Awards season just got a little more interesting with two of the excellent movies opening in Washington this week.
Nominated for the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, “Frankie” is helmed by queer filmmaker Ira Sachs (“Love Is Strange” and “Little Men”) and features a sublime performance by Isabelle Huppert, who was nominated for an Oscar in 2017 for her stunning work in the thriller “Elle.”
Huppert stars as Françoise Clemens, known as “Frankie” to her friends and family, a famous French actress who is dying of cancer. Since she does not expect to be alive by Christmas, she has gathered everyone together for a summer holiday at the historic beach resort of Sintra in Portugal.
Her extended family includes her first husband Michel Gagne (Paul Greggory) who came out after their divorce. Their petulant bisexual son Paul (Jérémie Renier) is about to leave Paris to start a new job in Manhattan.
Frankie lives in London with her second husband Jimmy (Brendan Gleeson). His daughter Sylvia (Vinette Robinson) is unhappily married to Ian (Ariyon Bakare); their daughter Maya (Sennia Nanua) feels torn between the two.
The party is rounded out by Ilene (Marisa Tomei), who has worked with Frankie on several films and is her best friend. She’s dating Gary (Greg Kinnear), a cameraman who’s on a break from the latest “Star Wars” movie which is being shot in Spain. There’s also Tiago Mirante (Carloto Cotta) who travels to Sintra every year to serve as a tour guide, despite the jealousies of his suspicious wife.
Working with co-screenwriter Mauricio Zacharias, Sachs weaves a series of casual encounters into a complex tapestry of emotions and relationships. Given the reason for the gathering, the overall mood is melancholic and somewhat Chekhovian (in the best possible way) as the characters discuss memories and regrets, dreams and plans and the timeless wonders of nature, love and art. The dialogue is always believable and naturalistic, even as certain phrases and objects begin to achieve rich symbolic values. There are also some delightful moments of comedy to lighten the proceedings.
Anchored by a luminescent performance by Huppert, the ensemble cast is splendid. Huppert’s work is a marvel of restraint. With a deliciously dry wit and just a few moments of vanity and drama (she is a famous actress after all), Frankie is approaching death with a minimum of sentiment and self-pity. With her pale, translucent skin and an amazing economy of movement, Huppert offers a powerful portrait of a woman whose body is failing her and who is slowly withdrawing from the world, whether she wants to or not.
Tomei is heart-breaking as Frankie’s best friend, a brave woman whose world suddenly turns upside down in the course of a day. Newcomer Nanua turns in a delicate and nuanced performance as Frankie’s granddaughter, easily holding the screen with more experienced actors. Gleeson and Greggory are also wonderful and the scene where they discuss Michel’s coming out is a highlight of the film.
Sachs’ color-saturated collaboration with cinematographer Rui Poças is stunning. They capture the many lovely vistas of Sintra with a vibrant flair and alternate between intimate close-ups and long shots with an startling depth of field to explore the intricacies of the compelling family drama. The long silent final sequence, the only time the entire principal cast is seen onscreen together, is a masterstroke by a major queer artist.
“Frankie” includes dialogue in French and Portuguese, but the subtitles are easy to read.
“Harriet” will undoubtedly be a significant contender at the major award shows this season. Directed by Kasi Lemmons (“Eve’s Bayou”) from a script by Lemmons and Gregory Allan Howard (“Ali”), the stirring cinematic epic is amazingly the full full-length feature to depict the life of the iconic African-American freedom fighter Harriet Tubman.
The film opens on the Brodess farm in Dorchester County, Md., in 1849, a sharp reminder that that the state of Maryland was south of the infamous Mason-Dixon line. Minty (later known as Harriet Tubman) learns that she is about to be sold to new owners in the South. Alone, but guided by visions, she makes the grueling trip across the Pennsylvania border into freedom.
In Philadelphia, entrepreneur Marie Buchanan (a powerful performance by Janelle Monáe) helps Harriet find a job, but Harriet decides to make the dangerous trip back to Maryland to free her husband. Working with William Still (Leslie Odom Jr.) of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, Harriet becomes a full-fledged conductor for the Underground Railroad, a member of the Union Army and a leader in the abolitionist movement.
Overall, the script is a sharp combination of action thriller and inspirational history lesson. It’s especially effective at showing the destructive impact of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, scenes that have an unsettling resonance with current events, and in depicting Gideon Brodess (Joe Alwyn) and his mother Eliza (Jennifer Nettles). Lemmons and Allen carefully avoid the standard tropes of melodrama and sentimentality in depicting the slave owners. Instead, they are shown as desperate capitalists for whom Harriet and her family are primarily figures in a ledger.
The acing is generally outstanding. Cynthia Erivo, who won the Tony Award for “The Color Purple” and was seen in “Widows” last year, is riveting as Harriet; her transformation from frightened runaway slave to fearless warrior is mesmerizing.
While “Harriet” has some significant flaws (the movie loses momentum toward the end and despite Erivo’s expressive performance the film never really captures Tubman’s inner life), it is a must-see for LGBT activists and freedom fighters of all kinds. With lush cinematography by John Toll and a vibrant score by Terence Blanchard, this is an experience to be savored with friends in a movie theater.
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Despite Hollywood strikes, a number of queer films, TV shows coming in fall
‘Rustin,’ ‘Nyad’ among season’s highlights
We’re not going to lie: the prospects for our fall entertainment (and beyond) are looking grimmer than usual, thanks to the strikes that have Hollywood’s writers and actors off the job for an indefinite chunk of the future. Sure, there are lots of titles that were in the can and ready to go before the talent walked off the set, but with no certain end date in sight and a union-mandated ban on participation in publicity efforts, much of the ready-to-go content remains in release-date limbo, while prospects for new material being produced anytime soon are pretty much nil.
Even so, we’ve managed to put together a solid list of titles that are officially on the slate for this autumn, and we think it will give you more than enough to look forward to while we all wait for the entertainment industry to cobble together some kind of mutually acceptable agreement that will allow it to get back to work.
The list, by release date, is below.
Cassandro, Sept. 15 (Theaters)/Sept. 22 (Prime Video)
Mexican actor Gael García Bernal, long a queer fan favorite thanks to his roles in films like “Y tu mamá también” and “Bad Education,” stars as the real-life Saúl Armendáriz, a gay amateur wrestler from El Paso who reinvents himself as the flamboyant title character and rises to international stardom as the “Liberace of Lucha Libre” – turning both the macho wrestling world and his own life upside down in the process. Acquired by Amazon even before its world premiere at this year’s Sundance Festival, this wild-and-wooly biopic was directed by Roger Ross Williams, who became the first African-American director to win an Oscar for his 2009 short film “Music by Prudence,” and it has all the earmarks of a “must-see.” Also starring Roberta Colindrez, Perla de la Rosa, Joaquín Cosío, and Raúl Castillo, with special appearances from El Hijo del Santo and Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio (aka Bad Bunny, for those who didn’t know).
Sex Education, Season 4, Sept. 21 (Netflix)
The cast of this runaway UK hit has come a long way since the series debuted in 2019, with the imminent debut of breakout star Ncuti Gatwa as the new titular Time Lord of the venerable cult sci-fi series “Dr. Who” and his appearance, alongside co-stars Emma Mackey and Connor Swindells, in Greta Gerwig’s blockbuster hit “Barbie,” but that’s not enough to keep the whole student body from reuniting for a final season as they join fellow headliners Asa Butterfield and Gillian Anderson to wrap up the deliciously scandalous storylines that have made this good-natured dramedy about life and sexual discovery in a rural English secondary school a favorite for queer and straight audiences alike. Besides taking us along with its irresistible cast of misfits on a new set of adventures, it features “Schitt’s Creek” star and co-creator Dan Levy in special appearance as a new character – but even without that extra icing on the cake, we would have been ready to click “watch now” the second this one drops. If you’re already a fan, you don’t need our endorsement to bring you on board; if you’re not, we advise you to do a catch-up binge on seasons 1-3 in time to join the rest of us as we enjoy the final batch of episodes from this refreshing, queer-embracing, sex-positive slice of saucy absurdity.
American Horror Story: Delicate, Sept. 21 (FX/Hulu)
The 12th season of Ryan Murphy’s now-venerable and uncompromisingly queer horror anthology series has been, like the preceding installments, shrouded in mystery – though the inclusion of reality star Kim Kardashian in a starring capacity has garnered much publicity, and not a little controversy, due to skepticism about her acting chops. Despite these misgivings, it’s still probably one of the most anticipated entries on this list, the return of a queer fan favorite that – while it may have a reputation for uneven quality, haphazard storytelling, and fizzling out before it reaches the end – continues to draw the kind of audience numbers that has made it a tentpole autumn TV staple for a dozen years and counting. Sure, it’s a guilty pleasure, but we all have our share of those, and when they come in as slick and stylish a package as this elegantly garish and unapologetically campy pulp culture stalwart, who can resist? Also starring series veteran Emma Roberts, with fellow alums Zachary Quinto, Billie Lourd, Denis O’Hare, and Leslie Grossman also coming to the table, as well as Golden Globe winner Michaela Jaé Rodriguez and newcomer to the Murphy fold Matt Czuchry (“Gilmore Girls,” “The Good Wife”).
Dicks: The Musical, Oct. 6 limited/Oct. 20 wide (Theaters)
Comedy legend Larry Charles (“Seinfeld,” “Borat”) directed this outrageously titled and absurdly satirical farce, adapted by screenwriters and co-stars Aaron Jackson and Josh Sharp from a stage production they created as members of the Upright Citizen’s Brigade. The pair star as two self-obsessed, conspicuously heterosexual businessmen and very close friends who discover they are also long-lost identical twins, sparking a “riotously funny and depraved” plot to reunite their eccentric divorced parents (Nathan Lane, Megan Mullally). Also starring Megan Thee Stallion and Bowen Yang (as God, no less), and teasing the kind of campy, transgressive vibe that marks all the true classics of underground queer cinema, the press for this one touts it as “a queer, hard-R musical comedy which may very well additionally be a future midnight-movie classic.” Frankly, that’s more than enough to earn it a place on our not-to-be-missed list.
Eismayer, Oct. 6 (Theaters/Oct. 10 Digital)
Fans of queer foreign movies can look forward to this Austrian entry, an award-winner at Venice and other prestigious film festivals, from director David Wagner. Gerhard Liebmann stars in the title role, a legendary real-life drill instructor in the Austrian Armed Forces; renowned for his brutal toughness and his uber-macho image, he leads a double life of anonymous sexual encounters with men behind his wife’s back, but when an openly gay new recruit (Luka Dimić) challenges both his authority and his rigid ideas about masculinity, he finds himself drawn into a relationship that will leave “his closeted existence shaken to the core.” A boot camp drama that challenges toxic traditional conceptions of what it means to “be a man” – especially one that is based on a true story – is always welcome, and this one comes with a substantial amount of praise to recommend it. Also starring Julia Koschitz and Anton Noori, it might not be “feel-good” entertainment, but the buzz says it’s worth seeking out for anyone with a taste for raw and uncompromising cinema.
The Matthew Shepard Story: An American Hate Crime, Oct. 9 (ID Discovery)
Just in time for the 25th anniversary of his death, Investigation Discovery premieres a new documentary honoring Matthew Shepard’s life and legacy, featuring interviews from Matthew’s friends and allies, as well as local journalists and community members, and commentary from key celebrity voices deeply affected by Matthew’s tragic story, including Rosie O’Donnell, Andrew Rannells and Adam Lambert. Considered one of the worst anti-LGBTQ hate crimes in American history, Matthew’s shocking murder captured America’s attention and became a turning point in the fight for queer rights, jump-starting a long-overdue conversation about the discrimination, danger, and violence that many LGBTQ Americans face – especially in rural communities – every day, and if we’re being honest, there’s been no shortage of documentaries about it. Even so, this one, which benefits from the perspective granted by time and also casts attention on the progress society has made toward queer acceptance (as well as the work that still need to be done), promises to offer the kind of scope that gives it a relevance beyond simply lamenting the unjust cruelty perpetrated against a young gay man who – like all martyrs – became an unwilling touchstone in the eternal fight against bigotry, bullying, and brutality fueled by hate.
Candela, Oct. 10 (Digital)
Another international offering with a somewhat more exotic premise, this festival-acclaimed thriller co-produced by France and the Dominican Republic is set in the city of Santo Domingo, where the fates of three strangers – a privileged young high society woman, a lonely and alcoholic police lieutenant, and a charismatic cabaret drag performer – are entwined by the death of a young poet and drug dealer on the eve of an advancing hurricane. Directed by Andrés Farías Cintrón and touted as “a Caribbean pop movie,” it’s been noted by advance reviewers for its stunning imagery and visual style, its offbeat and captivating characters, and an “edge-of-your seat” suspenseful plot full of meticulously-crafted twists and turns. Starring Cesar Domínguez, Félix Germán, Sarah Jorge León, Ruth Emeterio, Frank Perozo, Yamile Scheker, and Katherine Montes, you won’t find this one at your local multiplex, but it should be well worth the handful of clicks it takes to queue it up on your VOD platform of choice.
Anatomy of a Fall, Oct. 13 (Theaters)
French filmmaker Justine Triet’s (“Sibyl”) latest film was entered as a competitor for the Queer Palm at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, but it ended up taking the festival’s top prize, the prestigious Palme d’Or. Publicized as “a Hitchcockian procedural,” it centers on a German writer (Sandra Hüller) accused of murdering her French husband, who must prove her innocence at trial with only the testimony of her blind son – the sole witness – to back up her claims. Hüller’s performance has won raves, and the film was a hit when it went to general release this summer in its native France (only “Barbie” topped it at the box office); as for details about the nature of the movie’s queer relevance, you’ll have to find out the details firsthand, because advance press on this side of the Atlantic has remained scrupulously spoiler-free, though Triet has revealed that she drew inspiration from the case of Amanda Knox, who was notoriously accused of murdering her roommate during a trip to Italy. Our verdict is that it will be worth the effort.
Nyad, Oct. 20 (Theaters/Nov. 5 Netflix)
Billed as “a remarkable true story of tenacity, friendship and the triumph of the human spirit,” this high-profile biopic stars four-time Academy Award nominee Annette Bening as marathon swimmer Diana Nyad, who, three decades after exchanging the life of a world-class athlete for a prominent career as a sports journalist, becomes obsessed with becoming the first person to complete the 110-mile journey from Cuba to Florida – known as as the “Mount Everest” of swims – without a shark cage. The screenplay by Julia Cox is adapted from Nyad’s own memoir (“Find a Way”), two Oscar-winning documentarians (Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, responsible for the popular and acclaimed “Free Solo”) make their narrative film debut at the helm, and Bening is joined onscreen by two-time Oscar-winner Jodie Foster as her best friend and coach. What else could anyone ask for in a strong, inspirational piece of lesbian-themed filmmaking? Count us in.
Rustin, Nov. 3 (Theaters/Nov. 17 Netflix)
Probably the most high-profile piece of queer filmmaking of the upcoming season is this biopic about the gay Black architect of 1963’s world-changing March on Washington, Bayard Rustin. Starring Emmy-winner Colman Comingo in the title role and helmed by five-time Tony-winning director George C. Wolfe, this ambitious fictionalized portrait of an extraordinary, history-making queer hero shines a long overdue spotlight on a man who, alongside giants like the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., Adam Clayton Powell Jr., and Ella Baker, dreamed of a better world and inspired a movement by marching. Notably, it also comes from Higher Ground, a production company founded by Barack and Michelle Obama, and its August premiere at the Telluride Film Festival resulted in a 100% (so far) approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes from the critics who were there to see it. Besides the powerfully charismatic Domingo, the film features an all-star cast including Chris Rock, Glynn Turman, Aml Ameen, Gus Halper, CCH Pounder, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Johnny Ramey, Michael Potts, and special appearances from Jeffrey Wright and Audra McDonald.
