YUNIOR, written and directed by Francisco Cabrera-Feo, is a masterclass on how to execute a compelling coming-of-age, queer film. With poignant performances, luscious cinematography, and a vibrant and dreamy soundtrack, YUNIOR is a reflection of the queer sensibility at its best.
It’s the “slice of life” and character-driven storytelling precisely what makes this narrative stand out. And there’s also the premise. A deeply closeted teenage boy Yunior (beautifully characterized by Apurva Srivastava) finds himself shaken when his older brother’s girlfriend (played by Yolaila Palacios) shows up with her out and confident gay male friend Gabriel (spectacularly played by Sherrod Taylor).
Without the use of dialogue, we see Yunior rush into his home to wipe off blood from his face. Through a taunting voiceover, we learn that he’s bullied for seeming gay: the way he dyed his hair results in him getting physically assaulted. He cleans up as best he can, and joins the other teens —much older than him and most likely there due to his older brother— who have gathered for his birthday party.
But when he sees Gabriel for the first time, he gets really curious about him. There he is, a vision: cross-armed; nail polish on nails; sporting a so-called wife-beater and over it, an open button-down; his chest out, and a gold chain necklace around his neck. Sun bouncing on his skin.
Cabrera manages to construct an arresting dance sequence (coincidentally it’s the film’s climactic scene) where Yunior let’s himself be free for the first time and registers the singular power of an authentic self. Will he let go of his insecurities and fears?
When promoting the film, Cabera said, “I didn’t meet an out queer person till I was much older. I decided to rewrite my past and introduce a joyful gay man to my younger self.” Cabrera rendered a beautiful depiction of today’s out and proud queer youth.
But how does it all end? Does Yunior come to terms with his sexuality and become less rigid? Or does he decide that he’s not ready yet? Watch the short film in its entirety below:
Luis Luna is Latino Rebels’ arts writer and associate producer of Latino Rebels Radio. He tweets from @luarmanyc.
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