A truncated stay has meant we haven’t been able to see as many competition titles here at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival as we would have liked, but we can say it got off to a very promising start with this small-scale serio-comic drama, the second feature from “Beyond the Walls” director David Lambert. From the potentially grim premise of a young Argentinian man in such dire straits and with such a lack of prospects that he offers himself via the internet to anyone who will send him a plane ticket, the film then spins off into surprisingly gentle, non-judgy, non-cautionary tale, albeit sprinkled with some fairly graphic sex scenes, mostly gay, occasionally straight.
But “gay/straight” is misleading, contributing to a binary definition of sexuality that is at odds with the spectrum-based view the film takes of the matter, en route to becoming less an LGBT issues drama than a character portrait of its three leads, particularly the appealing main character, Lucas (a terrific Nahuel Perez Biscayert). With much affection for all of them, even for the small-town side characters who are portrayed as far more accepting and unprejudiced about who sleeps with whom than we might have feared, the film ultimately espouses the blindingly obvious, but only rarely filmed truism that goodness, kindness and the desire for loving companionship are qualities evinced by people of every conceivable sexual stripe. A story of searching for connection and finding it in the places you’re not really looking, “All Yours” doesn’t shrink from sketching the banal desperation of some of these lonely lives, and the ugly little ways our self-deceptions can hurt those around us, but gently dares to suggest that being a decent person is perhaps its own reward, and may even be more important than sexual fulfillment.
Suited to a story that is anything but the conventional LGBT drama, Lambert’s characterful cast avoids the usual shorthands—Lucas is attractive because of his kinetic physicality and mobile, expressive face rather than being the studly type the phrase “Argentinian rent boy” might summon up, while Henry, (Jean-Michel Balthazar) the Belgian baker who takes him up on his offer and flies him to Europe, is hugely overweight, greying and balding, giving the new couple a distinctly comedic silhouette: Henry’s bulk and strange fat-man grace contrasting in every particular with Lucas’ slight frame and twitchy energy. The third point in this triangle is Audrey (Monia Chokri from “Laurence Anyways”), the pretty single mother, older than Lucas, who works in the bakery too, and to whom Lucas is attracted. Despite the transactional nature of their relationship, however, Henry has some foggy notion that Lucas is going to fall in love with him, wear the clothes he buys him and they’ll live in blissful companionship forever. And so we expect the big bearlike baker to react a certain way when he discovers that Lucas’ straight leanings make that unlikely, and yet again he confounds our expectations and we realize we’ve underestimated him.
And so while we’re forewarned by several shots of Lucas’ naked genitals during the very opening credits that the film will not shy away from the kind of stuff you might not want to watch with your gran, it then unspools in a deeply humanist, fond vein, one that might almost seem anti-dramatic were it not for how much we enjoy the company. But little by little the routine of his new situation in this gray Belgian town, Henry’s expectations, Audrey’s allure and the numbing domesticity of his indentured servitude start to wear on Lucas. And these details are clever and compelling in their own right: whether he’s suppressing his disgust at clipping Henry’s toenails, or failing to while massaging his dough-like flesh, or rebelling by buying a certain jacket, or pilfering openly from the till to compensate for his unpaid work, Lucas’ disillusion is built in little increments. It feels a lot like life, like people muddling through looking out for themselves but trying to inflict as little pain as possible in the process. Until, that is, a third-act revelation that seems included purely to up the dramatic quotient, and for a short while thereafter, “All Yours” becomes the Issues Drama it had so successfully avoided being until then, and suffers for it.
This final twist into melodrama aside (and to be fair, despite its hot potato nature, even here, the story is told with laudably unhysterical common sense) “All Yours” is a modest, small-scale charmer, and its failings—occasionally Henry is required to bellow in unconvincing anguish or launch into an almost surreal song sequence that doesn’t quite work—are flaws that are borne of affection and generosity toward its characters. It’s no small feat that even now, a few days later, it seems odd to pigeonhole any of them as gay, bi or straight—they are so much more than any of those things in being their bumbling, beguiling, ordinary but unclassifiable selves. [B]