Over five features, from Plan B (2009) to Taekwondo (2016), Argentine writer-director Marco Berger has sensitively explored the blurred lines between sexuality and machismo in Latin society. His latest feature, The Blonde One (Un Rubio), continues this theme with real insight and artistry. Everything about Berger’s filmmaking is understated, observing men as they circle around each other, questioning their own unexpected feelings. Perhaps his best film yet, The Blond One (Un Rubio) has been gathering acclaim around the world, premiering at Sydney’s Mardi Gras Film Festival in February before moving on to London’s BFI Flare in March and Miami’s Outshine Film Festival in April.
The story is set in Buenos Aires, where 30-year-old Juan (Gaston Re) needs a new housemate after his brother moves out. He rents the room to his blond work colleague Gabriel (Alfonso Barón), and they quickly bond over lads’ nights in watching football with Juan’s lively friends Leandro, Brian and Mario (Charly Velasco, Justo Calabria and Fabio Zurita). Gabriel has a somewhat tentative girlfriend in Julia (Ailin Salas), and he secretly enjoys watching Juan walk around the house naked when his girlfriend Natalia (Melissa Falter) stays over. As they settle into this relaxed life together, Gabriel begins to realise that Juan is also watching him. So an awkward relationship begins to emerge between them. But the further Gabriel falls in love, the more he worries that something is holding Juan back.
Berger cleverly sets these men spiralling around each other from the beginning, using skilful camerawork (by Nahuel Berger) to sharply place them in the frame together even when they’re trying not to let their interest be known. Their mutual attraction is also quietly revealed in offhanded touches, subtle glances and generally being a little too close to each other physically. When their friends begin a rampantly homophobic discussion, it’s clear that Gabriel and Juan are struggling with whether to shut it down, pretend not to notice or put on a macho face and join in. And as the story continues, other details begin to add wrinkles, such as the fact that Gabriel is a single dad, and his daughter (Malena Irusta) is living with her grandparents in another city. But the real problem is that Juan simply can’t see what he has with Gabriel as a “proper” relationship, because they’re both men.
Without ever shouting his themes, Berger simply lets this story unfold as an exploration of the difficulties that exist in any relationship, gay or straight. It’s about how people come together despite their own emotions, cultural issues and the pressures applied by society. Both Re and Barón underplay the roles perfectly, baring themselves physically and emotionally to make every moment of the film feel honest, right to the finely layered conclusion. This allows the conflicts between them and others to emerge in ways that are surprising, as the film follows both the involving personal journeys of these two men as well as the larger issues swirling around them. It also makes The Blond One (Un Rubio) almost staggeringly resonant, because it’s easy to identify with people who simply want to be allowed to be themselves.