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Abrázame como antes: Queer love as care and compassion towards society’s exiled


Costa Rica is a relatively safe haven in the region for migrants fleeing the North Triangle, including LGBTQ+ people. Costa Rican film Abrázame como antes (Hold Me Like Before), which looks at sex work in Costa Rica, maternal care, and compassion, is part of the New Central American Cinema season at the Garden Cinema in London.

It is another warm, late night in San José. Verónica and fellow sex workers embark on another night of business as usual, getting into strangers’ cars to drive away. Suddenly, something unexpected happens: Verónica and her friend have jumped into a car with two clients and the car hits a homeless person on the road. The client who is at the wheel tries to flee before the police arrive. But Verónica gets out of the car, determined to assist the person they have just run over. 

After ensuring that the young man has not suffered major injuries, Verónica takes him home to look after him, acting maternally.

Costa Rican director Jurgen Ureña intentionally avoids portraying the world of sex work in San José as a dark, negative underworld. Instead, he uses natural lighting and captures a sense of calmness and joy in the everyday life of sex workers, making the scenes feel authentic and not overly dramatised. The film goes on to tell the story of how Verónica looks after this young man about whom she —and the audience— knows very little, but whom she has invited into her home. 

The film, through this relationship, sheds light on the issues of love, desire, and ageing in a context in which survival depends on being captivating to the gaze of men.

Verónica, played by Jimena Franco, is the main character in Jurgen Ureña’s Abrázame como antes

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The tale of this unlikely pair is based on one of a collection of real urban chronicles written by Chilean-Costa Rican author Tatiana Lobo in her novel, Candelaria del azar. Verónica’s story is real and it is not singular.

Director Jurgen Ureña notes that trans women engaged in sex work are among the thousands of migrants who come to Costa Rica from neighbouring capital cities like Tegucigalpa, San Salvador, and Managua seeking a safer haven to do sex work in relative peace. Costa Rica recently joined the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), signalling the country’s ascension to the major democracies and economies in the world, along with Chile, Colombia, and Mexico in Latin America. In recent years, in Central America, millions of people have left the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, fleeing poverty, violence, and other hardships. This region has the highest reported rates of murders against LGBTQ+ people in the world

Among the attendees of the screening at London’s Garden Cinema, followed by a Q&A with the director, was the Ambassador of Costa Rica to the United Kingdom, HE Mr. Rafael Ortiz Fábrega. The attendance of the ambassador shows Costa Rica’s openness and its status as one of the most progressive countries in Central America.

The altar in Verónica’s home. Abrázame como antes

However, alongside depicting this progressiveness, the film shows how many queer —and especially transgender— people experience the pain of being devoted Catholics and deeply religious people who are still not accepted by the church. Director Jurgen Ureña reminds us that Verónica, in real life, despite the icons, religious imagery, and altars of the Virgin Mary and other Patron Saints she decorates her home with, was banned from entering church on Sundays in San José, Costa Rica. Her homemade altar which overlooks Tato at night is a testament to her religious principles of love and compassion. 

The screening is part of the New Central American series running from 4 May to 11 June at the Garden Cinema, showing a selection of contemporary films from Central America in London. Full details of the festival can be found here.

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