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Friday, July 25, 2014

DVD Review: The Last Match

The Last Match is an excellent film about two young, poor men in Havana who are friends and become closer. It opens with two men in a car. One is talking, but the camera remains on the other, who is looking out the window, clearly not listening, and not even responding when the first asks if he’s listening. This is our introduction to Yosvani (Milton Garcia). He shows his first bit of genuine interest when upon arriving home his girlfriend Gema gives him a pair of sneakers, telling him, "Happy birthday." Soon he joins some friends for a neighborhood soccer game. They immediately notice his new shoes. That night he’s jumped, and his shoes are stolen. It shows how tenuous is his hold on anything good or valuable in this world of heat and poverty.

Yosvani’s closest friend and teammate is Reinier (Reinier Diaz), whose poverty is immediately apparent as he looks for food in his apartment, and a woman’s demands of “Where is my radio” go unanswered. It’s clear he’s had to sell it. (Later we see him purchase the radio back, getting it out of hock, showing he had to sell it out of necessity and not out of any sort of selfishness or unkindness.) He has a wife and child to support, and does so by meeting men at a pick-up spot.

Interestingly, the first time we see him at that spot, he meets a man from Barcelona and they talk a bit about soccer, which immediately has Reinier opening up to him. It’s not the typical pick-up scene. But later when Juan, the man from Barcelona, attempts to take things to their logical conclusion, Reinier stops him, saying, “I’m not a fag.” What is also interesting is that his wife and Teresa (his wife’s grandmother) are well aware of how Reinier makes money, and Teresa is even encouraging.

I love the realistic feel of this film, the way the camera follows its subjects, almost as if letting their movements determine the shots. It gives a small sense of freedom to the characters, while at the same time they feel quite contained within this world.  This film creates a very believable environment. You can almost feel the heat of the place. Part of that is due to the excellent performances of the entire cast.

Reinier and Yosvani meet at a club, and Yosvani neglects to introduce Gema, so she’s forced to do it herself. It’s quick and subtle, but telling. The courtship between Reinier and Yosvani begins awkwardly, as alcohol and pills strip away inhibitions (pills supplied by Gema), but it’s not long before drugs are not needed. And I love the scene where Reinier and Yosvani first become intimate. The camera stays close on Yosvani, on his face, but from just over his shoulder, and we see Reinier’s hand touching the back of his head. It’s so intimate and honest, and immediate. And the smile Yosvani finally gives is beautiful.

What I love is that after that, we see them with their women, and it’s clear they love them. That scene isn’t really awkward, but is sweet and loving, with the four of them together at the beach, and at an amusement park. This isn’t one of those films where there’s some sudden realization and then everything changes. It’s more like this added element is incorporated into the whole.

Things also feel like they move at the right pace. There is nothing rushed here, but there is most certainly an increasing tension and the feeling that something is going to go wrong. This film creates very interesting and well fleshed out relationships, including that between Reinier and Juan. And it is within these relationships that the film is often surprising. I really wasn’t sure how things would turn out for anyone.

By the way, there is one weird shot where someone outside is sneaking around with a camera. It’s brief, but unmistakable. Is it paparazzi? I’m curious.

The Last Match was directed by Antonio Hens, and was released on DVD on July 7, 2014 through Canteen Outlaws and TLA Releasing. The DVD includes the film’s trailer.

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