There perhaps hasn't been that many films to blow your socks off at Berlinale so far this year, but Alex Anwandter's
Definitely proving to be yet another example of how great contemporary South American cinema can be, this promising debut feature also creates a very interesting take on a Chilean LGBT story set in Santiago, the city where Anwandter was born. This accomplished new director introduces us to Pablo, a bold gay lad who is just beginning to blossom into his own identity as an out-going dancer and performer.
Occasionally this flowering youth experiments with drag, and there is one beautiful scene where he shuts himself into his rose-tinted bedroom and tries on a striking sequin dress. Looking every inch like a teenage girl, he clutches a pulsating, electric blue light stick and mimes the words to his favourite songs. That is, of course, until his dad comes home (it's always until the parents come home). Santiago's sometimes small-minded mentality doesn't seem able to deal with Pablo's choices, and as a result he is driven into the company of accepting younger kids and one assiduously doting friend called Mari.
In fact, Anwandter's film very much depicts two different worlds colliding. Against the bird-of-paradise world which Pablo creates, the film's outer world seems decidedly drab, and this seems to be an impression that is very skilfully crafted by the emerging director. In contrast to Pablo's bedroom, the film's settings seem carefully chosen for their pale, beige qualities and straight-forward layouts. These bright scenes are often accentuated too, shot from a long or middle distance, meaning they hit you in the face like big, deep, bright, whitish strips of oppressive 2:40:1 normality.
This overhanging theme of an almost lacquered normality is also reinforced by the fact that Pablo's father Juan is deeply invested in the world of a mannequin factory, where we repeatedly oversees others as they try to achieve a supposedly perfect bodily shape and skin tone. It is against this daunting backdrop that we see Pablo furtively rooting around with one of his closeted neighbours Felix, and it's some pretty intense fooling around they do too, what with their sex scenes sometimes feeling like the characters are humping each other across the fourth wall.
Though sexuality almost always comes in snatched, fragmented flashbacks in this movie, making it never fully clear if what we're seeing is just the return of fond, silenced memories or actually an on-going act of supposed transgression that splices its way into the everyday life of the city. Plus the film's look at the gay experience in Chile isn't as clichéd as some of this might make it sound.
We don't simply see a gay son shunned by overly Catholic parents -- after all, Pablo's mother seems mysteriously absent throughout this film -- and it's not just another movie about a man who comes out by being overly flamboyant either. The relationship between Pablo and his retiring father Juan is incredibly complex and Juan seems to position himself somewhere between wilfull ignorance and genuine despair at not knowing how to relate to his son.
What's more, the film is about much more than just a family split across a hetero/homosexual divide. These two generations both represent very specific sides to Chilean society, with Pablo embodying a wave of doubters who struggle with modern Chile, whilst Juan is one of the old guard who bought the capitalist dream hook, line and sinker. This doesn't stop them from loving each other though, and the message that their connection can exist across a sexual and generational divide is clear even if Juan's workaholic nature does sometimes cause him to be distant.
So it is very much only when Pablo's world collides with the bristling, strapping machismo of a number of the other young boys in the neighbourhood that issues really arise. And these moments arrive with a truly unforgiving flourish of violence, which time and time again are underscored wonderfully by these swelling bits of lachrymose trumpet music that really help set the tone for the film's tragedy.
No doubt this story cuts deeply to core of issues of homophobia in Chile too, because Anwandter was loosely inspired to make this film by a horrific attack that shocked much of South America in 2012. This terrible incident saw an openly gay Chilean man be assaulted by a group of neo-Nazis, and that is sadly not far from what we brutally see and hear in this film.
The performances that Sergio Hernández delivers after this awful attack demonstrate real talent acting as he slowly transforms into a shuddering and bumbling figure of rage who seems to be betrayed at every turn. We see him let down legally, medically, romantically and professionally as he tries to do right by his son, and Juan is left facing some terrible choices. It is only then in the final minutes of this brilliant film that the true significance of this film's title, receives a dark twist, one that viewers should definitely try to see for themselves.