Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Marco Berger's Men Who Tango



 "I don't make films for 'gay' audiences, but for the general public, where coincidentally the characters are men. I look at it from that place. I don't think about making films to be seen in a cinema or rented by 'gay' viewers, who go to 'gay' festivals. No, I do... a movie." - Argentinian Film Writer/Director, Marco Berger


   Now what's that we hear? That could very well come out of the mouth of any garden-variety queerbaiter who knows too well that pissy nods to "inclusion" and "representation" might up the box-office gross a few percentage points - courtesy of gay men starved of satisfying movie entertainment which actually dignifies them at some level. We've been falling for it for a very long time, and two decades into the twentieth century we're still being regularly served up as objects of pity and subjects of cartoon, with little or no self-determination and perpetually doomed to unhappy endings. "Heroic" and "males in cinema" mean virtually the same thing, and to a man we find find none are homosexuals or even homosexually-inclined. And as Hollywood was quick to learn, with deft screenwriting and editing you can purge any film of homo content for homophobic marketplaces.

But it's Marco Berger uttering the words, as he assumes the Presidency of La Asociación Argentina de Cineastas PCI in July 2021. And when Mr. Berger talks "men" we're wise to know that The Berger Shot is but one of his welcome and long-overdue contributions to modern cinema, as they relate to the male mystique. For a screenwriter and a director to be relegated to festivals or niche recognition can't be good enough if his vision is broad enough for the mainstream. As things stand right now, the mainstream has much to benefit from Marco Berger's cinematic offerings: homophobia is still peddled as the given default, with reinforced trauma as cinema's ongoing subliminal message. The genre seeks to justify itself as LGBT cinema verite while obscuring its origins as dubious contrived fiction.

We're not to know how much Berger's vision will be broadened, constricted or compromised to accommodate the masses. What we are to know is that over a relatively short career he's both prolific and a highly intelligent visionary when it comes to the subject of men. And he's probably been around long enough to deal with the static from Neo-Puritanism, as it's fomented in queerish communities around his own back door. 

The Pornography Of It All

   Down Argentine way (and for over a decade) Marco Berger's been not only representing but celebrating maleness onscreen in ways we've only ever seen in art. Or more specifically, maleness as feeling and sexual rather than of essentially political representation. And it would be grossly unfair to subject Berger to a diatribe about artistic gaze, or to assume his audiences aren't entirely responsible for their own reactions to something like male bulges in their faces and center-screen.

From the perspective of sexual politics, a gay director's habit of pointing out that men in general can be quite schizoid when it comes to bashfulness or boldness around their genitalia is a rather powerful statement of fact if not gay insight. Suffice to say that Berger regularly smashes cinematic narratives about men and maleness which are predicated on perpetuating male sexuality myths. Even if we're thinking of buying into a concept like "bromance" as a valid state of fully-formed male relationship then Marco Berger has a few scripts and many a crotch shot to remind us that it's probably not.

Cinema's worst-kept secret is probably that it can't keep up with pornography. The men who make both aren't all that different inasmuch as their product is targeted at audience demographics, with pornographers being just bold enough and progressive enough to not let their biases get in the way of a good show and making a buck. We can be relatively certain that Marco Berger isn't on a narrow mission as a gay pornographer or gay artiste since his homoerotic takes on male sensuality are quite appealing to female tastes. The long and the short of it is that girls like to see fellas making out, and doing it without it just comes naturally. Or as we like to think Kinsey stated how it was and is a very long time ago.

While many gay men are ridiculously ensnared in fetishes about other men, imaginary and real, we might be tempted to think the same of Marco Berger. His camera dwells on male body parts and maleness long enough and regularly enough to arouse prurient interest. But it's only a device: for all the titillation the real "money shot" clearly is all about knowing the sweetness and humanity of the man you're looking at.

