Thursday, February 28, 2019

Prison Walls & Eros - Part 3: A Brutal Splash Of Hard Paint

   The Berlinale Teddy LGBT Film Awards are important inasmuch as we’re invariably reminded that the Anglo version of Queerness as represented in film is often remarkably shallow and universally untrue. From its first award (Almodovar’s 1987 Law Of Desire) through The Way He Looks to last year’s winner Hard Paint (Tinta Bruta), the Berlinale reliably and regularly commits to the real diversity of the Queer male. And just as importantly, across three decades it's never committed to the ongoing Anglo triteness of "coming out" as central to queer men's stories. The pathos of fuckups who can't or won't come out - as well as the recycled tragedies of AIDS and homophobic violence - very quickly become exploitation of misery when consistently purged of anything resembling enjoyed sexuality or an uplifting experience at Le Cinema.

   Hard Paint throws everybody who sees it. Is it a loosely-assembled docudrama about a very ordinary Gen Z guy, or a Queer New Wave masterpiece which cannily draws us into a lived experience, and then some? Co-directors / writers Filipe Matzembacher and Marcio Reolon have chosen to ignore the fact that housebound online nerds are usually dismissed with a presumption of asexuality, or something like it. A predictable filmic device would then be to utilize a leading man who employs fashioned looks and acting tricks to mirror our own wishes to be “revealed” and “awakened” as someone desirable or lovable. Pedro (Shico Menegat) however isn’t gaming us that way: he’s unpolished, ungendered and disaffected. Looks-wise, he’s counter-gay at best. All in all, he's an unlikely candidate upon whom to hang a film which defiantly challenges the genre of young and silly faux-queer filmschool fluff.  Much more about sex than it lets on, Hard Paint confidently splashes its way to manhood without contrived ideas about young queers.

NeonBoy on the job as objet naïf.

  Pedro’s also like a virgin, slightly on the other side of sex: he scrapes out a meagre living as NeonBoy, performing online by dancing around in cheap underwear and smeared in neon paint. This crude flagrance doesn’t quite contrast with a bleak and shabby life in the bleak and shabby port town in Porto Alegre, Brazil. His back-story is jolting: the introverted sissy has violently fought back against bullying and is facing criminal charges for doing so. He hunts down a competing online copycat Leo (Bruno Fernandes) who refuses to be warned off, and seduces him instead. While Leo’s seduction speech is corniness personified, it subverts the notion that conflict drives real hot 'n' horny sex: Pedro and Leo’s sex is disarmingly natural. Their ensuing relationship however isn’t to constitute the film’s central tension. Instead of predictable neurosis for the sake of drama, a more real (and decidedly more Brazilian) type of guileless loving just becomes part of the disjointed narrative.

   “Disjointed narrative” may be exactly what our young queer lives were all about if we care to remember. What we view later as a syrupy blur was probably just a jig-sawed melange of experiences around our life in general, as people "moved on" but our queerness remained static...almost as if it were our jailer. Sex and sexuality however form part of the classic Existentialist narrative when it's reduced to men attempting to live their lives as free men. Pedro and Leo are constantly menaced by ominous and stark threats to freedom: imprisonment in its many forms hangs over their lives at every turn. 

   Hard Paint however isn’t afraid to wield sex like a weapon: after a thriller-like episode with a pickup we’re left in no doubt about the difference between sexual performance and sex...if perhaps we missed the NeonBoy metaphors. Notably, Pedro and Leo aren’t “porno-matched” inasmuch as their physical selves defy the narcissistic overtones of much male same-sex casting, as we've come to know it. Their freshness isn't mere casting serendipity - performances like these usually only come from surrender to the intense intelligence of good direction. With few establishing shots and questionable editing choices, the film stays true to both cinematic and personal interiors, as accessed through themes of abandonment (as experienced) and voyeurism (as practiced). Virtually any political statement can be made utilizing the male body, but things are bound to become interesting when philosophy intrudes and humanizes the relatively masculine body.

Pedro & Leo

  In Latin regions the marketing for Hard Paint screamed Escándalo!, and sensationalized the bruta aspects of it all. The movie’s real strength however is within its innate acceptance of loneliness and dehumanization as part and parcel of the ongoing queer male experience. Depressing? Not men in denial of their own existential loneliness often take it to extreme levels of acting out, and project loathing onto other guys who've come to honest terms with it. The odor of the "l-word" can be a cringe-worthy threat, as we court and carry on. The presumption that existential loneliness - and loneliness in general -  is both fatal psychological flaw and erection killer is erroneous. Neither mean "relationship problems", and needn't be read as cause for dismissal or masked as indifference.
  The self-deceiving homosexualist may casualize thoughts about dehumanization, and relegate the entire topic to vague social and technological abstractions in which he may or may not be an active participant...because after all we are of the flesh, and of our sex drive, right? Hard Paint forcefully disagrees, and is in singularly orthodox agreement with Sartre's Theory of Sexuality. The Being of the queer man is relatively robust when his sexuality isn't thwarted by bad faith about himself.  It's not too much of a stretch for the queer man to step away from the habitual male self-victimization anxiety patterns of heterosexuality, and sanely celebrate what he's not required to take on. Reolon and Matzembacher shatter a central gay vanity with the guns of psychological humanism: what remains is a not-so-fragile expose of two men experiencing what sex means by simply purposing it properly.

  Hard Paint keeps itself in check in terms of anger and melodrama, and appears to avoid liberation-through-love as the payoff. The takeaway? We’re enriched more than we know if can walk away from the show open to the possibility that the next charmless man we’re not attracted to may be the very man we should be with. Pedro takes us to that place in two hours flat; and without a hint of confected romance we're well and truly seduced.


While Hard Paint is a new film, it must also be seen in an even newer context. The likelihood that gay men (and LGBT people) will in future experience the uneasy balance of freedom, rights and homophobic violence portrayed in Hard Paint is under immediate threat in Bolsonaro's Brazil. In terms of film history, it may very well be on its way to becoming one of those films: the pre-Nazi films of the Weimar Republic, which stand only as hope demolished by modern reactionary forces.

Hard Paint is free for Australian viewers at SBS On Demand.

No comments:

Post a Comment