There’s been a lot of interesting gay-themed cinema coming out of South America. With The Last Match things move a little north to the island of Cuba – although thematically and stylistically it shares a lot in common with what’s been made in the likes of Brazil and Argentina.
Reinier (Reinier Díaz) is a teen who lives in the slums of Havana. He makes money as a rent boy – although he’s keen to tell his Johns he’s not a ‘fag’ – and dreams of playing soccer professionally. Then he meets Yosvani (Milton García), who’s also fighting against tough circumstances. Their friendship becomes complicated when Reinier drunkenly kisses Yosvani on the lips. However when Yosvani later tries to reciprocate, Reinier angrily pushes him away.
While neither is entirely sure what to do with their feelings, their relationship gradually begins to build. However their happiness is threatened by a new opportunity Reinier is offered, as well as the loan thug Yosvani works for.
Director Antonio Hens takes us deep into a tough world in The Last Match, creating a complex and dangerous world of poverty and violence. It’s a place where normal morality is subverted due to desperation and lack of opportunity – for example, Reinier’s family are happy for him to sell his body as long as the money is good – and also a place where there is little room to be ‘gay’ as most people would understand it.
The world is extremely well created, and for much of the time the characters are too. You can feel their conflict and confusion, as well as how past experience has taught them to be wary of things they don’t understand. The initial emergence of Yosvani and Reinier’s relationship is quite engrossing, as both have girlfriends, commitments and problems working against them.
The flaw comes is that underneath this the actual story is rather clichéd and standard, which feels particularly true at the end when things head into full-on melodrama. It feels like the story is being shoehorned in a particular direction in order to hit certain emotional notes. It doesn’t ruin things, but it’s difficult not to feel at the end that a lot of excellent work in the early parts of the movie has been slightly undermined by an ending that seems like it fell out of a gay-themed film from 15 years ago.
Overall Verdict: The ending may not be great, but The Last Match’s depiction of the poverty of the slums, people living difficult lives and the complexities of two young men from that background finding love are extremely well handled.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac