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Nobody’s Watching Confuses Gay & Immigrant Status

Nobody's Watching

Nobody’s Watching (Nadie nos mira) adds uncertainty to the current debate over immigration. Nico (Guillermo Pfening), a gay telenovela star, has left his native Argentina for New York City, hoping for riches and fame but winds up shoplifting and playing babysitter to the infant of immigrant yuppies. He changes diapers in the playground among a gossipy group of female nannies who aren’t sure if they know him from TV. This black and brown, dark-hair gaggle is always on the look-out for ICE immigration agents, but blond, Caucasian Nico gets by. He not only takes male privilege for granted but he also enjoys his gay male liberty, biking through Chelsea and hooking-up whenever he wants—which is infrequently. He’s a sexual refugee.

Nobody’s Watching vacillates between being an immigration sob story or a treatise on gay freedom. Writer-director Julia Solomonoff seems to equate the two subjects which reveals her knee-jerk political bent, but it also impairs her storytelling.

Nico takes the low-wage jobs that radicals say unemployed American citizens don’t want and he competes in an audition pool with other American-born actors. It is only after going through the same pathetic routines of such open-borders films as the dreary Man Push Cart that Solomonoff belatedly gets to the point of what erotic opportunities America offers.

Using sex as a metaphor for free choice, Nobody’s Watching touches on Nico’s self-awareness. His life is spent before TV cameras and at the periphery of security cameras like The Truman Show—as if he always lives under other peoples’ rules. But this dated perspective on queer life takes on the sentimentality that Liberals suspiciously use to hide their contempt for the sexual, ethnic, refugee Other. (The condescension Nico suffers from his babysitting bosses who maintain strict division between service and elite classes—almost tells a second story about the greedy selfishness of American parvenus.)

That’s why the long wait for the hot moment Nico meets his old telenovela boss (the salt-and-pepper hottie Rafael Ferro) at the airport where they hook-up in the men’s room. (Followed by Nico’s debauch at a red-lighted sex club in the style of Michael Fassbinder in Steve McQueen’s sexphobic Shame.)

Solomonoff seems reluctant to explore the motivations of a vain actor who cannot manage his own ambition. In this way, Nico recalls Warren Beatty’s hairdresser in Shampoo and Nick Nolte’s on-the-go actor-divorce in I’ll Do Anything—definitive portraits of the indecisive, try-sexual male who looks for independence yet doesn’t quite know what to do with it. Since Nico nears middle-age this looks like failure.

Just when he begins to show backbone, returning to Argentina, pretending affluence and telling-off his manipulative bisexual boss, one’s interest in his gay self-acceptance—despite others’ suspicions and without their approval—is piqued yet goes unsatisfied.

Nico isn’t a particularly likable figure but Solomonoff portrays him in a manner that gays and immigrants need to be wary of as sheer patronization. Nico doesn’t have the autonomy of a bold gay hero like Cillian Murphy’s Kitten in Breakfast on Pluto. Turning sympathy into pity should be the last thing an immigrant wants. Reducing Nico’s independence to his sexual activity neglects his participation in FDR’s Four Freedoms (freedom of speech; freedom of worship; freedom from want; freedom from fear).

An incomplete character, Nico doesn’t search for any of those blessings. He comes to the United States selfish and greedy. Solomonoff neglects to show him following Mark Twain’s advice to “Dance like nobody’s watching; love like you’ve never been hurt. Sing like nobody’s listening; like it is heaven on earth.

Tags: Armond White

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