José is about the titular Guatemalan food service worker (Enrique Salanic), doing that thankless job to support himself. He also helps out his mother (Ana Cecilia Mota). She lives with him, selling sandwiches for a living. This movie brings writer-director Li Cheng with his frequent collaborator George F. Roberson. Here, they do their best in letting us observe their protagonist.
Cheng sometimes shows religion keeping their stronghold in Guatemala, coming into conflict with José’s homosexuality. His sexuality becomes important to him as he meets Luis (Manolo Herrera), a construction worker. Starting their relationship online, he sneaks away from work to see Luis. Their ‘right now’ rendezvous turns serious. They think about living together, which is impossible in the city.
Much of Cheng’s movie shows José and Luis together. This means that thankfully, he doesn’t show the racialized bible thumping villains who show up in other LGBT festival fare. The two men also don’t seem to be in the same terrible danger like they would be in other films. That said, Cheng only portrays Guatemalan society in unfulfilling impressionistic sketches.
Cheng also adds one too many subplots here. One specific subplot involves two of José’s straight coworkers. They flagrantly display their relationship as an obvious way to compare how he has to hide Luis. They’re affectionate and happy while he’s standoffish and civil. But of course, we eventually the young woman in that relationship in a sad state for obvious reasons.
US based Cheng and Robeson apparently interviewed hundreds of people to make this film as authentic as possible. That results in a film with moments of specificity but they are too few and far between. Its third act devolves into clichés of hookups and heartbreaks. And the visuals here depend on shadow play, making for a frustrating viewing experience.
- Release Date: 5/28/2019