Opening with Reuben’s (Ernesto Reyes) introduction to prison life, Luz reflects on life and relations behind bars. Set in a place that denies any vulnerability, writer-director Jon Garica draws on themes of masculinity and sexuality throughout the film. Despite the social hierarchy and adapting to prison life, Reuben finds himself in an unlikely romance.
After crossing the Mafioso, Reuben must leave his daughter behind as he enters the prison system. Reuben soon befriends and enters into a soup-making business with his cellmate Carlos (Jesse Tayeh). Seeing Carlos as a mentor and eventually as a lover, Reuben struggles with his personal demons and sexuality. However, when Reuben finally reaches closure, he must face his most grueling challenge; life on the outside.
“…Reuben must leave his daughter behind as he enters the prison system.”
The premise of Luz alone is interesting enough. Using the framework of a prison drama as the backdrop for a romance is a creative concept. Garcia expands on this by showing Reuben’s life after prison in the second half of the film. The highest praise I can give the screenplay is how well it deals with complex and tricky themes; masculinity in prison, sexuality in the face of masculinity, and culture’s views on both. Reuben and Carlos’ relationship evolves organically and feels cohesive.
Luz tells a compelling story from start to finish, and it kept me interested in the progression of Reuben’s prison experience as well as the shifting dynamics between him and Carlos. The love story is engaging and, the prison framework adds tension to an already tense situation. Reyes and Tayeh give exceptional performances, expressing the conflicting emotions of Reuben and Carlos. These internal contentions build perfectly towards the climax of the film and Reuben’s inner turmoil.
Luz does have trouble giving depth to its characters. Rather than a deep dive character study, the film is very plot-centered. That is not inherently a bad thing, but unfortunately, when moving the plot gets in the way of developing characters, it can be a shortcoming. This struggle to flesh-out the characters does bleed into other aspects of the film and does cause some action to fall flat. However, the majority of the story does provide a captivating backdrop to a romance and an examination of what it means to be masculine. I would recommend the film to fans of socially conscious dramas or those who love to explore vulnerability in an invulnerable world.
"…Reyes and Tayeh give exceptional performances..."