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"I want to stay with you!"
on 29 July 2005
The opening of Bear Cub shows two hairy over-weight men having sex with each other. The scene is sexually explicit and also quite tender, but most of all it shows that these men - who are so often marginalized in the wider gay community for not being attractive enough - can actually be sexual beings too. It's such a pleasure to watch a film that portrays the culture of these proudly paunchy gay men, who accept who and what they are and who refuse to buy into the chiseled gym ideal of what a gay man should be. Most of the middle-aged men in this wise, sophisticated, and sweet-natured Spanish film unashamedly believe they're sexy, and are for the most part, proud of it.
Pedro (José Luis García-Pérez) is an attractive and mature "bearish" dentist who lives a cosmopolitan life in Madrid. He's a well adjusted, kindly, and independent kind of guy, who thinks nothing of having his two best friends have sex in his bed while he takes a shower - maybe even participating in a threesome. His older sister Violeta (Elvira Lindo), a rubber-mouthed ex-hippie, leaves her son Bernardo (David Castillo) to stay with Pedro when she impulsively decides to take a two-week jaunt to India with her latest boyfriend.
Things don't work out exactly as planned for Violeta, so Pedro is left to become a temporary guardian of this world-wise and surprisingly cosmopolitan young boy. Bernardo is a hip, young urban sophisticate, totally in sync with Pedro and very aware and accepting of the fact that Pedro is gay, and even that he is HIV Positive.
Soon the two become totally enamored of each other forming a strong attachment. Their life together seems to be going well - Bernardo cooks for Pedro, and loves all his fellow bear friends. But when Doña Teresa (Empar Ferrer), Violeta's widowed, estranged mother-in-law, arrives on the scene, she begins to resent Pedro's closeness with the boy.
Dona Teresa is a lonely and embittered old woman who blames Violeta for her son's drug-related death. She's also eager to reestablish a bond with her grandson, who refuses to give her the time of day. She's concerned about the "influence" that Pedro may be having on the boy and wants to take over Bernardo's upbringing by sending him to a good private school in Valencia where he can learn English. The boy, however, is reluctant to leave his uncle and vows to keep his relationship with his Uncle intact.
Bear Club cleverly defies all expectations -with the director Miguel Albaladejo wisely never passing judgment on any of the characters - even on the manipulative Dona Teresa. And in keeping with the newly found openness of Spanish society there's absolutely no puritanical hand wringing about Pedro's supposed inappropriateness as a guardian and role model. In fact, Pedro goes out of his way to live his life as he would a single man: We see him going to bars, cruising back rooms, flirting with shop attendants in front of Bernardo, and even inviting his friends over for marijuana and coke-induced gatherings.
The film also cleverly explores Pedro's relationship with a flight attendant and part-time lover who seeks a full-time commitment that Pedro is unwilling to make. While throughout all of this Bernardo is either oblivious to most of what's going on, seems to take all in his stride, or at times even offers Pedro some sound romantic advice!
There's a lot of love, camaraderie, and laughter, especially amongst Pedro's lovable, big, burly "bears," and while the movie is occasionally over-talky and light on the drama, there's still a good deal of warmth, tenderness, and humor going on to satisfy most viewers. Bear Club is an important movie, but it's also quite groundbreaking, because for the first time, we are given an intelligent, thoughtful, and quite perceptive insight into a section of the gay community that has long been marginalized by the wider gay community; they're a sub-culture that is obviously flourishing, but until now, they have received little or no recognition in queer-themed film. Mike Leonard July 05.