Perhaps a case of a filmmaker showing too much restraint for his own good.
The Last Match
Set in the streets of Havana (though it was filmed in Puerto Rico), Antonio Hens’ The Last Match is a seamlessly plotted story of two young men who develop a lust for one another, despite both being involved in long-term, heterosexual relationships prior. There’s a lot to be desired when it comes to Hens’ style, and in terms of exploring the shaky dynamic between closeted males and their macho, agro father figures, it feels like we’ve been down this road before. But the story is affecting nonetheless, with a fine cast that sells the drama and keeps it engaging from start to finish. There’s nary a wasted moment, and though Hens’ take on the subject matter is somewhat unremarkable, the storytelling is rock-solid. The film opens in Landmark Theaters this Friday in San Francisco and Miami.
Yosvani’s (Milton Garcia) living situation is pretty sweet: he lives with his fiancee Gema (Beatriz Mendez) and her father, Silvano (Luis Alberto Garcia) free of rent, a far cry from his soccer team friend, Rei (Reinier Diaz), an essentially destitute, handsome fellow who lives with his wife (Jenifer Rodriguez) and her badgering mother (Mirtha Ibarra). Rei scrounges for cash by selling his body to tourists late at night (an endeavor unsettlingly encouraged by his mother-in-law), while Yosvani lives ever under the thumb of the imposing tough-guy Silvano, who deals in the black market. Disenchanted with their home lives, it begins to dawn on them that they’re much happier when they’re around each other, at soccer practice or at the local discotheque. After a late night at the club, they share a kiss as Ysovani drops Rei off at his doorstep, eliciting both confusion and curiosity in the inexperienced Ysovani.
With romance awakened, Rei and Yosvani duck into bathrooms and rooftops to make love, keeping their affair secret from not only their significant others, but from their abrasive in-laws, particularly Silvano, who’s liable to react destructively should he find them out. Rei’s soccer skills land him a shot at competing at a pro level which, like almost every other aspect of his life, doesn’t jibe with his relationship with Yosvani. When Rei’s night prospects dry up, he’s digs himself into debt with the suspicious Silvano (of all people), which puts he and Yosvani in a precarious position that escalates into dangerous territory.
The way Yosvani’s attraction evolves into a sort of possessive obsession is delivered well by Garcia, who hits every beat with precision. Diaz isn’t as charming as he is good-looking, but he plays well off of Garcia and exudes subtle sensuality as opposed to broad sexuality. The sex scenes are tasteful yet realistic, and Hens handles every scene with the same measure of authenticity and respect.
In fact, the entire production feels pitch-perfect, from the pacing, to the photography, to the acting, to the writing. Everything serves the story well, but therein lies the problem: the story and its themes (forbidden love, desperation, broken dreams) feel too familiar to be memorable. It all feels a little safe, like Hens was afraid to take any risks. Aside from a pulse-pounding, skillfully staged home invasion sequence and an odd final image, it’s hard to think of any moments that are uniquely stimulating or extraordinary. This may be a case of a filmmaker showing too much restraint for his own good, but The Last Match is nevertheless crafted with care and consistently interesting, which is more than respectable.