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    Temblores: An Exquisite, and Exquisitely Made, Powerful Drama from Guatemala

    By Gary Kramer–

    Out gay writer/director Jayro Bustamante’s Temblores (Tremors), opening December 6 at the Landmark Opera Plaza, is an exquisite—and exquisitely made—drama from Guatemala. Pablo (Juan Pablo Olyslager) is an upper-class, evangelical, married father of two who leaves his family for Francisco (Maurio Armas). The ripples of his coming out create the tremors of the title as Pablo is cut off from his kids and brings shame on his family. How he negotiates his situation is compelling as Pablo learns the harsh lesson that he cannot have it both ways. He enters a conversion therapy-like program to be “cured.”

    Temblores is a quietly powerful film buoyed by Olyslager’s remarkable performance as a man torn between his true nature and what is expected of him by his family and society. The actor recently spoke with me, for the San Francisco Bay Times, about his role.               

    Gary M. Kramer: The film almost never uses the word gay, as if no one wanted to talk about this elephant in the room. Can you talk about attitudes and acceptance of homosexuality in Guatemala?

    Juan Pablo Olyslager: There is a big pink elephant in the room called Guatemala. Many people find it uncomfortable to talk about it even though they have relatives and know gay people. It’s a deeply religious and conservative country. I see a glimmer of hope with new generations. New generations are being brought up differently by access to info other than from their parents. For some people it’s a desirable thing—to have a country where you have diversity. It also depends on one’s social circle. Artists are more tolerant than businesspeople, or religious groups. It’s still a touchy subject here.

    Gary M. Kramer: Pablo’s sexuality causes him to lose his job and be branded as a pedophile (which he is not) to keep him away from his children. How are the laws designed to discriminate against gay people in Guatemala?

    Juan Pablo Olyslager: There is not a law that doesn’t protect the gay community but there is not a law that protects it. There was a “pro-familia” law that right wing groups were advocating but it did not pass. It recognized traditional marriage. Homosexuals were not protected. You could be fired easily from a job if someone finds out you are gay. Jayro [Bustamante, the director] wanted to portray some of the abominations, like equating homosexuals and pedophiles on the same level. People fear, so they make that stuff up. Things are slowly starting to change. And movies like Temblores will bring the subject to the table. An interesting discussion arose because of that.

    Gary M. Kramer: Pablo gets into a healing program that is designed to cure him of his same-sex desires. What is your knowledge of these programs?

    Juan Pablo Olyslager: The funny thing is that the founders of these groups go back to who they are—they fail themselves. There are many programs and they do their work in a silent manner. I didn’t know about them until I made this film. It’s a like a 12-step group and handled anonymously. 

    Gary M. Kramer: Your performance is great. It is both external and internal—we feel his conflict. How did you calibrate Pablo’s emotions, both expressed and repressed?

    Juan Pablo Olyslager: I think Pablo knew who he was since he was little but thought something was wrong with him. So, he ignored that idea. He comes from a wealthy, conservative family and is expected to meet someone from a good social class, marry, have kids, and die. With Francisco he found something he wanted. In his 40s, he’s having a midlife crisis. He wanted to experience the gay scene without being judged in Guatemala. What Pablo wanted was to be with Francisco and have a relationship with his kids and a work life. He wanted this to coexist, and even go to church. But I think he is naïve that all of this could exist. I think Pablo at the end has to make a choice. You can see it in his face. He’s resigned [to conversion therapy] and he believes what the pastor is saying. Maybe they are right, and I have to go through this. He had faith in conversion therapy and expects to get something out of it—either clarity about his sexuality or a cure. When people are in serious trouble emotionally, they are willing to believe anything just to feel better. So, Pablo could believe that the therapy was going to work, or he’d reject everything.

    Gary M. Kramer: What are your observations on the characters in the film? They are condemned or punished for their behavior. Pablo does assert at one point that, “God wants me like this,” suggesting his sexuality is not a choice.

    Juan Pablo Olyslager: It is very dangerous when people are righteous because they are religious. The options of heaven or hell are tricky when 94–95% of the population is religious and think they are right in knowing how other people should live.

    © 2019 Gary M. Kramer

    Gary M. Kramer is the author of “Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews,” and the co-editor of “Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.” Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer

    Published on December 5, 2019