“Tremors” is set in Guatemala City where 40-year-old Pablo (Juan Pablo Olyslager) has what is considered in his Evangelical Christian community to be the perfect life: he is married to a beautiful woman (Diane Bathen) and father to two lovely children, part of a loving family, financially secure and professionally successful. He is known and respected as a “good man”. However, when he falls in love with a man named Francisco (Mauricio Armas Zebadúa), his image is shattered. As volcanic tremors shake Guatemala City, the foundations of his and his family’s entire worldview are shaken to the core.
He becomes judged as a sinner and is even accused of being a pedophile. He is fired from his job and banished from seeing his children over concerns for their safety. His shares an apartment with his lover provoking disgust and his parents and brother implore him to renounce his newly realized sexuality as sin. Even his former house staff turn against him in order to keep their jobs. Pablo is totally ostracized from his former life, so he agrees to enter a program with the Church designed to help “heal” and cure him of his “abnormality”. This is a course of quasi-religious therapy alongside other sinning males and it involves everything from testing his faith to abstinence, injections in intimate places to wrestling to recover his “masculinity”.
Guatemalan director and screenwriter Jayro Bustamante looks at how non-heterosexuality can clash with tradition and religious beliefs. The film immerses us in an Evangelical Christian Guatemalan community where the reaction to Pablo’s revelation and his subsequent treatment reveals a society that is deeply repressive.
Juan Pablo Olyslager’s Pablo, reflects on his situation and gives new meaning to the role of faith and commitment to his family, wife and kids and the need to follow through his desires and become his true self; a feeling of guilt and shame and that of liberation; of internalizing the judgements of his peers and wanting to confront them.
Director Bustamante also explores ideas of masculinity, the male form and stereotypes of homosexuality, questioning, like Pablo’s family and Pablo himself do what makes a man. There are never any real earthquakes in “Tremors” — only a slight shaking of the ground. This doesn’t stop everyone from panicking, however; they don’t know that it’s insignificant, and as far as they’re aware, this one could kill them. The tendency to exaggerate every personal decision like it’s the end of the world runs throughout the film. It is a sad and wise tale, that shows how limiting homophobic societies can be.
Pablo is a family man, a man of the church, and a consultant at a major firm. These things make him loved and respected, but he’s also a homosexual who has left his wife and children to stay with lover Francisco. This reveal doesn’t come until about forty minutes into the start of the film. His wife, Rosa, blames herself, being told that queerness is a result of external forces such as the lack of fellatio but his children know better. They miss him and force him into a difficult decision: is it better to pursue your own happiness at great personal cost, or to sacrifice yourself for the sake of others? This decision gives the film a melancholic, heartfelt quality.
Pablo’s wife and family aren’t villains , they are just misguided. His mother believes that the timing of these tremors cannot be a coincidence, using “God’s punishment” as further evidence that her son’s love for Francisco is one of sin. In reality though, these seismic events hint instead at the fragility of the upper class and outdated views on sexuality that threaten to tear Pablo’s life apart.
In the film, Bustamente takes a mature approach to the now well-worn themes found in other recent gay conversion stories. Pablo’s inner conflict is engaging and does not go the way of melodrama. We root for him and hope that everything will be okay.