It's that age old Irish story: A young man is coming of age apparently locked in an unending psychological struggle with his antagonistic father, in whose eyes he can do no right. It happened to James Joyce's characters, it happened to Brian Friel's and now it's happening to Irish writer and actor Mark O'Halloran's characters in his new film "Viva."
There's an interesting change of direction in O'Halloran's script though. Instead of setting his new film "Viva" in Dublin or the fictional town of Ballybeg in Co. Donegal, his story unfolds in Havana, Cuba and the son in question is a budding drag queen.
Jesus (Hector Medina) works as a hairdresser in Havana. He's young, his mother has passed away and he supports himself through hairdressing. The older ladies who knew his mother flock to him, as does Mama (Luis Alberto Garcia), the owner of a local drag club where Jesus is also called on to fix the wigs.
Living on his own, Jesus has already achieved a measure of independence when Angel (Jorge Perugorria), his father, is released from jail after decades spent locked away, bursting back into his life. The tension is immediate. Angel was a former boxer on the cusp of the big time, but Jesus has a different dream. He wants to sing in drag on the stage of Mama's club.
O'Halloran shows us early on why Jesus loves performing. The drama and grandeur of Cuban singing provides him with the imaginative and romantic release entirely lacking in every other aspect of his life. When he sings, he lives.
So we see him dancing on his own in his apartment, or lip-syncing to an epic ballad of love gone south in his apartment window, and we understand exactly why the call to perform is so irresistibly strong. It supplies the kind of grandeur that is entirely lacking in his material life.
The battle between the macho Angel, who violently disapproves of his son's interests, and Jesus is the central conflict of the film and both actors perform their respective roles with hypnotic intensity.
Medina in particular does remarkable work, delivering a lovely interior performance entirely in keeping with his emerging character. Only when he sings does he emerge fully formed, and Medina is electrifying in these moments.
Both men use their bodies to express themselves, the film's director Paddy Breathnach shows us. Angel uses his defensively in the craft of boxing, and Jesus uses his expressively in the art of drag. Both also use them to make money, one though coaching and the other through performance, or when things really get bad, through prostitution.
O'Halloran refuses to judge any of his characters, but he lays out their perspectives carefully for the audience. It's inevitable that a macho blusterer like Angel will quickly come into conflict with his artistic and much more sensitive son.
What writer and director do is pull the carpet under any clichéd expectations you may have, delivering an unexpectedly powerful final act. "Viva" opens on February 5.
Giving up on love is not easy to do, as "Nina Forever," the short, sharp shockingly effective new horror film starring Fiona O'Shaughnessy and Cian Barry proves.
The premise is brilliantly simple. When his girlfriend Nina dies, Rob (Barry) eventually falls in love with Holly (Abigail Hardingham). Life has moved on, but Nina hasn't, which she proves by coming back to life to pour scorn on the new couple whenever they try to get intimate.
It's the ultimate clingy ex story, with all of the droll observations that go with it, at least at first. What marks this film out from other revenge horrors is how endlessly inventive the writing, direction and central performances are.
O'Shaughnessy is especially good in a film that is really about dealing with the wrenching subject of death. Our instinct is to look the other way, to live in denial, to try and spare ourselves the inevitable pain of grief and loss.
To underline their point, co-writers and directors Ben and Chris Blaine show us aisles of a supermarket, then jump cut to the aisles of a graveyard, reminding us how uncomfortably close they are.
Nina turns up whenever and wherever she likes to haunt the young couple’s footsteps. She can do this because she has nothing to prove, nothing to do. She's simply dead, a fact that can either be ignored or dealt with.
In "Nina Forever" the horror isn't found in supernatural shocks; it's delivered by the mundane facts of life (and death). "Nina Forever" opens February 12.