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Precisely written and deliberately shot, José, a Guatemala-set LGBTQ character examination from Chinese-born director Li Cheng, is a movie preoccupied with the private tragedy of unfulfilled impulses and aspirations as a result of widespread homophobia and emotional blackmail.
Los Angeles Times
José is hardly the first movie to spotlight a young person navigating their homosexuality in a repressive and perilous environment. Nonetheless, this sophomore feature from Chinese-born director Li Cheng, who co-wrote with George F. Roberson, feels like a singular and essential entry in that subset of LGBTQ coming-of-age films with an international beat.
The satisfactions of José as a whole offers are considerable, and they begin with the human element. Like the Italian neorealist classics from which it descends, the film has a keen appreciation for the lives of people who maintain a stubborn dignity and resolve under the challenges of poverty and other hardships.
The scenario here is soapy and a tad familiar. But Cheng’s vivid depiction of the life going on all around his characters . . . enriches the story and makes José, his life, his world and his predicament something anyone can relate to.
The Hollywood Reporter
This is a wisp of a film that for many will lack payoff, but it has a depth of feeling, strong sense of frustration, and hunger for growth and change that heighten involvement. Its sensitive portrait of being young and gay in an unaccommodating culture also makes it deserving of attention.
Notable for the crispness of the lensing, Jose is deceptively simple but punches above its slight weight.
Kristen Yoonsoo Kim
The New York Times
The film delicately depicts the hardship of being gay in a Catholic culture and the pressure for machismo in a crime-ridden country.
Cheng delivers a mood that is unquestionably human and, at times, unexpectedly hallowed (as when Jose stares down the worn face in a Mayan ruin). José brings to light the promise of a director as compassionate as he is observant.
Li Cheng gets much closer to capturing his characters’ predicaments when he trusts the images alone.
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