Temblores fails to shake you up

C+ Drama
Written & directed by Jayro Bustamante

This is at least the third narrative film I’ve seen about anti-gay “conversion therapy.” But this one is different. The protagonist isn’t a teenager at the mercy of his or her overly-religious parents. Pablo is an adult male with a good job, a wife, and two loving children. He goes into therapy because if he remains gay, he won’t have access to his children.

But Temblores (Tremors in English) has one very big problem: We never really get to know this guy. The film keeps him at an emotional distance. We never see him smile. We know nothing about his interests or even his job until he’s fired from it. I don’t know if this is intentional or not. Juan Pablo Olyslager plays Pablo like a very good-looking piece of wood. Despite his many problems, it’s hard to feel close to him.

There’s no problem getting close to Pablo’s lover, Francisco, played by Mauricio Armas Zebadúa. Not tied down by a family, he can enjoy life. He’s a warm, decent human being. He deeply cares for Pablo, and only his responses help us to care at all for his tortured, married companion.

This is all happening in Guatemala, and Pablo’s wife Isa (Diane Bathen) is a deeply religious, fanatical Christian. The family is not Catholic, but evangelicals – a form of Christianity that has spread from the United States into Latin America. Homosexuality, in this family, is the worst of all sins. In the family’s view, Pablo’s only choice is the therapy. The family is also extremely wealthy. A brief bit of dialog tells us that Pablo married into money.

Judging from the film, the Guatemalan courts are not too fond of homosexuals. Using a good lawyer, Pablo’s wife makes sure that her husband will never be allowed to see their children until he renounces who he is. She also informs Pablo’s employer, and he’s soon out of work. In one of the film’s rare affectively emotional scenes, just after he’s been told he has been fired, he is not allowed to watch his son’s swimming meet.

Sabrina De La Hoz gives a fascinating roll as a woman pastor in the church. She seems to be almost always there, convincing the family that Pedro must be saved, forcing him into therapy, and leading the conversion.

I’m not sure why Bustamante titled the film Temblores. Frightening but seemingly not dangerous earthquakes occasionally shake the city. The religious fanatics see them as a sign. Perhaps Bustamante saw them as something else. But I’m not sure what.

Temblores opens Friday at the Opera Plaza.