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Review: Lupe (2019)

Lupe Movie Review

IT MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS OF LUPE!!!

LGBTQ+ tales have been slowly, but surely, earning their places in movies. Most times, the tales we get to witness as part of an audience breathe new life to ourselves, not to mention how they help us to unveil part of how our society works. There have been plenty of tales in recent years; some have been gut-wrenching, some lighthearted. Lupe, which is set to be released on HBO Max, falls in that sweet middle ground.

The movie centers on Rafael, a Cuban immigrant that travels to New York in order to search for their long lost sister, Isabel. However, Rafael is also on their own personal journey, as they come to accept their own identity as a transgender woman.

Lupe Movie Review

Lupe reveals itself as a movie that has a sweet, empowering message throughout its short run, but it also doesn’t pull any punches. When we watch movies that tackle the LGBTQ+ communities, it’s easy to associate it with terms like “gay” or “lesbian”, rarely taking on transgender people and how much conflict such a big choice can bring to someone’s life. And for that, Lupe might as well be an eye-opener for many people, as well as a gateway for new, exciting stories to tell in a near future.

Written and directed by André Phillips and Charles VuoloLupe doesn’t lose sight of its main objetive: the world through the eyes of Rafael. And it’s from their point-of-view that we get to see those events being set into motion. Rafael, from the outset, can be seen as the “male protagonist” that we’ve got used to: they are an immigrant kickboxer, likes to train with their fellow sportsmen, and isn’t afraid to get their hands dirty to get the answers they need. However, as we get deeper and deeper into their journey, we get to see their own personal demons make their presence known. Either through the flashbacks that highlight their close relationship with their sister, or when they come to grips with their own gender identity, all is revealed to be an endearing journey with a positive pay-off, while not forgetting some strong hardships along the way, specifically how they see themselves and how the world around them sees them.

Through the script, we also get to explore the themes around sex workers and immigration, which function as a solid foundation for the movie. Although not as deeply examined like Rafael’s own search for themselves, those themes end up creating a lasting impression on the protagonist, as well as contextualize some choices down the road.

Lupe Movie Review

Lupe also has a strong cast at its disposal, with newcomer Rafael Albarrán being a clear standout. With such a demanding role in his hand, Albarrán could’ve fallen into some familiar traps; fortunately, that’s not the case. Behind the machismo that they try to convey in public, we get to witness some vulnerabilities while trying to find out their own sense of “self” in the world. In one moment, they are either training or punching pimps in search for their sister; the next, they’re putting make-up, trying new dresses. It’s a harsh and cruel world that gets depicted in Lupe but, as mentioned above, has a beautiful and empowering pay-off. And since they show such a charismatic performance, we can’t help but root for their journey to its natural conclusion.

The secondary cast isn’t as overpopulated as one could expect, but the important players that manage to appear do strike a cord with the audience. First off, there’s Lana (Celia Harrison, who also serves as the movie’s co-writer), Rafael’s transgender friend and confidant that serves as the protagonist’s gateway to this strange, new and exciting world. Although appearing in a handful of scenes, Harrison strikes a powerful first impression, guiding Rafael through the changes that come with coming out as a transgender woman. It also helps that Harrison‘s and Albarrán‘s shared scenes are also completely improvised, imbuing them with a sense of truthfulness. And next there’s Elsa (Christine Rosario), a sex worker that also happens to be Isabel’s oldest friend. Rosario also manages to stand-out, as a friend from Rafaels past, while also being the first person to witness, and then accept, their new truth. From there, we get to see a beautiful, genuine friendship in the making.

From a technical standpoint, Lupe is a marvelous, albeit simple, sight to behold. With T. Acton Fitzgerald as the cinematographer, we get to witness both the rural areas of Cuba and the streets of New York in a brand new light. And while the landscapes are a must in this movie, the close ups of the characters are the biggest selling point, allowing us to really get in touch with them. Not to mention the incredible soundtrack from Christopher French, as the sounds he composes manage to accompany the characters. For example, it’s fascinating that, when get to see Rafael relax and just being themselves, we get to hear Latino tones, as if it’s saying that he’s “home”. It’s poetic, to say the least.

All this to say that Lupe might be one of the year’s greatest surprises as of yet. It’s simple in its general approach, but its sweet message is present throughout, even though it could’ve invested more time to dive deeper into other themes that, unfortunately, seem more like an afterthought. Nevertheless, it’s a beautiful message to be true to ourselves, while also introducing Rafael Albarrán in the most spectacular way possible. Truly, a sight to behold!

Title: Lupe

Directors: André Phillips, Charles Vuolo

Cast: Rafael Albarrán, Celia Harrison, Kadeem Henry, Lucerys Medina, Christine Rosario

Runtine: 77 minutos

Trailer | Lupe

LUPE Trailer from Lupe Film on Vimeo.

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