“I thought all gays fantasized about seducing a straight man,” says Bruno, the ostensibly straight protagonist in the Chilean film In the Grayscale (). It comes during a conversation with his gay pal, Fer — shortly after Fer made an initial attempt to seduce Bruno, a kiss rejected out of hand. Naturally, in what is chiefly a kind of modern-day love story, Bruno eventually comes around.
Which is not meant to suggest these two characters live in love happily ever after. Bruno also has a wife Soledad (Daniela Ramirez) and a young son, Daniel (Mattias Torres) and leads a pretty charmed life in Santiago — maybe a bit too charmed. With seemingly few real-life struggles coupled with success after success with his work in architecture, the 35-year-old Bruno has become bored and restless — basically suffering from an early mid-life crisis.
Claudio Marcone’s film opens quietly with slow-panning scenes of a day in Bruno’s life on what is essentially an indefinite sabbatical. Having left his wife and son, he’s isolated himself in a small, remote studio. The camera lingers as he contemplates the outside, staring off into the distance, and also as he eats, waters plants, even masturbates in the shower. It’s all captured in an understated, cinema verite manner, so that even the frequent nude shots of Bruno don’t seem gratuitous.
Bruno is carefully, sensitively portrayed by Francisco Celhay, a curly haired ginger who, viewed at certain angles, resembles Tom Cruise. Bruno even quotes Cruise from Jerry Maguire at one point. “You complete me,” he naively tells the scruffy, slightly disheveled Fer — charmingly played by Emilio Edwards.
In the Grayscale charts Bruno and Fer’s unexpected relationship, from the moment the two are introduced to work together on a project to well past their sexually charged bromance phase. But as it grows, so too do the complications surrounding it. Bruno, for example, was already uncertain about the direction of his life before Fer arrived on the scene. While Fer has improved things in several appreciable ways, the relationship only confuses things even further, particularly on matters of Bruno’s sexuality. “The scary part,” Fer says, referring to Bruno, “is falling in love with someone who is on an unknown spot on the wide range of grays.”
The film’s title refers to bisexuality, an identity that occupies most of the gray areas on the spectrum of sexuality. Bruno is pretty clearly “in the grayscale,” which he acknowledges. Far less clear by movie’s end is how much he might embrace his bisexuality going forward. In fact, it’s not even clear if much has really changed in how he thinks about his sexuality. Bruno’s identity is not something either wife Soledad nor Fer can quite support or wrap their heads around, as far as it pertains to their respective relationships with Bruno. And while his son Daniel is too young to truly comprehend his family’s changed dynamics, it’s interesting that the oldest character, Bruno’s grandfather, played by Sergio Hernandez, is the most supportive person, telling Bruno he would never judge or go against him. “You’re my grandson,” he says, “and I love you more than anything.”
Marcone could have delved a bit deeper into the topic to help make it even less foreign and mysterious to the average viewer. Yet it’s a good year when there’s merely one film released that addresses bisexuality — discussing identity and issues, not merely depicting sexual situations.
Reel Affirmations screens In the Grayscale (in Spanish with English subtitles) twice on Friday, Feb. 26, at 7 and 9:15 p.m., at the HRC Equality Center, 1640 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Tickets are $12, or $25 for VIP seating plus complimentary cocktail and popcorn. HRC will offer a full bar and “movie watching treats” for purchase at the screenings. Also available is an Xtra Pass for VIP access to all five of this year’s Reel Affirmations monthly screenings, for $100. Visit reelaffirmations.org.
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