'Four Moons' ('Cuatro Lunas'): Morelia Review

Courtesy of Atko Films
A well-performed film that features four unconnected gay storylines

Four stories of gay love and self-acceptance are artfully woven together by Mexican writer-director Sergio Tovar Velarde

Four instances of gay desire and self-acceptance (or the lack thereof) are convincingly dramatized in Mexican writer-director Sergio Tovar Velarde’s Four Moons (Cuatro Lunas), with the protagonists ranging in age from preteen to retiree. Though the stories don’t intersect -- a queer Crash this ain’t -- the film fluidly cuts back and forth between them, with the overall result mostly hopeful but not unrealistic. Slickly produced and well acted, this will be released at home next February and is catnip for LGBT-focused distributors such as Breaking Glass Pictures, who have snapped up U.S. rights and will release the film in New York on Nov. 21 and on VOD Dec. 2.

Four Moons opens on a delicate, 11-year-old blond, Mauricio (Gabriel Santoyo), who’s talking about video games with his roly-poly, dark-haired cousin, Oliver (Sebastian Rivera), outside the school they both attend. The former's secret crush on the latter and the latter’s curiosity-turned-homophobia will make the preteen protagonist’s first brush with unrequited love an ugly and rather public one. Santoyo, well cast as a fragile-looking boy who’s initially rather confident of his feelings and also dares to act on them, impresses in a tricky but strongly written role, while Velarde doesn’t forget about the parents or the boy’s peers at school on the periphery that inadvertently turn a very private moment into a public spectacle.

Things seem to go a little better for Fito (Cesar Ramos) and Leo (Gustavo Egelhaaf), at least in the early going. The college students are former childhood buddies who bump into each other on campus in Mexico City and immediately start spending time with each other again. They even fall in love, much to their surprise. Their incredibly awkward first attempt at male-on-male intercourse is one of the film’s gently comic highlights, though their cute idyll grows darker when it emerges that Leo’s fear of being found out as gay by his family and friends is greater than even his need to be with his first-ever boyfriend. Fito, who also lives at home, similarly struggles with telling his widowed mother (Monica Dionne) about his significant other but nonetheless bravely takes the bull by the horns. As in Mauricio’s story, the writer-director plays with audience expectations, as Leo seemed to be the more confident of the two. Though Fito and Leo’s story might take up 25 minutes of this 110-minute film, it offers an admirably complex look at the dynamics and possible heartbreak surrounding someone’s decision to potentially come out.

The third of the stories centers on longtime live-in lovers Hugo (Spanish actor Antonio Velazquez) and Andres (Alejandro de la Madrid), for whom coming out must seem a distant memory. They’ve established a routine that includes elaborate dinner parties with friends but is otherwise starting to suffocate Hugo, who’s secretly seeing another man, Sebastian (Hugo Catalan, who played the gay lead in Julian Hernandez’s I Am Happiness on Earth from earlier this year). The fallout from this discovery and how it impacts their relationship is not something that lends itself particularly well to the medium-length format of this story, with only Andres, with his singular and steadfast conviction to hold on to his man, emerging as a fully understandable character. Hugo’s more complex struggles, which involve weighing 10 years of happiness and shared memories against (apparently) very hot sex with a newcomer — Sebastian is only glimpsed a couple of times — are too often obscured by Velarde’s desire to stay close to Andres’ point of view, though it does become clear that staying in a relationship, making it work and fighting for it are just as complicated, if not more so, than finding a mate in the first place.

The last story involves a retired university professor and poet, Joaquin (veteran actor Alonso Echanove), who’s married with children and grandchildren but who propositions to a ripped hustler (Alejandro Belmonte) in a gay sauna nonetheless, and who has to steal money to pay the steep fee his (also supposedly straight and married) object of desire asks for. Though Echanove gives a soulful performance and Velarde has a nice if somewhat naive twist in store in the narrative’s second half, this feels like the most drawn-out of the stories, with plentiful moments that don’t add much insight or advance the plot. This segment also represents something of a let-down for at least gay audiences, as the other three stories seemed to build from youthful discovery and coming out to a long-term relationship and beyond while the closeted-in-old-age segment isn’t part of this logical progression. It is also the story that, given its steam-room setting, packs in the most (nonsexual) nudity, which might be logical but nonetheless feels like a concession to the demands of the international gay-movie marketplace, where any trailer of a foreign film needs full-frontal nudity to help sell even serious and emotionally rich art house dramas such as this one. 

Production companies: Atko Films, Los Gueros, Kinomada, Color Space, Skyflak Studio
Cast: Antonio Velazquez, Alejandro de la Madrid,  Alonso Echanove, Alejandro Belmonte, Cesar Ramos, Gustavo Egelhaaf, Gabriel Santoyo, Sebastian Rivera
Writer-Director: Sergio Tovar Velarde
Producer: Edgar Barron
Director of photography: Yannick Nolin
Production designer: Jesus Torres Torres, Emmanuelle Muniz
Costume designers: Estrella Garcia, Mario Marin del Rio
Editors: Max Blasquez, Sergio Tovar Velarde
Music: Enrique Espinosa
Casting: Carlos Cambiazzo
Sales: Habanero Film Sales

No rating, 110 minutes