LUZ (2020) seemingly starts out as a men’s prison movie but naturally evolves into a heart-felt romance between two Latinx men. The story opens with Ruben (the dreamy-eyed, high-cheek-boned Ernesto Reyes) beginning a three year prison sentence for causing a car accident while drunk. This resulted in the death of his passenger, the main “girl” (a very attractive male-to-female trans person) of his ruthless and dangerous Mafiosa cousin Julio (Rega Lupo). Ruben is clearly repentant for his crime, praying frequently in prison. He and his assigned cellmate Carlos (Jesse Tayeh) start off on rough footing but soon develop a friendship.
Filmed in Oregon, with a pleasant soundtrack added in, LUZ was written and directed by Jon Garcia. He clearly wanted to create something that challenges and transcends the cultural constrictions of traditional Latinx machismo and its subsequent homophobia. The character of Carlos’ mother, Benilda (Alma Gloria Garcia, who actually is the mother of Jesse Tayeh), masterfully portrays the female half of the movie’s moral center. Ruben is the male half of this center. Her brief historical explanation about the origins of “machismo” arising from the interfacing of the Spanish conquistadores and “the natives” (of what is now Mexico, most likely) is informative and moving. Her level-headed, caring presence supports and validates the growing love between her son and Ruben. I found myself wondering if Ms. Garcia was even acting or simply being herself on screen. She comes across as so genuine.
The acting in the movie ranged from competent to excellent, and felt in places like people were simply being themselves. In addition to the wonderful Alma Gloria Garcia, Ernesto Reyes as the extremely handsome and compellingly sensitive Ruben also stands out for me. His radiant screen presence melted my heart. I hope his acting career takes off if it hasn’t already done so.
The narrative remains cohesive while managing to go in exploratory, introspective directions. A psychedelic mushroom trip in the woods for the two leading men and a supporting character further deepens us viewers’ sense of Ruben’s textured emotional life. It also offers a bit of much-needed lightness, including pleasant pondering of nature, in the screenplay’s otherwise serious tone throughout.
I was moved to tears a handful of times while watching this refreshingly tender film about love between two physically strong, courageous men who embark on a journey of intimacy and creating a blended, chosen family. I came away from watching LUZ feeling reminded and affirmed that, if we truly allow it to, love conquers so much, perhaps even all.