Film Review: Bittersweet Waters
Whether we realize it or not, our lives are not our own. We are calculating our presence based on what others think or anguish about what others are saying. One of the hardest things we can do in our lives is to take a stand and live the life we were given for ourselves. In Jesus Canchola Sanchez’s directorial debut, Bittersweet Waters, that choice is more complicated than it seems.
In Bittersweet Waters, Atl (Sanchez) lives in rural Mexico with his bitter mother and his endearing grandmother, trying to be the man they see while living a secret life with his true love. When his secret trickles out through town gossip, Alt and his lover Diego (Ramon Varela), must choose a path to spend the rest of their lives on, truth or convention.
Alt and Diego are living in two worlds in the universe of Bittersweet Waters. Atl is true to himself, being the person he is without regard what others think. His support system might be small, his best friend Juanita (Neyla Jaen) and his grandmother, but that’s all he needs. It is important to also point out here that living his true self is not the flamboyant gay man that is so often stereotyped. There is no distinguishing markers of Atl being a gay man, because there doesn’t need to be. Gay is not a personality trait, it just is.
Diego, on the other hand, is someone who is caught between the two worlds, and we witness this anguish on his face in every scene. He has found his soul mate, yet he also understands that in the world around them being with him is not a possibility. That is the heartbreaking point in the story, knowing your truth, but also knowing that it will never be accepted. We have our heroes, but our villain is circumstance.
Bittersweet Waters screened at the 2019 Reeling: the Chicago LGBTQ, and I can only imagine the heartwarming reception it received. What Sanchez was able to capture in his first film transcends the two worlds of LGBTQ and Latino. For me, that is the most interesting part. It is a story that may be about two Mexican gay men, but what is portrayed is a story of two people in love and the heartache they have to endure because they are unable to be together.
It is important to showcase stories that deal with the minority, but it’s even more important to incorporate the minority into the majority. The aspect of Bittersweet Waters that has struck a cord with me is the fact that this is a very specific film, it is about two Mexican men struggling to be together because of their culture. Yet, because of the story created by Sanchez, this film does not stay pigeonholed. The fact that the, for lack of a better term, key points, are dealing with minority groups but connects to the audience on a human level is significant.
I am a Latina who’s family comes from a border town, I know this culture and community very well. I connected with this situation on a level I was not expecting, and Bittersweet Waters was all through the beautifully shot film by Sanchez and his Cinematographer Alicia Aguirre. The beautiful part of it is that there was nothing specifically done to grab hold of the culture of place, it was just in the air. There is something about seeing a place or sensing a feeling that will transport you to another place, and that is exactly what they did. The tinted film of the old world, yet the progressive story latched on to what its like being a product of two different worlds. This tone sets the mood for a complicated story, allowing the audience to connect with Atl and Diego in a way that was not only unexpected but intimate.
The lovers of Bittersweet Waters represent the struggle so many LGBTQ members must face in their lives. They face head-on the conflict of living in a world that is not ready for the fact that our unique souls are not meant to be manufactured. The question becomes, which path do you chose: the path to conform for normalcy or the path of loneliness and freedom? The notion of who is the hero between Diego and Atl occurs between these lovers, and I don’t believe there is a right answer. No matter what the answer is, it always ends in heartache.
Written by Lisa M Mejia
Images provided by PotentPR