The story of “Bear Cub” is simple enough: Pedro is an attractive, gay dentist. He offers to take care of his 9-year-old nephew Bernardo for two weeks while the child’s mother, Pedro’s older sister Violeta, goes off to India with her latest boyfriend.
When Violeta suddenly becomes detained in India, Pedro finds himself the boy’s caretaker.
It’s a simple story but in the hands of Spanish director Miguel Albaladejo it becomes much more. Albaladejo has crafted a film that is sometimes disturbing, sometimes sweet, but always intelligent and honest.
As the relationship between uncle and nephew gradually becomes tighter, Violeta’s estranged mother, Dona Teresa, arrives to begin a relationship with Bernardo that her daughter denied her. Soon after, she decides Bernardo should not be living with Pedro and schemes to take him away.
“Bear Cub” is complex and thoughtful and doesn’t offer pat answers. Films about gay men, Albaladejo says, generally present “a few comfortable stereotypes: the ideal homosexual who is good-looking, educated, sensitive, and romantic; the funny guy, as campy as can be, who is always the best friend for women; wacky comedies built around those same stereotypes [or] films that address a series of problems: the difficulty of accepting one’s homosexuality, discrimination, unrequited love, or the terrible hammer-blow called AIDS.”
In “Bear Cub,” he says, “no one has any particular difficulty in accepting Pedro’s sexual orientation; there is unrequited love because the main character wants it that way; and AIDS is there, but it is not depicted as that awful scourge.” Most importantly, Albaladejo says, “there is a child who has to be taken care of because life is very complicated and sometimes — in fact quite often — you’ve simply got to dig your heels in and work hard in order to make the most of what comes your way.”
A word of warning: Although the version of “Bear Cub” currently showing in theaters has been edited for a wider audience, it probably still includes what the director refers to as a “fair dose of frenzied sex” that may be disconcerting to some. However, if you don’t let that stop you, “Bear Cub” will leave you well rewarded for your effort. (In Spanish with English subtitles.)
— Carolyn Rummel