When it comes to growing up in a religious environment, discovering your own sexuality can be a bit of a struggle, as nature battles against nurture. While your feelings are telling you one thing, the lessons that have been drilled into you since you could read say the opposite. This conflict only grows stronger when introducing a potential love interest who seems to understand you better than you know yourself. That is the experience for Lucas (Paulo Sousa) in Cousins (Primos) who has his world altered by the arrival of a distant family member.
When Lucas’ Aunt invites a distant relative to live with them for a few weeks after his release from prison, Lucas is skeptical. A criminal in his home sounds less than ideal but when Mario (Thiago Cazado) arrives the two hit it off immediately. While Lucas is reserved at first he soon begins to open up and their relationship grows from friends to something more passionate. While dealing with his growing feelings for Mario, Lucas also has an undesired admirer in Julia (Duda Esteves) a member of his prayer circle who isn’t shy in showing her affection. As Lucas and Mario bond further, will their secret relationship cause problems with his highly religious Aunt and friends?
What first stands out while watching Cousins (Primos) is the incredible camerawork and cinematography. Set mostly in the family home of Lucas and his Aunt, so much work is put into creating a building sense of tension between both Lucas and Mario. Shots in mirror reflections, through doorways and with characters off centre framing help create a strong sense of longing as though catching coy glimpses of each other without revealing their true intentions. Couple this with great uses of lighting during a particular night scene and the film overall is a visual treat throughout that is able to maneuver between dreamlike and reality with ease.
However it is the performances from lead actors Thiago Cazado as Mario and Paulo Sousa as Lucas that really sell this relationship. Starting off as extremely shy, Lucas slowly opens up thanks to Mario’s incredible charm and that is infectious to watch. The two are opposites in their life experiences but that only fascinates them. Lucas is enthralled by Mario’s story of youth and exploring his sexuality at a young age while Mario finds Lucas’ incredible musical talent hypnotising. The two are almost made for each other in the way they so easily fall for each other and it feels a privilege to watch.
While the passion between Lucas and Mario is certainly a big part of this film, there are some great moments of humour which really help vary the experience. Whether it is the way that Mario teases Lucas about his secret admirer Julia, or the way in which Julia herself appears at his bedroom at the most unfortunate of times, directors Mauro Carvalho and Thiago Cazado have been able to blend humour intelligently throughout their story. Not only that but they have tackled some tough questions with regards to how religion can affect young gay men when they are growing up. It’s a difficult subject to face and they have been able to do so with care that not only allows for a satisfying conclusion but doesn’t paint any singular person as the enemy.
Cousins (Primos) does a good job of tackling a number of issues in this way, whether religion, sexuality or the treatment of ex-felons and they are all done so in a manner which respects their importance. It’s hard to find a film which is clearly so compassionate and filled with characters who love and care for each other so it’s to be commended that such a feat was achieved in an altogether enjoyable cinematic experience.