Three of the Year's Best Films So Far Are Queer
Argentina, Brazil, and France over the past several months have served up some rather hard-hitting, astutely directed films, each with a distinguishable personality, each exploring varied aspects of the homosexual in modern times. Although, surprisingly, their plot lines, all situated in the now, wouldn’t feel out of place in several other decades with just a few alterations.
The Blond One (Un Rubio) is Marco Berger's sixth feature, no doubt the reason for its assured unhurriedness and its ability to make the most commonplace conversations (e.g. "Was it you who fixed the bathroom tap?") and actions (e.g. drinking yerba mate) rife with tension.
The simple setup has the amber-locked Gabriel (Gaston Re) subletting a room from his co-worker Juan (Alfonso Barón) in the suburbs of Buenos Aires. They, both hard-bodied and in their thirties, are employed in a wood-cutting factory. Gabo, as he's called, is a widower with a young daughter in the second grade. She lives with his parents in the country.
The brunet Juan, an unequaled womanizer, has numerous guy pals popping in regularly for beer chats and to watch soccer games on TV. When not ranting about their machismo conquests, one chap might spout, "I'd kick this dyke's butt so hard she'd be flying over Buenos Aires" or "weak fathers bring up queer sons."
How come then, as the days and night swiftly fly by, is Juan adjusting his crotch in front of his new roomie, posing at the door, and walking about nude in the hallway, especially after his female conquests have left?
What follows is a half hour of one of the most erotic seductions you have experienced in filmdom. The innocent Gabo is confused but seemingly intrigued. Is he himself gay? He certainly waters plants a lot. But as Juan appears to be moving in for the kill, pouncing to and fro like a boxer ready for the kill, the blond seems to be looking forward to being KO'd.
Finally, there's the touch of the crotch with one daring finger, a few more digits go past the waistband, and so forth. A night of passion arrives, but what follows is never quite what you might expect. Was Gabo just a conquest? Can Juan commit?
As John Lennon, among others, have noted:
"Life is what happens to us while you're busy making other plans."
Differentiating this tale of two guys searching for completeness within each other, besides its several unexpected twists and its Argentinian take on homophobia, is the stellar acting by Re, Barón, and the rest of the cast, plus the finesse of the production.
Clearly, these last few years have been a robust time for imposing LGBTQI moviemaking, and writer/director/editor Berger, with his deliberately observant scenes that are often unafraid to be dialogue free and that are all beautifully shot by Nahuel Berger, has extended this blissful run. His message? A subtle take on "Come out, come out, wherever you are."
Alexandre Moratto's feature debut, Socrates, which was created in conjunction with the UNICEF-supported Querô Institute in Brazil, a non-profit that aids teens from low-income communities through filmmaking. With a crew of 16 to 20 year olds, which includes the co-writer Thayná Mantesso, you're not surprised then by the overpowering vistas of the slums of Sao Paolo as depicted and the aching emotions they provoke.
The film, which made an impressive showing at this year's Indie Spirit Awards, including nominations for Best Male Lead and the John Cassavetes Award, immediately opens with the death of the mother of 15-year-old Socrates (Christian Malheioros). From that moment on, we can only hope the young man’s tale will avoid high tragedy, causing him to follow in the steps of his namesake.
But how can Socrates earn a living when the minimum age for hiring is 18? Will he be evicted? How can he avoid being sent to a home? Where is his next meal coming from? Will the young man he falls in love with respond in same? Why is Socrates avoiding contact with father? What is it to be young and gay in a religious, heteronormative society with absolutely no one trustworthy to lend a helping hand?
To reveal more is to ruin your "Socratic" experience. This brave little film, a tale of an uncomprehending hero whose every step seemingly is a misstep, is not unlike the best offerings of Italian neorealism of the post-war years. Socrates rubs all of your senses raw. Malheioros and Tales Ordakji, who plays his love interest, are quite extraordinary as is Moratto's helming.
There's been quite a few memorable films about male prostitution. John Schlesinger's Midnight Cowboy (1969), Paul Morrisey's Trash (1970), and Greg Araki's Mysterious Skin are prime examples. Joining their ranks is writer/director Camille Vidal-Naquet's Sauvage.
Félix Maritaud, who was last seen on these shores as a French AIDS activist in BPM (Beat Per Minute) (2017), plays Leo, a 22-year-old hapless street prostitute, who's looking for love in all the wrong places. Basically illiterate, a habitual drug user, often homeless, he's surprised when a doctor says he should change his ways. "Why would I?" he wonders aloud.
As Leo wanders the streets, with his winsome looks, like a battered kitten left to fend for himself, we meet the young man's clientele, a cornucopia of gents showcasing the fact that some homosexuals can be bastards like anyone else, while others can give St. Francis of Assisi a run for his money. Or didn't we know that already?
The film is erotic, shocking, tender, brutal, funny, and bears repeated viewings. Four times so far for me. Just watch Leo cuddle up with a septuagenarian widower while a photo of the man's wife looks on kindly. Then there's the barbaric gay couple trying to stiff our hero of his wages after violating him brutally. And so forth. Sex for survival. Sex for bliss.
After screening all three, you can't but wonder whether Leo's back story is Socrates' future, or whether either of these young men will ever meet a Gabriel, who will cherish them, hopefully before they are too broken to love him back.
(The Blond One is ended a week's run in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Music Hall on September 12th. Socrates is now on DVD and VOD. Sauvage/Wild has also made it onto DVD.)