantic) of the various gay Mexican men. Unlike most cinema, independent modular narratives can be in danger of poor character development since they are short films connected by theme, but Velarde uses the form wisely. So, while some characters could be argued as not as developed as others, this is ultimately not the focus. Velarde’s focus remains to show the four phases of the moon: preteen burgeoning sexuality, young adult love and identity, long-term relationships and full acceptance, and finally, twilight years and reflection. The characters become viewer vehicles to experience these slices of life.
The New Moon sees preteen Mauricio (Gabriel Santoyo) go from sharing video games to a secret, ultimately unrequited crush on his cousin, Oliver (Sebastian Rivera). He bravely pushes the boundaries of their initially dual curiosity. The story unfortunately, but realistically, morphs into a curiosity-turned-homophobia experience for the delicate Mauricio as he watches Oliver turn against him at school. At church, his tender confessional is also met with derision. Even at home, he can find no respite, as his father angrily struggles with accepting his only son as gay. Mauricio seemingly only has his supportive mother. This family portrayal is realistic, and Santoyo does a great job playing a brave, yet vulnerable pre-teen. It’s not all doom and gloom though, viewers should hang in there for a realistic yet cheerful ending that will resonate.
The First Quarter Moon follows childhood friends-turned-lovers, Fito (Cesar Ramos) and Leo (Gustavo Egalhaaf). Director Velarde wisely injects comedy here, showing the awkward phase many gay men go through in secret. Often missing sex ed that is LGBT inclusive, many first encounters between gay men are uncomfortable, learning experiences. The film eschews the confident sexual god narrative and paints a more human portrayal. The story evolves into a nuanced take on coming out, where characters decide they don’t want to be dirty little secrets or live closeted and alone all their lives. This second module feels like a natural progression from the first, showing young adults exploring the feelings hinted at in the New Moon phase.
A long-term relationship aptly portrays the Full Moon. Hugo (Antonio Valezquez) and Andres (Alejandro De La Madrid) have been together for 10 years. Their relationship seems like a natural progression from the Quarter Moon: they are open with their relationship, living together, and seemingly committed. They are introduced as a loving couple at a beautiful dinner with adoring friends and family. Cracks in the Mr. Perfects show up fast. Velarde explores femme-phobia through Hugo essentially justifying his cheating with barely-legal twink, Sebastian (Hugo Catalan), because of Andres’ “feminine” gestures and actions. This is an exploration of fetishizing straightness and performative masculinity that runs rampant in the gay community. This is also your classic “grass is greener” storyline for an established couple. Andres begs Hugo to stay, despite the latter being smitten with the hot sex he is having with ambivalent Sebastian. When the chips are down, it is of course Andres who comes through for Hugo, not Sebastian, but the lesson may be too late to save their relationship. Despite this, the story ends with a happy Andres.
This is by far my favorite story.
Which makes the anomaly of the fourth story all the harder to understand.
Waning Crescent Moon
The fourth story is an anomaly.
The story itself is an important, arguably noble, story. However, it does not follow the third story in the pattern we’ve come to expect. The stories are independent, but they’ve all followed one another thematically. The scary new feelings in youth (new moon) were followed by childhood friends meeting in College and exploring love and sexuality (quarter moon). The awkward heartache-turned-relationship story was followed by an established relationship (full moon). Though it ultimately ended, Andres leaves triumphantly after learning his worth and Hugo learns his mistake. Here, the upbeat ending we saw after the turmoil in the Full Moon is not followed up on.
We follow Joaquin (Alonso Echanove), a retired university professor and poet, as he is honored for his accomplishments. His colleagues, wife, and children are here dutifully, as it is explained that he has been an exemplary husband and father (at least in the presentation). The real story, however, is that he is propositioning a sexy, fit hustler (Alejandro Belmonte) whose sexuality is left ambiguous. The hustler presents as straight and married, demanding an exorbitant fee that Joaquin must steal to pay. Joaquin offers the uncomfortable question of married, closeted men and their obligations to their wives and children. Joaquin has provided a great life for his family, seemingly in contrast to his happiness, which is what a “traditional/good” father is supposed to do. However, like many closeted married men, he sleeps with men on the side secretly. On the other hand, the hustler claims to be prostituting out of separation to take care of his family. This is the theme of this module. The tragic circumstances of two married men with ambiguous sexualities. The questions are interesting, and the themes are intellectually curious, but the module feels most disconnected from the other three. The visual atmosphere is gray and bleak compared to the others, the emotional arc feels like a shallow veneer to ask a question, and the storytelling perspective feels lackluster compared to the Full Moon arc. I also dislike that the one story about an elderly queer man couldn’t be a happy, established relationship or one where there was maybe new love sprouting in old age.
Watch Cuatro Lunas, it is not perfect, but it is an amazing viewer vehicle for you to explore the life stages through Latinx and queer intersections.