Coming Out in Ecuador

An Ecuadorian coming-out film is something of a rarity in world or even gay cinema. Director Araujo’s work has much in common with previous coming-of-age films about ephebic youths on the road to self-discovery and acceptance only it happens in a country not often seen on film. Holiday is bookended by a nice visual conceit involving upside-down cityscapes and Araujo manages to include several other intriguing elements, such as the world of underground Ecuadorian metal bands or the 1999 banking crisis that’s affecting the protagonist’s family,that enhances the main storline.

The film’s set in 1999, when dreamy teenager Juan Pablo, or Juampi (Juan Manuel Arregui), is dropped off at the country home of his uncle Jorge (Peky Andino), up in the Andes. Though secluded, news of the banking crisis that was rocking the country back then filter through via television reports and hit close to home, as Juampi’s family’s involved in the scandal.

But neither the protagonist nor the movie are all that interested in the scandals flaring up in faraway Quito, with Juampi instead hanging out on his own since it seems a better alternative than spending time with uncle Jorge’s hectoring teenage sons. There’s some excitement when he helps escape a hubcap thief his own age, Juan Pablo or Juano (Diego Andres Paredes), from the clutches of his uncle’s heavies during a carnival party.

Their hesitant, slowly growing friendship forms the core of the film but despite the fact that Juano comes from a poor indigenous family and Juampi comes from a background of privilege, there’s very little in terms of overt socio-political commentary. Araujo might be suggesting that the boys see each other as equals but in the context of the film it not only feels like a missed opportunity but also means that their growing bond feels rather flat and clichéd since it lacks any kind of texture or dramatic conflict.

Juano, who seems welded to his black leather jacket except in the obligatory couple of scenes in which he must be unselfconsciously shirtless, loves metal and hard rock music and there’s a scene where the duo visit an underground concert that’s raided by the police a minute after they arrive. Like the boys’ background, Araujo similarly brings it up only to do nothing interesting with it — the idea of the underground metal scene in Ecuador as a backdrop for a teenage friendship or love story sounds rife with possibilities, none of which are explored here.

As the slightly sullen, low-key protagonists, Arregui and Paredes both certainly look the part but aren’t the strongest actors, though part of the blame has to go the screenplay which leaves their roles a tad  undeveloped. The ending, nevertheless, is quietly heartbreaking as well as liberating.

Cinematographer Magela Crosignani has some fun with the upside-down shots of Quito that open the film and that pop up again in the third act, where their origin is explained. They represent a nice visual touch that the otherwise perfunctorily shot film could have used more of. The other technical credits are acceptable for what was clearly a low-budget film.

“Holiday” will be shown at Frameline38 San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival at the Castro Theatre Friday, June 27 at 10 p.m.  Go to www.framelin.org for more information.