Marco Berger's Men As Originals

Taken as a whole, Pedro Almodovar's contributions to world cinema are quite encompassing. Known especially as a director who loves women enough to let them elevate themselves to unforgettable and unique personages on a screen, he's also no slouch when it comes to men from a Latin perspective. More influential than he's ever been given credit for, there's a strong case to be made for Almodovar passing a baton to Marco Berger. Clearly the latter loves men in a way that's not exclusively driven by a desire of the kind which comes with some misandry - Berger encourages us to like men as much as we desire them.

Like Almodovar's gays, Berger's men are matter-of-fact men for the most part. They're not usually defined by what they do for a living and refreshingly not struggling with "identity issues". Ignoring the easy ride of revisiting dubious American suburban middle-class neuroses while appropriately acknowledging internalized homophobia with a light touch, Marco Berger steps up to create men who hold our interest, and he does it with style and intelligence and then some. We gladly go to more introverted places with these guys, without being assaulted by extraneous events and contrived "action". Nor are the men contrived action figures of gym buff-ness and cosmetic enhancement: the bodies we peruse are worn by the men themselves, and not vice-versa.

Neither too young nor too old, the males Marco Berger present for us seem less actor-ish than even documentary subjects. Berger as auteur miraculously draws us into a circle of trust with his actors and does so at the paces of how life is truly lived. Berger's camera is unforgiving, his dialog is sparse and unsnappy and he's not relying on jump-cuts to sell what's counterfeit. In short, his men have to really act, and do it with body and soul. He makes it easy for us then to just be happy in the knowledge that the tango was originated by male couples, and watch three very sexy dances which might just take our breath away.

    Marco Berger’s much-loved debut feature is an arresting one for sure. A “caper” movie, it takes the time-worn Hollywood trope of faking gay to get what you want while consistently reinforcing heterosexuality as never before. Except Plan B goes exactly where the notion should have gone last century: Bruno’s hare-brained plan to win back his girlfriend from Pablo involves seducing him because he's heard that Pablo might swing both ways. We just know where Bruno’s pot-addled machinations might take him even if he doesn’t.




The director’s well aware that much hinges on The Kiss…the thing that homophobia reviles more than actual male-on-male sex…with non-consenting being the more acceptable kind. Bruno of course hasn’t really thought things through at all, and after initiating a fast friendship with Pablo tests the waters by telling gal pal Ana that he and Pablo are now boyfriends. Ana demands that he kiss Pablo to prove it and the passionless peck convinces nobody at all. Plan B is failing: it’s obvious that Bruno isn’t sexually attracted to him at all.




The moral of the story becomes apparent quite early: dig a hole for somebody and you’ll probably fall in it yourself. And so we’re enjoined to watch Cupid aim a big one at Bruno, and see the insincere seducer become the sincerely seduced. It’s in that state where it finally dawns on Bruno that a loving relationship of real value has grown in spite of himself. As the enemy of chastity, none but Cupid can take what has its genesis in deception and create that which we crave as truth.

Berger has us hooked to the point that we've completely forgotten that these two men are in essence not gay nor are they confused teens. Male humanity just seems to have overtaken identity, as well it should. We're quite aware that ineptitude reigns and honesty is in short supply. Calling time on a pretense of "just friends" to serve an essentially homophobic resolution just isn't good enough for two guys we've really come to like.

We like them and wish them well because they access our childlike part which often forgets but nevertheless holds to be truth. We know what true sweethearts are because we've all been compelled to partake in the rituals of gift-giving which communicate in ways that words just can't. Most importantly, we know what they need to do to seal the deal because we've seen enough of their bulges to know it's time to play grownups.

    While “tall, dark and handsome” may be a default of male sexual attraction as per Eurocentric sensibilities, something like the opposite applies to Latin machismo. A blond man reads as something else…something different. And onto that difference is projected both desirability and a tendency to sexual submission. No surprise then that Gabriel is introduced, identified and objectified as “the blond one” when Marco Berger takes on macho masculinities, and all that's inherent when machismo meets homosexual attraction.

