‘Brokeback’: Too Gay for Costa Rica, or Just Too Long?

March 17, 2006

There’s an old expression among salt-of the- earth Ticos – so old it’s attributed to the abuelos, that vaguely-aged generation responsible for everything that happened more than 50 years ago. A Costa Rican whispered it during the last third of a special screening of “Brokeback Mountain” the week before its premiere in the country, between any one of the lingering pans of pristine Wyoming wild country and one of the drawn-out silences between the tragic gay lovers. The saying goes: “más largo que el pedo de una mula,” which, for those who don’t speak Spanish well but love the sound of it, in a testament to the greater beauty of that language compared to English, means “longer than a mule’s fart.” This, in an appropriately farm-and tone, characterizes both the movie’s pace and the raucous reaction to it among Costa Rican audiences.

Anyone who has not been living in a jungle lodge for the past two months knows the movie is about a doomed love affair between gay cowboys. It lifts itself from the trap becoming a gimmicky repetition of others in a centuries-old tradition of taboo love tragedies with some of the very devices that will turn off impatient audiences: poignant characterization and wordless communication between two actors at the peaks of their powers, indulgent photography of mountain scenery and a clean, simple, Academy Award-winning score.

In two hours, 14 minutes, “BrokebackMountain” delivers pervasive believability of the love between the two men, frustration with the crippling inability of EnnisDel Mar (played by Oscar nominee for best actor Heath Ledger) to express an emotion and a general pity for love-craving Jack Twist (played by Oscar nominee for best supporting actor Jake Gyllenhaal).

But, good Lord, the movie had two hours and 14 minutes to do that. It’s no surprise the film is based on a short story – there’s enough dialogue and content to fill about a dozen pages. The surprise is that Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee got away with slipping in so much filler.

Remember Viewfinders, the plastic slideviewing contraptions you could buy at Disneyland and roadside souvenir stands? At times the movie is like A “Scenes o’ Wyoming” Viewfinder with little gay cowboys cuddling and riding horses along the bottom.

Watching “BrokebackMountain” in Costa Rica could up the ante for the cultural education the movie already provides.

In two special screenings the week before its premiere here, one offered invitation-only by the gay-rights defense group Center for Research and Promotion of Human Rights, segments of the audience larger than what would seem possible, let alone appropriate, in a theater, whispered, whistled, cackled, groaned and hollered, and a few walked out.

That hilarious degree of inconsideration during a critically acclaimed movie, celebrated for its beauty and courage, winner of three Academy Awards – the two mentioned plus best screenplay adapted from previously published material – and nominated for five others, is explicable only in a culture that is just sticking its toe into the turbulent waters of the open acceptance of homosexuality, and that habitually whistles and honks at people anyway.

 

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