The Last Match, opening Friday at Landmark’s Opera Plaza Cinema, is a sexy and affecting drama about two young men who fall in love amid poverty in Cuba. Reinier (Reinier Díaz) is a handsome soccer player who pawns his mother’s electronics and frequently bets on a shell game. He also earns cash prostituting himself to gay foreigners like Juan (Toni Cantó), a Spaniard he picks up on the Malecón.
Reinier claims he is straight, refusing to have anal sex with Juan, but he also knows that Juan can provide him with a much needed income stream. As such, Reinier tries to spend as much time with Juan as possible—to earn as much money as possible—so he can buy the motorcycle he dreams about owning and one day leave Havana.
Reinier shares his dreams with his friend Yosvani (Milton García), the future son-in-law of Silvano (Luis Alberto García), a local loan shark. Reinier buys clothes—which symbolize status—from Silvano, who sees him as a good customer until Reinier is increasingly late with payments.
The Last Match chronicles the relationship that develops between Reinier and Yosvani that begins after a drunken kiss one night. They soon give in to their unspoken desires, and before long, start meeting on the sly for passionate trysts on rooftops and in restrooms.
Writer/director Antonio Hems artfully, tenderly shoots Reinier and Yosvani’s nascent romance. He captures the secret love that they share in the simple affections they exchange. However, where Yosvani falls deeply in love, Reinier seems to be keeping his options open. Juan seems to be the reason for this—Yosvani does not mask his jealousy towards the Spaniard—but it is Silvano’s discovery of the relationship between the guys that causes things to come to a head.
While the intense romance between Reinier and Yosvani form the backbone of The Last Match, writer/director Antonio Hems adds details that flesh out the lives of these characters to create an affecting drama. For example, Reinier’s mother, Teresa (Mirta Ibarra), approves her son’s relationship with Juan, encouraging her son to go to Spain and get married so they can get money to leave Cuba. Likewise, a scene that reveals Juan’s profession is introduced in a clever way that explains how he was able to help Reinier attend a local soccer academy and possibly make a national team.
But it is the attention Hems pays to themes of masculinity and sexuality that make The Last Match resonate. How Reinier and Yosvani construct and compartmentalize their sexual identities explains much about the macho culture of Cuba. When Silvano tells Yosvani that he needs to earn respect—“The world isn’t made for faggots”—it is a telling moment. Moreover, that Hems films the three central male actors’ nudity so casually also belies the film’s raw emotions.
Hems’s film certainly conveys the economic and romantic despair of Reinier and Yosvani, and The Last Match benefits from the casting of the attractive García and Díaz. But the film’s melodramatic climax, however realistic, feels both forced and clumsy. It is a weak finish for an otherwise compelling film.
© 2014 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.” You can follow him on Twitter @garymkramer.