It is the hour of departure. Oh abandoned one!
Pablo Neruda, Chilean poet (1904-74), from A Song of Despair
Trying to succeed as a poet, living with a deranged family member, managing the ravages of HIV/AIDS—why does no one call back?
Anahí Berneri’s chronicle, based on co-writer Pablo Pérez’s diary of the truly incredible journey of a near-thirty, same-name “lost” man (Juan Minujín, whose gaunt frame and deep, cesspool eyes pull everyone on both sides of the screen into his life if not his smouldering affections) as he searches for true love before his unstoppable disease takes him out of the game.
Pablo’s actual family offer begrudging support: he lives with his tea-toting Aunt (Mimi Ardú) who hogs the phone at critical times (evoking a dramatic hang-up that will resonant with “Will-he-call?” angst everywhere) and is not above lifting her nephew’s latest skin mag to enlighten her libido on the current state of Latino-hung. Pablo’s Dad (Ricardo Merkin) contents/excuses himself with paying the bills and making a very occasional visit to his queerly expiring son.
When not penning deathless, unpublishable poems, Pablo earns his pesos teaching/translating French. Julia (Bárbara Lombardo) enjoys her private lessons and cheers on her mentor with a peck on the cheek or easy acquiescence when the rate goes up a third without notice. Lucio Bonelli’s cautious yet cunning camera records one of those cash transactions at waist level—just one example of his deft choices of subliminal narrative. Others include overhead shots as the inevitable sweats drive Pablo out of his Auntie’s cell to the jerky-flash, multiple-angled revelations in cells of a different sort (disco, private dungeon and the baths).
Placing personal ads produces less than salacious results (“I’m stubby,” admits a Mr. Right Now before slipping away into the unrequited night), so the gradually-decaying but undaunted poet switches gears and responds instead. “Leather couple seeks threesomes,” hurls Pablo into the dark world of S&M and unleashes far-recessed childhood fantasies even as he’s fitted for a dog collar and licks boots with gay abandon.
Running parallel to his rising cell count, put off, then inevitable “membership” in the AZT+ cocktail set, the forever-frustrated fag sinks deeper into humiliation in hopes that fellow ad-respondent, but still homebound Martin (Javier Van de Couter, the hottest man on the screen) will adopt Pablo as his personal slave for ever and ever: praise the whip, pass the hood.
Sadly there’s as much chance of that as his verse even appearing in an anthology. Still, Pablo’s unabashed diaries do find their way into print, proving yet again that dirt is more saleable than art.
Fêted by his platonic boyfriend Nicolás (Carlos Echevarría, charming in a Harry Potter sort of way) the party soon ends when Pablo’s family members blanche at their public humiliation as their dying relative tells his truth.
Pablo can’t win: Martin doesn’t call again and Father evicts his soiled flesh and blood—what’s a girl to do? Always pragmatic, he first cancels Julia’s next session (ever so vague about a “make-up” class) then descends even deeper into the mire of torture and taboo where, surely, if he can just find even seamier levels of degradation, his lonely, unloved soul will hit upon enduring love.
A poet of film, Berneri’s managed all of this brilliantly, effectively making her audience squirm, squeal and succumb to a story that is painful in its telling, but, nevertheless, must be told. JWR