Have you ever been in a room filled with people, yet never felt more alone? This is the gut-wrenching feeling you get all throughout Filipe Matzembacher and Marcio Reolon’s controversial Hard Paint (Tinta Bruta), a bittersweet story about finding connection in a cold, hostile world. Having premiered at the 2018 Berlinale, the drama won the Teddy Award for best feature film and made a long-lasting impression amongst critics through its sincere and organic approach to taboo topics.
Life is one suffocating event after another for Pedro (Shico Menegat), a gay young man who only finds refuge in the chat room, as an array of messages ranging from lustful to odious assail his computer screen. Bullied, abused and marginalized from an early age, Pedro has only been able to be himself during his impromptu video chat streams, where he ingeniously carries out an entire ritual of arousal and sexual exhilaration. His relief does not lie in some high prestige career or a long-lasting relationship, but rather in the thickness and spunk of hard paint, which he devotedly uses as a comfort blanket to perform. Unlike his day-to-day self, which is perceived by others as anti-social, lifeless and strange, his online persona is daring, glowing and completely uninhibited. Under the name of Neon Boy, the young man ceases to be the self-conscious, hermitlike Pedro and transforms into a fierce and flawlessly sensual lover who does not shun his identity and does not shy away from expressing his darkest, most enticing fantasies.
Hard Paint (Tinta Bruta) deals with heavy topics like social exclusion, suicide, loneliness, abandonment and abuse, but manages to treat each of them with the earnest attention they deserve. The film does not feel cluttered, threadbare or overly focused on sexual imagery and dramatization. Instead, it offers a genuine and painstakingly accurate account of feeling alienated from society and desperately trying to grasp at life’s trite, but somewhat consolatory normalcies in order to not disappear. Pedro rarely leaves his apartment, he has not experienced the meaning of love and connection beyond that of lascivious, artificial desire and he has no close friends to confide in about his growing unease with himself and his past. When another chat room performer named Boy25 steals his idea of incorporating neon paint in his streams, the young man is finally forced to relinquish the comfort of his sheltering home.
Pedro’s rival turns out to be Leo (Bruno Fernandes), a charming professional dancer and similarly wounded young man whose troubled past could never be fully reconciled. With great aspirations in mind, Leo is hustling on the website in order to earn enough money to pursue a career in dancing. Planning to move to Buenos Aires, the man hopes to eventually receive a scholarship and finally leave behind the stringent, smothering shell imposed onto him by his environment. Touched by his story and frankness, Pedro allows himself to become vulnerable for the first time. Their ensuing double act, which grows to be immensely popular, is only a fraction of their sweet, candid and peaceful relationship off-screen. Fernandes and Menegat’s performances are heartwarming and their chemistry fuels and consistently galvanizes an otherwise lengthy and stagnant motion picture.
“There’s something about the way they look at you” – says Pedro in a warm, intimate discussion with his boyfriend. The young man realizes that he is not of this world and will continue to be ostracized by those who cannot tolerate his unique differences. Albeit comforting, Leo admits that this feeling is a reality which will never dwindle and will constantly burden and constraint him. But there is one space where the handsome artist will not admit defeat – on the dance floor. It is there that Leo encourages and guides his partner to bring out and fully express his true self, just as he would during one of his fearless performances. Although Pedro wishes he shared his lover’s courage, he freezes up in the ring dance with him and is still consumed by the same thoughts of anxiety and self-hatred. This is why the ending is so pure, rejuvenating and elegantly executed, as Pedro gracefully unleashes his body in a dance of unrestricted acceptance and self-compassion.
Matzembacher and Reolon’s film is all about embracing your sexuality and being comfortable in your own skin. It does not overreach or needlessly dramatize and it does not beat around the bush. Its plot is straightforward, its performances sublime, and its honest representation of being LGBTQ in today’s world sheds light on crucial topics that need to be discussed more and with less angst surrounding them. Hard Paint (Tinta Bruta) is ultimately reassuring and hopeful, as it shows that even though we cannot trust the world to be open and tolerant, we can still trust ourselves to dance in the ring of life with warmth, ease and self-love in our hearts.