‘Funny Girl’ at 55: still ‘gorgeous’
Pay attention to the love and craftsmanship that William Wyler put in
It’s a paradox that the Hollywood system, which spent decades erasing anything that seemed remotely “queer” from its product, could also be responsible for one of the most essential movies in the queer film canon – but it was.
It could be considered even more remarkable this could have happened with a movie utterly devoid of explicit (or even implied) queer content – and still, it did.
Of course, the movie we’re talking about – “Funny Girl,” which celebrates the 55th anniversary of its release on Sept. 19 – did feature Barbra Streisand, but while the multi-hyphenate megastar may have had her share of queer fans before the film was made, it was her stunning big screen reprisal of the Broadway role she had originated that was arguably responsible for turning her into a queer icon in the first place.
Revisiting the film today, it’s impossible not to recognize the absolute, world-shifting power of Streisand’s performance. In playing real-life Ziegfeld star Fanny Brice onstage she had found the perfect match of performer to material; like Brice, she was a talented “ugly duckling” with Jewish immigrant roots and a determination to achieve her dreams, and the obvious parallels in their backgrounds — combined with her remarkable gifts as a singer and actress, of course — brought enough authority and authenticity to her performance to literally make her an overnight Broadway sensation. In translating that performance to the screen four years later, she became a superstar, already well on her way toward a groundbreaking future as one of the most powerful women in the entertainment industry.
Still, a generation of gay men didn’t embrace Streisand, or her debut screen performance, simply because she seemed almost supernaturally talented, nor did they do so out of solidarity with a feminist cause; as with most queer cultural touchstones of generations past, “Funny Girl” became iconic to the gay community not so much because of what it (or its star) presented on the surface, but because of an unmistakably universal subtext about the struggle of being an outsider in a world that devalues going against the grain. The experience of Fanny Brice, as an “unbeautiful” performer in a sea of classically lovely showgirls, was – in the mind’s eye, at least – not too far removed from that of countless queer people who yearned to shine without having to pretend to be something else; combined with the unstoppable force of Streisand’s charisma, her story became not just relatable, but empowering. Already well-accustomed to identifying vicariously through “straight” narratives in the movies, gay men could easily make the leap to seeing themselves reflected in this one, and thanks in no small part to the irrepressible persona of its leading lady, they liked what they saw.
There are other elements that strike queer chords, too, such as the undeniable appeal of the movie’s plot, a show-biz melodrama about a doomed backstage love affair that bears only marginal similarities to the real-life story of Brice’s relationship with gambler Nicky Arnstein; he’s a suave “bad boy,” and their attraction simmers with the kind of “forbidden” chemistry that comes when we feel the spark of passion with somebody we’re not supposed to. That makes it irresistible, of course, and it doesn’t hurt that Arnstein is played by the impossibly attractive Omar Sharif, who had already embodied a subtextual queer romance onscreen opposite Peter O’Toole in “Lawrence of Arabia.” Besides that, the story’s theatrical setting naturally evokes rumination on the challenge of making “the show go on” even when our private worlds are falling apart, which had perhaps even more resonance with gay people accustomed to “keeping up appearances” in their closeted lives in 1968 than it does today.
But all these threads can be found in countless movies, going back to the earliest days of the art form, and though some of them may have earned a place on the list of queer-favorite classics, few are held up as high as this one – and while the Streisand magic is part of the reason why, it was the man behind the camera who captured it on film.
By the time he directed “Funny Girl,” William Wyler was a Hollywood legend. He rose to prominence making westerns in the silent era and went on to hone his mastery of filmcraft in a career that covered almost every genre; he had helmed three Oscar-winning Best Pictures, earned eleven nominations for Best Director, and was renowned for his ability to coax career-topping performances from his actors. Indeed, many of them won or were nominated for their own Oscars for appearing in his films – including Audrey Hepburn, who won for her film debut, his 1953 rom-com “Roman Holiday.” What he hadn’t done, yet, was make a musical – and though hearing loss made him doubt his ability to direct one, he recognized Streisand’s raw potential and was excited by the chance to guide another talented performer to stardom. He took the job.
