Growing up gay in a major metropolis is difficult enough. Being queer on a small island in Argentina where the village bully coaches the soccer team and provides the only regular transportation to the mainland via La León soon becomes hell on earth for Alvaro (Jorge Román delivers a bleakly honest portrayal of one whose sexuality drives him to brief, sordid encounters with instant-friends and long-time foes alike) as he ekes out a living in the lush fields and forests of his homeland.
Determinedly shot in grainy black-and-white, with a wonderfully-reedy bass clarinet portraying the unabashedly-queer bookbinder’s life (Alvaro’s love of books—from repairing their spines to savouring their contents—is one of many subtle metaphors), director/writer Santiago Otheguy has crafted a loving portrait that few will have the patience to finish, much less understand.
Paula Grandio’s ever-sensitive camera quietly follows Alvaro from his personal point of view, gently guiding his father’s leaky craft from place to place or stepping back into third person as his nemesis, El Turu—the ideally repugnant Daniel Valenzuela—first privately then publicly mocks the alluring man before demanding his flesh following the post-game victory party—the notion of the village’s virile young men conquering their weaker visitors is yet another deft narrative touch.
Also eased into the dialogue-lite mix are the unsettling death of a young man (suicide over failed love for another man, woman? or politically-convenient murder by the region’s intruding misioneros—viewers can decide for themselves), Turu’s actionable hatred for the newcomers, the possible relationship beyond friendship between Alvaro’s deceased father and co-worker, Iribarren (quietly rendered by José Muñoz whose book-clutching passing is another cinematic highlight), and the quick-justice, tidal-release coda that gives the film its knockout punch.
Along the journey, Otheguy teases the viewer with Román’s ever-engaging physique and a potential suitor who is curiously spurned until the long shot pulls back far enough to reveal just why that encounter had to remain in the vivid imagination of hero and audience alike.
For those with the temperment to recognize thoughtful filmmaking when they see it (whatever their persuasion), this production will enchant; for the rest it will fall as quickly into the reject bin as Alvaro’s destiny if he remains in such a sparsely inhabited locale much longer. JWR