The Companion, 2015.
Directed by Pavel Giroud.
Starring Yotuel Romero, Armando Miguel Gomez, Camila Arteche, Yailene Sierra, Jazz Vila, Jorge Molina.
As HIV swept the globe throughout the 1980s, Cuban officials sent patients to a military facility for supervision, allowing detainees out once a week in the presence of an official “companion” sent to accompany them. Former boxing champion Horacio is assigned a troublesome patient named Daniel whose frequent escape attempts potentially jeopardise the facility’s security, but it soon becomes apparent that the two have far more in common than either of the men first realised.
Dramas about AIDs are melodramatic by their very nature. there’s no getting around that, but Pavel Giroud’s The Companion is a masterclass in balanced filmmaking, bringing a surprising lightness of touch to the impact of HIV in Cuba. Such an approach implies that the difficult subject matter of the film isn’t taken seriously, but that’s far from the case. In The Companion, Giroud simply strives to explore all the realities that those suffering from incurable diseases face, including the good as well as the bad.
With the wrong cast, The Companion’s unique tone could have jarred audiences expecting to see a darker representation of HIV’s impact on the big screen, but fortunately, the two leads are immensely likeable and their dynamic establishes the films tone early on. Armando Miguel Gomez’s easy charm and good looks make it easy for us to root for Daniel – who doesn’t love a roguish bad boy down on his luck? – but it’s Yotuel Romero in the role of disgraced boxer Horacio who impresses most long after the final bell has rung.
Initially guarded and afraid to even step near the patients, Horacio’s transformation into something more than just a companion to Daniel is subtle acting at it’s finest. Horacio may be a man of few words, but as a professional boxer, body language is everything and Daniel’s gradual acceptance of both the patients and his own past mistakes is portrayed with surprising intelligence and grace by Romero, a former Latin Grammy Award winner.
Both Romero and Gomez are supported ably by an eccentric cast of characters, including fellow patient Lisandra and the head doctor who oversees the facility, but this is really Daniel and Horacio’s story, so the rest of the cast aren’t featured as much as one would like. One character that audiences will be pleased to see the back of though is a morally corrupt doctor who contracts the virus after sexually assaulting patients trapped in the confines of the facility. The moment that the doctor receives his comeuppance and is given the bad news has a touch of dark humour, but the gravity of the situation itself is never undermined.
Some may walk away from The Companion feeling that Giroud could have done more to highlight the terrible impact of the AIDs epidemic as a whole, but there are plenty of films out there designed to do exactly that. What Giroud does here is equally important, humanising the patients in spite of their adversity, instead of choosing to define them by it. Hardships do occur in The Companion, but refreshingly, they aren’t the films only focus.
Amidst the moments of levity, a particularly difficult scene does occur towards the end of the movie, after Daniel is severely beaten and is left outside in the rain to die. A truck rolling by stops to offer a helping hand… that is, until the two men realise Daniel is a patient at the HIV facility out of town. The moment that Daniel realises his only hope is driving away says more than any impassioned Oscar winning speech ever could.
Giroud respects each of his characters and their individual plights without being overly reverential, acknowledging them all as rounded people each flawed in their own unique way. It won’t change the world, but Giroud’s lush cinematography and refreshingly spirited look at one of the darker periods in recent history marks The Companion as an important film to watch, one we hope to see scheduled for more festival appearances in the near future.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★