The decades of accumulated experience he brought to it are evident in every frame of the film. The imagery is artfully shot, flawlessly composed, and endlessly beautiful to look at; awash in a mix of soft pastels and vivid pop colors, it seamlessly merges old Hollywood with new, blending long-practiced styles and techniques with the intuitive vibrance of contemporary filmmaking – something particularly notable in the handling of the musical numbers, which vary from the elaborately stagebound Busby Berkely-inspired Ziegfeld Follies numbers to the expansively cinematic (and still-breathtaking) helicopter shot of Streisand singing on a moving train in “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” Perhaps more important than any of his visual stylings, his instincts for character-driven storytelling allow him to combine the nostalgia of the golden age with the more permissive sophistication that had begun to dominate movies as the old studio system faded into the past – something that Streisand, exuding a more candid combination of vulnerability and sensuality than the screen stars of Wyler’s heyday were allowed, helped to make thrillingly palpable.
It was a fortuitous moment for both director and star, who – both noted for their obsessive perfectionism – reportedly clashed often on the set but established a deep and lasting respect and friendship for each other. Like former Wyler stars Bette Davis and Laurence Olivier, Streisand credited the director for teaching her how to act on film, and while she would go on to deliver other powerhouse performances, she arguably never topped this one. Indeed, she won the Oscar for it, just as Wyler had hoped – and he picked up his own twelfth Best Director nod, a record number of nominations which still stands today.
So, when you celebrate the 55th anniversary of “Funny Girl” by watching it again for the umpteenth time, perhaps it’s worth paying a little special attention to the love and craftsmanship that William Wyler put into it. It might be a vehicle for a breakout star who owns every second of it, but it’s also an impeccably made piece of cinema, which is why it remains iconic for queer audiences even in an era when direct queer representation has supplanted vicarious “coded” depictions of queer experience.
Sundance veteran takes a wild ride with ‘Rotting in the Sun’
Silva returns with outrageous film that satirizes modern culture
Unless you’re a follower of independent cinema or the international film festival circuit, the name Sebastián Silva may not be familiar to you – yet.
The gay, Chilean-born filmmaker – also known as a musician and illustrator – has enjoyed substantial spotlight on his work over the last decade and a half, starting with a win for Best Film at the 2008 Chilean Pedro Sienna Awards for his debut feature – “La Vida Me Mata” (“Life Kills Me”) – and following up with 2009’s “The Maid.” The latter launched him into the American Indie scene, earning a Grand Jury Prize at Sundance; it went on to pick up several other honors, including a Golden Globe nomination, and firmly established him as an up-and-coming young director. Since then, his reputation has lured “Indie favorite” actors like Kristen Wiig, Juno Temple, Michael Cera, Gaby Hoffman, and Alia Shawkat to star in his films, and he’s garnered more accolades and awards along the way.
Still, the kind of films Silva makes are not exactly the kind that cross easily over into the mainstream, and wider recognition has thus far eluded him. Nevertheless, he remains a festival favorite, having twice returned in triumph to Sundance for premieres of his work, most recently with “Rotting in the Sun,” which debuted at the festival earlier this year. Now set for a limited theatrical release on Sept. 8 before expanding to digital a week later, it just might be the movie that finally gets the multi-hyphenate filmmaker the attention he deserves – though perhaps not for the reasons he might wish.
Directed by Silva from a screenplay co-written with frequent collaborator Pedro Peirano, his cryptically titled film scores points for audacity from its premise alone. Casting himself and real-life social media star Jordan Firstman as fictional versions of themselves, the filmmaker weaves an outrageous stream-of-events narrative that savagely satirizes both the self-obsession and perpetually distracted state of modern culture, simultaneously skewering the business of filmmaking and “content creation” while offering a sharp, darkly humorous commentary on the impact of economic and social class in human experience.
