paddy breathnach

FILM REVIEW: In “Viva” a young Cuban finds his lip-synced voice

This Havana-set drama from an Irish director was shortlisted for last year's Best Foreign Film Oscar

There are a lot of things to like about “Viva.” It’s a stirring tale of personal empowerment, a vibrant portrait of life in the slums of Havana, and a moving portrayal of forgiveness. And I’ll get to all those things. But the movie, or rather its American distributor, commits one of my pet peeves.

This is a movie about a gay Cuban hairdresser who becomes a drag performer. All of the Spanish-language dialogue spoken is subtitled in English, but none of the sung (or lip-synced) lyrics are. This is something that crops up in foreign films regularly, and in this instance it’s especially annoying, since several key dramatic moments occur on stage as a character performs to a song. The words in that song are probably quite meaningful in the context of the story. But those of us who don’t comprehend Spanish will never know. (And, yes, of course, I should just learn Spanish, but that’s beside the point…)


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