★★★★ | The Last Match

It’s still very tough and even quite dangerous being gay in some places, none more so than in the oppressive machismo society of Cuba. So when two male teenage best friends acknowledge their attraction to each other, life starts to get very complicated for them, and we have the sense from the outset that it cannot possibly end well at all.

Yosvani and Rey both play football every day on a scrap of land in the midst of a poor slum neighbourhood in Havana. Yosvani lives with his fiance and her unscrupulous black-marketeer father in a comfortable middle-class apartment. Rey, on the other hand, lives in a cramped shanty-like two room dump with his wife, their baby, and Theresa his shrill and demanding mother-in-law. It is she who actively encourages the young man to prostitute himself with male tourists willing to pay for a quickie or a whole night of passion.

With no hope of anything approaching a real job on the horizon, he is happy to oblige but draws the line at doing anything he considers is ‘gay’. Which actually seems to be very little when we see him in action enjoying himself giving his all to Juan a handsome visiting Spaniard

Rey’s few encounters with Juan make him overly confident and he ends up spending more money than he can afford to buy black-market shirts and sneakers from Yosvani’s father-in-law. He perpetually lives more than precariously on the edge and when he is flat broke he pawns Theresa’s few possessions which results in more anger from her until he redeems them again after he has turned another ‘trick’.

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It’s obvious from the word go that Yosvani and Rey much prefer hanging out on the soccer pitch together than spending any time at all with their respective partners. One night after the two of them have been on a drinking binge they lose their inhibitions and hesitatingly kiss each other and somewhat surprise themselves how much they like it. They like having sex together even more, to such an extent that they cannot get enough of each other. However, because of their home situations, they have to keep this budding relationship very much on the down low and they manage to do just this until one-day Yosvani’s father-in-law gets the wind of what is going on.

It’s at about the same time that Rey suddenly gets a lucky break when a Scout offers him a chance to train to become a professional soccer player. This is another reason not to go public with their love affair but it’s actually too late as they are already at the point of no return. And then just as we had supposed, the inevitable ending is both tragic and sad.

Directed and co-written by Spanish filmmaker Antonio Hens (‘Clandestinos’) this heartbreaking well-crafted wee drama is completely engaging as if so accurately portrays the price that young men have to pay when they discover their sexuality in such an unaccepting and intolerant culture. The hypocrisy that it is acceptable as a means to an end as long as you don’t enjoy it, makes this sad tale even more poignant.

Hen’s young inexperienced lead actors did a fine and convincing job, particularly Reinier Díaz who nailed the character of Rey so perfectly. And less this should put you off going to Cuba, I should tell you that it was all filmed in Puerto Rico!