If you’ve watched more than just “the classics,” you know that some lesbian films need a minute or 20 to find their groove. That’s certainly the case for new film Bruising for Besos, the first feature-length effort from writer-director Adelina Anthony, who also stars in the movie. If for nothing else, you should consider watching this film for what makes it unique: the LA Latina lesbians at its center, and its willingness to tackle domestic violence in the lesbian community.
Anthony plays Yoli, a butch Xicana lesbian who’s as playful with her art as she is with her women. She may not be the best girlfriend, but she is a good friend. Lucky for her, because it’s at her surprise birthday party that she meets and falls for Daña (Carolyn Zeller), an intriguing Puerto Rican nurse. But Daña’s heard of Yoli’s reputation and she’s not having any of it. At first.
While Yoli comes off very strong with the flirting (like really laying it on thick), eventually she does wear Daña down. After an intense car makeout session that a cop interrupts (ugh, buzzkill!), they end up in bed together, as they will multiple times throughout the film. This definitely isn’t a movie that shies away from passionate lesbian sex scenes, even if they don’t necessarily move the story forward. Hey, I’m not complaining!
Their chemistry aside, after their first night together, Daña panics. It turns out she’s really religious and has a lot of issues around shame. Yet for some reason, she thinks she and Yoli can just be friends. Yoli’s willing to go along with idea, no doubt because she thinks she can change Daña’s mind. And she does–at least momentarily.
By this point, Yoli is falling for Daña, but she hasn’t completely lost her old ways. For instance, there’s her hot new coworker who constantly flirts with her, her ex who’s still somewhat in the picture and the woman her friends actually wanted to set her up with at the party. The most complicated of all, however, has got to be Carmela (Natalie Camunas), girlfriend to her best friend, Rani (performance artist D’Lo), and a former flame of hers.
Yoli’s just a complicated person in general, though, which is absolutely understandable given her history. She spent most of her early years in an abusive household, having lived with a father who beat and cheated on her mom. Several of these memories are recreated in the film through Yoli’s puppets, which she’s working on for a competition. But for the audience, they serve a much more important role: they’re a view into a past Yoli is trying to but can’t run away from.
Daña has her own daddy issues, but they’re very different. Her dad’s always been deaf and has long since had a rough go at things. Now older, he has some serious health problems. As a result, Daña’s even more reluctant to come out because of everything he’s been through.
Still, that doesn’t stop her from admitting she’s falling in love with Yoli, or Yoli from doing the same. But there’s a lot of insecurity and jealousy there from both sides and things do eventually come to a head.
When Daña’s dad has another health scare and she gets distant, Yoli goes to her, only to find a male nurse at the house. She confronts her somewhat aggressively in tone, but it’s Daña who hits her. In an instant, all that family history races through Yoli’s mind.
Are there apologies? Of course there are. Is the violence only physical? Of course it’s not. Theirs is a volatile relationship, not all that unlike many in our communities. The difference is Bruising for Besos dares to talk about it.
Now, who’s willing to listen?