The Frameline Film Festival — which kicks off this Thursday in San Francisco — is always a great showcase for short films, and this year, there are a handful of fantastic two-handers featuring Latino men that present the strength and fragility of gay relationships.
The “Worldly Affairs” shorts program features a quartet of excellent gay films. Arguably the best of them is Mexican writer/director Robert Fiesco’s outstanding “Trémulo.” Julio (Axel Arenas) is an army recruit heading off to duty that week. He is getting his haircut at a barbershop where the young Carlos (Benny Emmanuel) works for his Godfather. The guys exchange a meaningful glance as Julio leaves, which may be why the recruit returns as Julio is closing up for the night and the Independence Day holiday. Julio requests a shave from Carlos, and the way the young barber touches his client’s face is highly erotic. Shortly thereafter, the guys are dancing shirtless in the shop, which delights and surprises both of them. “Trémulo” eventually takes a dramatic turn, but it is to Fiesco’s credit that his short both melts and breaks viewers’ hearts. The filmmaker moves his camera around the shop, framing the attractive actors, using the glass and mirrors, and music to convey incredible emotion. The film’s end is incredibly powerful.
In director Ricky Bryant’s poignant Canadian entry, “Sebastian,” Alex (screenwriter James Fanizza) tries to find the most appropriate way to spend his last ten minutes with the title character (Andy McQueen), an Argentine visiting Toronto for a week. This quiet little film captures the tiny whirlpools of love and longing that eddy in the gulf between the characters. The wistful tension between the two guys percolates as they visit a record store and a bar before the all-too-soon departure. This is one of those shorts that will have viewers, like the characters, wanting the moment to last longer.
Another fantastic short, “San Cristobal,” by Chilean writer and director Omar Zúñiga Hildago, tells a more complex story about the relationship that transpires between Antonio (Antonio Altamirano), who works in a fish market, and Lucas (Samuel González), who is visiting his sister, Catalina (Marcia Paredes) who lives in the same small town. The guys meet and steal kisses in a public men’s room stall, eventually returning to Antonio’s home for a night of passionate sex. However, their affections raise the ire of the locals who test Antonio’s resilience. “San Cristobal” is an engrossing, well-acted drama that reminds viewers of the difficulties of being gay in one of the more remote parts of the world.
On a lighter note, “I Do,” from Brazil, is writer/director/star Felipe Cabral’s comic short about Junior’s (Cabral) plan to have his friends surprise André (Jefferson Schroeder) when the latter accepts Junior’s marriage proposal. Of course, André is surprised by the proposal, and explains his reluctance to get married—“It’s heteronormative,” he decries—within earshot of all their hiding friends. Junior and André get into even more embarrassing discussions that are probably best kept private, but they provide amusement for the eavesdroppers and viewers. “I Do” may telegraph where it is going, but the issues raised about gay love and marriage are rendered with humor and heart.
Another “issue” film featuring a gay couple is Spanish writer/director Carlos Ocho’s charming “Open Relationship” from the “Fun in Boys Shorts” program. Oscar (Eudald Font) proposes an open relationship to his boyfriend Sergio (Christian Escudero). The latter is a bit mystified by the idea of them having sex with other people, and asks a series of questions to understand not only why Oscar would suggest this, but also what the arrangement would entail exactly. The couple’s dialogue, while talky, is clever, showing both the desire for breaking the routine and discovering new things and the perils of Oscar getting what he thinks he wants. Ocho tips his hand to Sergio, the more rational partner, but he ends his film with a nice reveal and a chuckle.