Laura CliffordIn the gay community, a “bear” is a man who eschews the stereotypical idea of the sleek stylishness associated with being homosexual. Instead, the bear doesn’t mind body and facial hair, isn’t averse to gaining some extra weight and wears flannel shirts and jeans. Pedro (Jose Luis Garcia-Perez) is a happy member of this club until one day, out of the blue, his sister Violeta (Elvira Lindo) drops by to tell him that she is going on vacation to India with her hippie boyfriend and, oh by the way, would Pedro take care of her 9-year old son, Bernardo (David Castillo), for a couple of weeks? Suddenly, Pedro’s single life is changed when he agrees to bring into his life and heart his “Bear Cub.”
Pedro is a man dedicated to not making a commitment. His part-time boy friend, French commercial pilot Manuel (Arno Chevrier), tells his lover that he is relocating to Madrid and wants to move in with Pedro. The dentist refuses his lover but Pedro’s hippie sister, Violeta, couldn’t care less about her brother’s commitment phobia when she drops by and convinces him to look after Bernardo for just a couple of weeks. Reluctantly, he agrees.
It’s not that Pedro is unwilling to take care of his nephew. In fact, he has always loved the boy and takes his new guardian role quite seriously. He curbs his active sex life and demands that his friends not smoke pot in his apartment - even when Bernardo volunteers to roll the joints, just like he did for his mother. But, there is a real bond between the two and they settle down to an ersatz home life with the boy proudly taking on the cooking chores of the household. This odd couple thoroughly enjoys the time together until Pedro gets word from the Spanish Foreign Ministry that Violeta is under arrest for drug trafficking. Suddenly, Pedro finds the two-week interlude with Bernardo extended indefinitely.
As if Violeta’s arrest doesn’t cause enough tension, Bernardo’s paternal grandmother, Dona Teresa (Empar Ferrer), arrives on the scene insisting that she have custody of Bernardo. Both Bernardo and his uncle reject the demand without a blink. Meanwhile, Pedro’s chaste life wears him down and, one night when his friends give him the night off from parenting, he goes cruising in the seamier section of Madrid. Unbeknownst to him, Dona T has him shadowed and gets some compromising, scandalous pictures. She also unearths his medical records that say he is HIV-positive – news that the dentist’s patients might find interesting. Despite her threats of exposure of his uncle, Bernardo refuses to live to live with her, opting for boarding school instead. Once again, Pedro is alone.
The many heavy elements of “Bear Cub” are tempered with the love that develops between uncle and nephew and the humor among Pedro’s supportive gay friends. Jose Luis Garcia-Perez is eminently likable as the film’s star and personifies the bear gay subculture. 11-year old David Castillo is exemplary as wise young Bernardo. The boy may only be nine but he has a world of wisdom contained in his head and the youngster gives a mature performance. Empar Ferrer initially comes across as a heartless monster as Dona Teresa tries to wrest Bernardo away from Pedro. But, the actress conveys a grandmother’s pain of not being allowed to care from her only family and becomes sympathetic in the end. The supporting bear cast is evenly played across the board.
Director/co-writer Miguel Albaladejo introduces a very different view of a part of Madrid’s gay community. You won’t get the pretty players that are de rigueur for gay cinema like in “Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss” or TV’s “Queer as Folk.” Instead, “Bear Cub” is a refreshing and unusual film that treats the main character with a matter of fact honesty that will appeal to more than just its target audience. There is a family movie within the gay subtext of “Bear Cub” that is a draw for the sophisticated film-goer. I give it a B.
Laura gives "Bear Cub" a B.
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