Why can't American filmmakers produce a great gay love story? That question is prompted by "Tremulous/Tremulo," pretty much a perfect depiction of desire, eroticism and romantic occasion by Mexican filmmaker Roberto Fiesco.
This 20-minute short, part of the new DVD package of five gay films simply titled Mexican Men (TLA Releasing), confirms the underreported news that the best recent gay romantic movies have come from Mexico. "Tremulous" tells a beautifully basic story about Carlo (Benny Emmanuel) and Julio (Axel Arenas) who come together to end loneliness, answer an urge for empathy and their discovery of spiritual fulfillment.
Set in a barbershop, "Tremulous" describes the tension of the young men's aroused sentiments using the same gender-specific, testosterone-filled space that was made iconic--and erotic--in the opening scenes of Full Metal Jacket and the Steve Scott-Lee Ryder porn film A Few Good Men featuring men getting their hair buzzed. More than a military ritual, it mixes human vulnerability with pheromones from masculine presence and freshly mown follicles; maleness shorn to its essence.
Brooding solider Julio and smiling, boyish shop porter Carlos are appealing in contrasting ways (gorgeous and handsome as captured in kissable close-ups by the great cinematographer Alejandro Cantu), but Fiesco understands their need for something deeper than momentary magnetism. They share a sandwich as well as an afterhours shave and horseplay. It's a full-out romantic fantasy--complete with a bare-chested invitation to dance--breaking through barriers of coyness and class. And Fiesco's focus on that intimacy makes the story of their attraction, a realization of each man's full humanity--a love story.
In the United States, gay filmmakers usually forsake the personal aspects of gay relations for political point-making. Some perversity among American independent directors causes them to be rhetorical, not sensual or emotional. (Even Brokeback Mountain, a gay story told from the outside, was primarily a sociological argument while Todd Haynes's Carol, Velvet Goldmine were sensually bland and emotionally remote.) But Fiesco narrates Carlos and Julio's tale through their physical movements; meaning is found in their eyes. From their eyes to ours, it is irresistible cinema.
Four other shorts in Mexican Men are by Mexico's greatest director Julian Hernandez. "Floating Clouds" uses a swimming pool metaphor to explore symbiosis in homophobia; the submerged fear and the emergence of brotherhood. As known from such award-winning features as Broken Sky and RagingSun,Raging Sky, Hernandez combines vivid cinematic form with musical counterpoint. His newest work uses that style for daring insight.
Provocatively titled "Young Man on the Bar, Masturbating with Rage and Nerve/ Muchacho en la Barra se Masturba con Rabia y Osadia," Hernandez's short is a bold documentary experiment--adding journalism to his usual dramatic poetry. He explores the go-go boy phenomenon through Cristhian Rodriquez, a small-town kid who goes to the big city, Mazatlan. Through stripping and hustling he overcomes his own homophobic ideas about effeminacy and masculinity. Self-acceptance leads to his artistic pursuit of dance--a parallel with Hernandez' own interest in the art of dance as shown in his previous feature I Am Happiness on Earth (ccoincidentally titled after Joachim Witt's song "Ich bin das Gluck dieser Erde" that inspired the project Fassbinder planned after Querelle).
Muchacho is Hernandez's Querelle, mixing real-life gay aspiration (the desperation of hustling) with romantic fantasy. Hernandez's doc corrects the naive sadism of Shirley Clarke's infamous Portrait of Jason by eloquent layering of interview footage with intensely colored, almost dreamlike, imagery of sexual misadventures.
In Christian Braad Thomsen's recent doc Fassbinder: Love Without Demands, the late great director German is asked what he thinks of how homosexuality is depicted in film. After a long, exasperated sigh, Fassbinder said "Always in the wrong way. You can't satisfy every group in society. Neither homosexuals nor heterosexuals. You can only do [that] incorrectly. Homosexuality [itself] is not a topic for [cinema]. The topic is the identity of an individual. How he creates this. That has to do with what Genet says. And I agree with him that...you need to double yourself."
Hernandez doubles himself in the new film's curiosity about the extremes of gay life--from raunch to romance--as when Cristhian hooks-up with a john, portrayed in an iris-frame shot by Jeronimo Garcia-Rodriquez. It's both voyeurism and a commemoration of gay desire. Go-go boy Cristhian Rodriquez may not be an ideal figure (though he is an idealized type) but his Fassbinder-style search for love without demands shows a new style for Hernandez. It's also a love story about self-realization which makes this 22 minute short a masterpiece of daring.