Thursday, October 7, 2021

JUAN OF THE DEAD (2011) Movie Review

Scare-A-Thon Totals to Date:

Total Movies Watched: 7
Total First Time Views: 5
Amount raised for ALBANY PARK THEATER PROJECT: $340.55

Juan of the Dead (2011) d. Alejandro Brugués (Cuba/Spain) (95 min) (3rd viewing)

Calling writer/director Brugués’ crowd-pleasing zom-com a Latino Shaun of the Dead is both a spot-on assessment yet a dangerously reductive one. In the same way that Edgar Wright’s capturing of the London suburban slacker culture proved to be Shaun’s secret weapon, so too does Brugués immerse the viewer within the pulsing, poverty-stricken Havana streets, lending the film an unexpected authenticity.

Cinematographer Carles Gusi paints a leached, anemic landscape, underneath which lies a vibrant array of characters that choose life, whether it be in the face of slow economic starvation or staggering undead hordes. What could have been a cheap, derivatively titled zombie flick turns out instead to be a genuinely rewarding and thought-provoking piece of political entertainment that packs an emotional wallop and side-splitting splatter.

Juan is a worthy addition to the walking dead canon, and in a fairer world popular Cuban actor Alexis Díaz de Villegas’ superlative turn here – equal parts slapstick clown and noble patriarch – would have launched him into the Hollywood stratosphere a la Simon Pegg.

When I first encountered the picture at the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival in 2012 (where it won the prestigious Silver Raven award), I had the opportunity to meet up with actor Jazz Vila, who had previously worked with director Brugués on the film Personal Belongings. He told me that from the moment people read the script, they knew they had something special, and we talked at length about the magic act of making a movie that has a social point of view without being heavy-handed about it, something that the Juan team has managed to pull off admirably.

Vila’s role, that of cross-dressing, slingshot-wielding homosexual “China,” was one that he felt honored to play, as he knew he wanted to give the character the dignity he deserved as opposed to only being a cheap laugh (as is often the case in Cuban cinema). “These people exist,” he said, “and they are real human beings. They are strong and real, and it was important to represent that.”

Amen, Jazz, Amen.


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