That sounds like a lot to juggle in a single movie, especially one with a less-than-two-hour runtime, but Silva and Peirano’s script manages it deftly with a intricately crafted structure that carries us along through a twisting plot that begins when the fictional Sebastián – nihilistic, misanthropic, and addicted to ketamine and poppers – takes an impromptu trip to a nude gay beach resort on the advice of his best friend (Mateo Riestra). There, he encounters the gregarious and flamboyant Firstman, a fan of his work who aggressively courts him for a closer relationship, both personally and professionally. With his career stalled and his finances drying up, the reluctant Silva agrees to collaborate on a show, and invites Firstman to come and stay with him in Mexico City while they write it.
From there, things don’t go quite the way we expect. Though we’ve been primed for an “opposites-attract” romance, accompanied by a bemusing clash of Silva’s existential bleakness against the life-affirming positivity of his joyously hedonistic counterpart, an unexpected turn of events veers into a new course; rom-com tropes give way to a stark and harrowing mystery, with Silva’s longtime housekeeper Vero (Catalina Saavedra) at the center, and the film becomes a gripping thriller that blends suspense with social commentary and stark surrealism for a wild ride capable of making the heart pound and the head spin. We could say more – other reviewers have, making their jobs easier but spoiling some of the movie’s most electrifying surprises in the process – but to do so would be a disservice both to Silva’s painstaking efforts in crafting the narrative and the viewer’s enjoyment in experiencing it firsthand.
That does make it necessary to “talk around” some things; for instance, we can’t say all the things we’d like about Saavedra – returning to Silva’s fold after playing the title role in “The Maid” – and her performance without giving away key information; rigidly unsentimental, raw with emotions most of us find uncomfortable to watch, the movie hinges on her portrayal of this character, and she owns it completely.
We also can’t say much about the remarkable movement of the story, charted by the script and driven by the skillful, ever-flowing handheld camera approach of cinematographer Gabriel Díaz Alliende, which follows a singular thread of cause-and-effect through a course marked by random occurrence and inevitable consequence and plays out like an elaborate maze of falling dominoes; nor can we go into much detail about the observations the film makes about the divide between the privileged and the underclasses who serve them, who live in such different worlds that even the simplest interactions between them are often complicated by an inability to communicate or understand each other across the gap.
In a more general way, we can certainly talk about the movie’s appreciation for irony; indeed, its most sublime moments are dripping with it, and it provides the undercurrent for the tone of existential absurdism in which Silva steeps his film; for, make no mistake, in this “existential summer” marked by movies like “Asteroid City,” “Barbie,” and “Oppenheimer,” “Rotting in the Sun” fits right in – though, for what it’s worth, its inescapable dread is countered by a kind of humanistic compassion which, though it doesn’t exactly cast everything in a layer of sweetness and light, goes a long way toward leaving our hope for humanity at least somewhat intact.
Lastly, we can talk about the penises. Yes, there are a lot of them, and a few scenes of un-simulated gay sex, too; most of these take place in the early scenes at the resort, and while it would be wrong to say they are irrelevant to the larger purpose of Silva’s movie they certainly are not the point of it, prompting him to admit in a Variety interview that he was “a little bit scared that a lot of people will be centered on the cocks.” Predictably, most reviews (including this one, it appears) and much of the publicity for the film seem angled to let us know they are there.
Ultimately, “Rotting in the Sun” is about much more than cocks, of course; it’s also about much more than the various human pretensions, constructs, delusions, and dysfunctions it both sends up and seems to caution us about. Like all great films, it contains all those things within a larger picture that points toward a more all-encompassing perspective on life – and, admirably, doesn’t try to tell us what to think of it, though it might guide us to a smaller conclusion or two about how we treat each other along the way.
Be warned: though ostensibly a comedy, “Rotting in the Sun” is not a film for the faint-hearted, and it should be noted that it explores themes of suicidal ideation that might be triggering for some viewers.
If you’re not deterred by that – and if your interest is piqued by all the things we couldn’t say – then you are heartily encouraged to watch it at your first opportunity. We guarantee that afterward, you’ll remember the name Sebastián Silva.
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