While interviewing Corey Sherman about his film Big Boys he mentioned how much he loved the film Cachorro, or Bear Cub, and how much it influenced him and his soon to be classic (in my opinion) coming of age film.
Initially I panicked. I felt absolutely stricken for missing one of the few movies specifically dedicated to bears. I immediately hunted down a copy from eBay and upon receiving it, promptly sat myself down to watch it. I realized that I had indeed seen it, or at least a good portion of it, but it had been a long, long time ago. So, it was due for a rewatch. Which got me thinking, how has the film held up since its release in 2004? Let’s get into it. Spoilers ahead if you have not seen it.
Cachorro, co-written and directed by Miguel Albaladejo, tells the story of Pedro, a single gay dentist with a very active sex life living in Madrid, Spain. As a favor to his ‘hippie’ sister Violeta, he agrees to look after her nine-year-old son, his nephew, Bernardo while she takes a trip to India with her new boyfriend. Pedro rearranges his social life to accommodate his nephew and the two slowly fall into a routine together. Disaster strikes when Violeta and her boyfriend are arrested for drug smuggling and Pedro is left to look after Bernardo for an indeterminable period of time.
Enter Doña Teresa, Bernardo’s paternal grandmother who caught wind of where her grandson was and went to Madrid in order to spend some time with him. Until then she had rarely seen the child. Blaming Violeta for her son’s death, Teresa and her former daughter-in-law never saw eye to eye and so Bernardo was not really a part of the woman’s life. With Violeta away, Doña Teresa saw her chance to be a part of her grandson’s life, at any cost.
Meanwhile, Pedro and Bernardo continued to bond with each other and become more like father and son as opposed to uncle and nephew. Eventually, Pedro’s best friend Javi arranges a surprise party for Pedro and all his friends in the local Madrid bear scene. Preoccupied with taking care of Bernardo, he had dropped out of his former social circle and this was a way to reunite everyone and to introduce Bernardo to everyone at once.
Soon after that, frustrated by Bernardo’s unwillingness to spend time with her, Doña Teresa launched a custody battle against Pedro and threatened to expose the fact that he had HIV to his patients and the courts. Claiming she was acting in the best interest of her grandson; she proposed moving Bernardo into a boarding school closer to her but allowing for occasional visitation from Pedro. Backed into a corner, Pedro relents to her, breaking both his and Bernardo’s hearts. The two remain in contact until Teresa dies a few years later where a 14-year-old Bernardo is reunited with his uncle, this time for good.
After thinking it over, I feel the movie is very much a product of its time, but still holds up as a heartwarming and funny story overall. Of course, blackmailing someone over their HIV status was much more possible when the film initially came out, though no less heinous to see even now. Casting the hunky José Luis García Pérez as Pedro is problematic insofar as he’s a straight man playing a gay character. However, it’s an issue we still see to this day, so what could we possibly expect for 2004?!
As for the film’s portrayal of bears, this is where I think it really shines. The movie opens with Pedro kicking out two guys he just had a three way with in order to prepare for the arrival of his nephew. During the course of the movie, we also see him host a seemingly long-term play buddy, have a causal hookup in an airport bathroom and cruise for trade at the public park. Though not explicit, it was nice to see a somewhat sex positive portrayal of a studly bear doing his thing. I say somewhat because ultimately Doña Teresa tries and fails to use his sex life against him during their custody battle. Therefore, there are still potential ramifications presented for being a sexually active gay man in the movie, but I suppose all bets are off when dealing with custody proceedings…
For me, the scene where Pedro’s friends throw him a surprise party is the best. It brought me back to my partying days. The campy jabs back and forth, the singing, the dancing, it was just very joyful and reminded me of one of the highlights of what it means to be a part of the bear community. The best part though is that the men were all furry, chunky and a variety of ages; presenting a kind of physical representation still sorely lacking from both queer and mainstream cinema, which again, is impressive considering the time.
So, if you haven’t seen it, or it’s been ages since your last viewing, I recommend revisiting Cachorro (if you can track down a copy). We have so few films to call our own and this one definitely deserves our time, attention and love.