Shot in 14 days, entirely in Puerto Rico, it is the sixth directorial undertaking by Puerto Rican filmmaker Raúl Marchand, who himself has taken top honors at the first New York Tribeca Film Festival. “To make a movie like this in Puerto Rico is very risky,” he says, referring to the machismo–heavy attitude of most Latin American cultures, but, “when the film was released in Puerto Rico the ratings were amazing!” And as much a surprise to him as it was to local programmers, who found that the movie had appealed to multi-faceted audiences who just wanted to showcase the pure joy of the escapism the film offers. “As an out gay filmmaker, I also wanted to make a film that was family friendly and crossed gender and generational gaps, and challenged any bias that anyone could have towards any particular group,” he adds.
Originally, the director described, the film was meant to be a very serious drama, but his instincts told him instead to make the film a comedy. “I didn’t want to see another story about how hard or difficult it is to be gay in this world; I wanted to take it in a completely different direction.” Manuela and Manuel did keep some elements of it’s dramatic genesis, but instead the final film takes a more inspired, light-hearted and candid look at life and trials of its lead Manuela. “It’s the kind of film that everyone can relate to; everyone has been alone, everyone has been through a break-up and the best thing we have is our friends and family,” Marchand says.
The characters in the beginning of the film are all dealing with abandonment: whether from a recent relationship, an unrequited love, or the end of a marriage. And at the center of it all is Manuela, providing the fuel that propels the story along.
It’s refreshing the comedy isn’t dependent upon Manuela’s sexual orientation; it’s not cluttered with obvious gay jokes or gimmicks. It takes a page from the classic Hollywood “mistaken identity” slap-stick of yesteryear to get in the laughs, especially when an unexpected caller comes inconveniently knocking on Manuela’s door when he’s in the middle of rehearsing a new number for his cabaret act. And there are truly relatable moments of longing in glimpses of Manuela as he envies the bride-to-be’s wedding dress. The audience understands that in his lonely world he would want nothing more than to be married -- even if his preference is to be married in a beautiful, designer gown. Actor Humberto Busto beautifully evokes Manuela’s most tender moments wonderfully and subtly, camping it up only when it’s not for a cheap laugh.
The film thrives on the naturalness of its Latino cast, and Marchand’s admits he was very lucky to get the actors that he got to participate in the film, especially his lead, Busto. “Puerto Rico gets pretty hot and Humberto had to perform elaborate dance numbers in heavy wigs,” he laughs.
“I’m hopeful the film will find its audience with its U.S. release,” says Marchand. Manuela and Manuel is set to cross various target markets in the US, distributed by Here Films/Regent Releasing and begins with a New York City premiere in March 26, before continuing it’s campaign across the States. With the continual mainstream acceptance and success of drag personalities, most notably credited to television reality shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race, Marchand’s film should have no problems filling theater seats. “I prefer to make films that people will see,” he jokingly adds. “There’s literally nothing worse than making a movie and having to keep it in the closet.”
For more on this film and others from Regent Releasing, head to their official site.
-- JC ALVAREZ
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