Metro Weekly

‘Rotting in the Sun’ Review: Beach Balls

A random encounter on a nudist beach sets off a darkly hilarious chain of events in Sebastián Silva's "Rotting in the Sun."

Rotting in the Sun
Rotting in the Sun

The filmmaker goes missing, and not just figuratively in Sebastián Silva’s sharply sardonic, self-referencing comedy Rotting in the Sun (★★★★☆). Cinema itself might soon go missing, Silva fears, portraying himself in this twisting tale of his own disappearance. And what comes after cinema? Apparently, just “content,” a word Silva, writer-director of such wickedly tense films as The Maid and Nasty Baby, spits out with contempt, despite his addiction, like anyone else, to mindlessly surfing internet clips.

The onscreen Silva also doesn’t disguise his contempt for content creator Jordan Firstman, the real-life gabby, gay social media maven he runs into on a nude beach in Oaxaca. Flirtatious Firstman reminds the filmmaker they’ve met before, then promptly starts pitching new content, a ridiculous-sounding reality show/social media experience that he wants Silva to produce.

Silva clearly resents the fame and success of the sex-partying YouTuber, who, of course, is staying at the best hotel in town with a gaggle of artistes and scenesters. But, perhaps most of all, the depressive director disdains the influencer’s impenetrable cheerfulness. Misery does not always love company.

However, artists always need money, and Firstman offers to Venmo an advance, so Silva agrees to host Firstman at his studio in Mexico City, where they can bang out a formal pitch for the project. That’s also where the film, co-written by Silva and frequent collaborator Pedro Peirano, truly lifts off — following its funny, drug-fueled first act — as Firstman arrives in Mexico City and Silva is nowhere to be found.

The only people around who might be able to help locate him are Silva’s straight-bro manager Mateo (Mateo Riestra), who owns the building that houses Silva’s studio and apartment, and the building’s caretaker Señora Vero (Catalina Saavedra), who won’t say where he is, if she knows.

Saavedra — so riveting in Silva’s 2009 feature breakout The Maid playing a housekeeper desperate to maintain her position inside a wealthy Chilean household — gives another award-worthy performance, as Vero engages interloper Firstman in a battle of wills that escalates into a flurry of lies and accusations.

The exquisitely composed handheld camerawork keeps us clued in to every beat of Vero watching, reacting, plotting, and prevaricating, and Saavedra never lets us or the camera down, whether playing dumb in Vero’s language-limited interactions with “gringo” Firstman, or verbally sparring with Vero’s cantankerous husband Lalo (Gustavo Melgarejo, also very good).

In terms of depth and subtlety in acting, Firstman’s no match for Saavedra, especially as the mystery of the missing filmmaker deepens, heightening the distress of Silva’s doleful greyhound Chima (giving the most expressive, non-CGI-assisted canine performance of the year). But the celebrity influencer is utterly convincing and consistently amusing as a vapid, proudly vulgar bon vivant.

Life’s a banquet of sex, drugs, and swinging dicks, and Firstman is chowing down. He can’t fathom why Silva rolls any differently. Early in the film, when Silva confesses a desire to kill himself, Firstman slaps him silly, insisting “Suicide is for f—-ts!”

Rotting in the Sun
Rotting in the Sun

Firstman also gleefully posts an Instagram story of Silva snorting ketamine at a party, just to capture the moment. The film in turn captures the unmistakable tension between old and new media, the ongoing clash of industries and cultures, one quickly consuming everything, the other in dire fear of being devoured.

In a sign of which way the wind might be blowing, Silva includes a witty scene of himself in a half-hearted Zoom meeting with HBO execs who couldn’t care less for the ideas he’s pitching, until he mentions the possibility of teaming with social media sensation Firstman. His serious artistic ambitions don’t amount to much compared to Firstman’s millions of followers.

Ultimately, though, Silva, with this tightly scripted, crisply edited film, asserts some supremacy for cinema as an endlessly rich and adaptable medium for compelling characters and storytelling, at least for now.

Rotting in the Sun is available for streaming on Sept. 15 with a $10.99/month subscription on MUBI (which offers a 7-day Free Trial). Visit

Rotting in the Sun also screens Sept. 22 as part of the AFI Latin American Film Festival (Sept. 21-Oct. 11) at AFI Silver Theatre, Silver Spring. For tickets and details, click here.

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