[Outfest 2019 Review] Tu Me Manques is a Fantastic Adaptation of the Filmmaker's Play

It began as a hate letter, sent from a grieving gay man to his dead lover’s father. A father who did not understand his son’s sexuality. A son who would rather commit suicide than face his parents when they discovered he was in a same-sex relationship. This hate letter would eventually turn into Rodrigo Bellott’s play Tu Me Manques; French for I Miss You...the last conversation he had with his boyfriend on social media.

Since 2015, Tu Me Manques became a hit in Rodrigo’s native Bolivia and became part of the national converstaion about anti-discrimination laws and homophobia. Days after the play premiered, people all over Bolivia started coming out and sharing their stories; something Rodrigo has called the “Tu Me Manques Effect.”

Now Rodrigo is back to directing film and his latest movie is an adaptation of the play and when it works, it absolutely soars.

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Tu Me Manques wears its play inspirations on its sleeve as it begins with a scene-setting placard that introduces Jorge (Oscar Martínez), the father of recently deceased Gabriel (...we’ll get to who plays him in a moment), as he picks through his son’s meager belongings. He looks through Gabriel’s computer and accidentally intercepts a Skype phone call with Sebastian (Fernando Barbosa), Gabriel’s ex-boyfriend. Their conversation is rough and anger-filled, both sides blaming each other for the suicide. And when they end their call, they think that’s the last they’ll see of each other.

But Jorge flies from Bolivia to New York to talk to Sebastian because of a comment he made during the Skype call: “Shame on you for losing a son you never knew.” Meanwhile, Sebastian is in the process of putting on a play inspired by his lost love. And it’s between the two, the current events and the play, that we learn about Gabriel, Sebastian and Jorge and come to terms with what happened.

Gabriel is played by...well 30 different actors according to the credit list. But mostly he’s played by Jose Duran, Quim del Rio and Ben Lukovski. Rodrigo swaps between the three constantly in scenes throughout the movie, oftentimes between even camera angle changes. The idea that Rodrigo and Sebastian both credit is that if he picked one actor it’d replace the memory of Gabriel forever. The effect also works to keep us at arms length of the character and feels like memories do; hazy and indistinct.

The narrative swaps between the present and 2014, when Sebastian first met Gabriel. They have a sexy meet cute where Gabriel shows up at a men’s clothing store Sebastian works at. He’s looking for clothes for a catering job and proceeds to just strip in front of Sebastian, throwing his new shirt on and getting encouraging responses. They bond over both being from Bolivia and Sebastian asks him out, but Gabriel says he’s not gay.

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We follow this story, through its ups and downs as well as Jorge’s journey through the gay parts of New York, under the auspices of being a newly out gay man. That portion didn’t really ring true to me. I understand a father trying to understand his dead son, but I don’t think he’d simply accept the world Sebastian thrusts him into.

That said, the best thing about Tu Me Manques is just how well paced it is. Scenes flow from one to another in such a slight way that it never seems to end. It continues at a quick pace throughout the entire almost two hour runtime and that’s surprising. One powerful sequence is when Sebastian is establishing his play and he has thirty actors on a darkly lit stage. He and his staff tell them to partner up and hold each other. He explains that he wants them to melt into each other’s arms and think of a pleasant memory; a girlfriend or boyfriend, a parent.

This is intercut with Sebastian in bed with one of the three Gabriels and follows him through a morning routine, the camera following Sebastian and each of the three Gabriel placed in different spots, performing various morning routines as Sebastian walks to the kitchen. And then the perspective is back to the dark stage as Sebastian and his associate rip the couples apart, one by one, whispering in their ears. It creates a metaphoric rift that resonates into the real life romance of Sebas and Gabriel. It’s incredibly effective and moving.

I really enjoyed Tu Me Manques, even if it did feel a bit heavy-handed at times. It’s grounded in real emotion and is captured so beautifully. Keep this one on your radar.