From Trajan to Robert Mangold

VOLUME 3, ISSUE 345 | November 4 – November11, 2004

ARTS

BEAR CUB

Directed by Luis Miguel Albaladejo

In Spanish with English subtitles

TLA Releasing

Opens Nov. 5

Angelika Film Center

When Daddy Becomes Dad

A Spanish film offers a heartfelt look at a gay uncle’s redemption

The sweet Spanish film “Bear Cub” features the species of heavyset, hairy gay men not generally seen in leading roles—that of the bear. In fact, director Luis Miguel Albaladejo celebrates bear love by opening his film with a hot sex scene between two randy, naked bears—as if to prove a point about the appeal of these atypical characters.

The film’s protagonist is a kind Madrid dentist named Pedro (José Luis García-Pérez). He lives alone, and likes his friends and his life, even though it is filled more with hookups than any long-term relationship. His lifestyle is curbed, however, when his flaky sister Violeta (Elvira Lindo) leaves her nine-year-old son Bernardo (David Castillo) with him for two weeks while she is in India.

Although Pedro is happy to care for his nephew, he is not used to having children around. But Pedro proves himself to be a good father figure. He dismisses those who believe Bernardo’s shyness and female friendships suggest he will be gay, and he refrains from drug use, having sex or other “corrupting” influences in his house. As a result, Bernardo is completely accepting of his uncle’s homosexuality and his friends, and this helps the two of them bond.

“Bear Cub” chronicles the pair’s relationship leading up to a critical moment. After disruptions from various guests—the child’s estranged grandmother Doña Teresa (Empar Ferrer) and Pedro’s friend Manuel who wants to be his lover—a call comes in that Bernardo’s mother will be detained for some good amount of time in India. Pedro must assume the responsibility of raising Bernardo alone, which gives him a new purpose in life, even if it is one he is unprepared for at first.

Albaladejo does a very good job developing these characters, and showing the affection between Pedro and Bernardo. A particularly tender moment involves Pedro cutting his nephew’s hair in the style of his own at the boy’s request. In literature as in cinema, haircuts are usually a narrative device used to signal a life change. If nothing else, this scene shows how successful Pedro could be raising Bernarndo.

From this point forward, “Bear Cub” takes a few interesting dramatic turns. Doña Teresa, scorned by Bernardo as his grandmother, pushes to develop a relationship with the boy, and she takes legal action to gain custody of him while his mother is away and works to discredit Pedro and his queer lifestyle in the process. Unexpected information surfaces that may complicate things for everyone involved.

Give Albaladejo credit for tackling the subject of a gay custody battle with the grace he does here. Thankfully, there is no drawn-out trial, or an escalating feud that belittles the characters that audiences have come to care about. That said, Bernardo’s care issue is resolved in a fashion that is just a bit too pat, deflating some of the dramatic impact of the situation. Yet “Bear Cub” does not need testimony in a courtroom to show what the characters are thinking and feeling. The performers convey everything clearly with their expressions and their actions.

In the lead role, García-Pérez gives an extremely unselfconscious performance, and it makes his character all the more endearing. If the film aims to show that bears are gentle men, Albaladejo cast his Pedro perfectly. As Bernardo, David Castillo is equally fine, a remarkably self-possessed kid who is able to discuss sexuality with his uncle and still cry at missing his mother’s phone call. In support, Ferrer makes her grandmother character simultaneously sympathetic and an ogre—no mean feat.

“Bear Cub,” like the men it depicts, deserves respect and representation on screen. Kudos for Albaladejo for making kind-hearted bears the center of this intelligent, sincere film.

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