"Unforgivable" is a gritty yet moving award-winning film that lays bare homosexuality, toxic masculinity, violence, love and religion and how they intersect inside a Salvadorian prison. It follows 25-year-old Geovanny, a hardened tattoo-covered criminal who was part of a special "murder unit" within the gang where he was a member.
He is a cold-blooded killer, casually mentioning how he disemboweled someone and ate a bit of their heart. Currently serving time in prison, Geovanny is being punished for his crimes while also being a homosexual.
He tells his story, one marred by abuse, tragedy and violence. He joined the notorious 18th Street Gang at the tender age of 12 years old and, for the next decade, committed one heinous crime after another. It is later revealed he was brutally assaulted and abused by an older man as a very young child.
He admits that he was angry, wanting to fight and lash out. He then joined his "Mara", or gang. Mara means "my people" in Central American slang, and he found comfort and a certain amount of solace within the group.
Speaking from his cell inside the San Francisco Gotera prison in western El Salvador, Geovanny struggles to come to terms with who he is, specifically his sexuality and, of course, his violent past. Gotera is a bleak place; it is hot, dirty, squalid, and crowded. It is also full of "mareros" or gang members, primarily from 18th Street Mara and its bitter rivals, Mara Salvatrucha or MS-13.
It is also an evangelical prison where pastors are trying to convince the inmates to leave their gangs and convert into fundamental Christians. The church now runs the prison where they also preach that being homosexual is just as bad, or even worse, than being a murderer. It is also where he meets and falls in love with rival MS-13 gang member Steven.
They live in an isolated prison wing reserved for gay inmates. Mareros are not supposed to be gay; being one is a death sentence. Here, the director gives us an intimate close-up of what life is like for Geovanny, Steven, and their fellow cell block mates. There are scenes of quiet domesticity, like sewing prison uniforms, preparing a meal and the two having conversations and lounging about affectionately.
They discuss what has happened to them and what will happen if they are discovered. "I fell in love with him, and I would ask myself why this is happening if I am a gang member?" Geovanny plaintively asks.
It is plain to see that there will be no happy endings here. Geovanny, for his mental health, has decided to out himself to the prison officials and his family as he requests to be moved to a prison more accepting of people who identify as gay. Steven is not ready to come out. Ultimately, they will have to choose between love, faith and being true to themselves.
Directed by: Marlén Viñayo