The blond one...Gabriel / "Gabo"
The subject of fatherhood arcs The Blond One. “Gabo”, a widowed father himself, takes lodging in workmate Juan’s flat. The spartan room’s been vacated by Juan’s brother who’s knocked up his girlfriend, and it’s not long before the hyper-sexual Juan is sending signals – mixed or otherwise – of sexual availability to the passive and apparently introverted Gabo. The director locates them in a small apartment where breathing space is confined to watching television in the company of Juan’s heterosexual friends: a perfect set-up to pressure-cook the sexual tension that’s Marco Berger’s specialty.


The other one...Juan
Neither Gabo nor Juan appears to have any emotional intelligence whatsoever – be it good, bad or indifferent. They’re simply men and not boys. With no regard for “gay relationship” considerations, they’re soon screwing to the point that intimacy takes its natural course and demands to be addressed. As is usually the case in these serendipitous arrangements which fall like manna for men from time to time, homophobia intervenes in the form of Juan’s desires to pursue heterosexist imperatives.

It’s long been said that two men lack the glue to sustain a relationship, and despite 'the glue' never having been articulated for what it is there’s ample evidence that this is often the case. Of course it takes two to yield to what kills love, and Gabo lacks the balls to man up and assert his rightful place as the primary love partner of sorts. He’s revealed as having being gay all along, and it’s probably gay self-doubt which causes him to not protest too much when relegated to being just a fuck on the side. Some modicum of self-respect at the critical point where it mattered may have caused the blond one to bluntly state “Lose the female, amigo”, and stand his ground on that rock.

And it’s in not losing the female nearly soon enough that Juan loses everything. He too is on his way to unplanned fatherhood and it’s at the expense of all he has with Gabo. While we’re perhaps robbed of a happy ending for now, Marco Berger certainly isn’t stating that M2M relationships are doomed. The most reasonable takeaway from The Blond One is suggested by its coda: to the loving and open mind of a child, shame is just something very silly. 

    Corny romances about men and women of different classes falling in love are a predictable go-to, and often constructed as period pieces dressed up with lots of plummy dialog. The genre has never really explored or updated itself to the serve two men. Yet such stories are probably most applicable to two men because a limited pool of available men necessitates abandoning class considerations if one's serious about finding love, or something like it.

So it's with all stops pulled out that Marco Berger launches high romance on an epic scale. Co-producer Pedro Irusta's elegant score slowly transports us to exposition - where the undying past lives in the present, as if in a bucolic dream. We find Eugenio ensconced in a rural old home as a bookishly attractive man living in silence.


Eugenio...a latter-day Lord of The Manor


Martin...the perhaps Itinerant  

By the time Martin shows up at the old house looking for summer work Berger's camera has made it obvious that two attractive and possibly lonely men are destined for an assignation, and probably one of exploitation - mutual or otherwise. Muddying those waters a whole lot more, it transpires Martin and Eugenio were boyhood friends a very long time ago. The apparently earnest Martin is not quite a drifter: despite his diminished circumstances he has plans for summer's end. He's just dropped back into the area looking to assemble a self he can live with from a fractured past, rather than seeking opportunity beyond survival.


Unsurprisingly, injury occurs near a bulge.


For Eugenio's part, the conflicts come thick and fast. His pragmatic uncle bluntly reminds him to think of what lies beyond a summer romance...this being high romance after all. While materially generous and kind, the respectful Eugenio can't or won't "take it to the next level", as he fails to read Martin's genuine tenderness. Or indeed even Martin's reference to pineapples. Marco Berger knows the score (and the stakes) well enough to not just throw them in the sack for some recreational fun. He also knows men well enough to restate the fact that few are able to negotiate mature relationship. Therein lies the tease.

Hawaii delivers by the bucketload: beautiful to experience and sexy enough to elevate a tired genre to superb entertainment of the classic kind. As it's intelligent enough to open newer and better pathways for men and women to think about men. 

The director saves the very best for last, and if we noticed the sweethearts' exchanges in Plan B we're again reassured by a View-Master that love has a past and a present, and a future if we choose to make it so.'s even the same actor making apparently broken things work again, as Eugenio comes to know what "Hawaii" really means. When it comes to how to wind up a great story, Marco Berger's on the same page as Sam Shepard: "The most authentic endings are the ones which are already revolving towards another beginning".


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