Desire Forbidden to Be Spoken

Alfonso Barón and Gaston Re in Marco Berger’s “The Blonde One,” now available on streaming and DVD.
TLA Releasing

Since everyone has a bit of time on their hands these days, now is a perfect opportunity to watch one of out gay Argentine writer/ director Marco Berger’s films. Berger’s distinctive brand of “slow” cinema relies mainly on inaction; most of the drama stems from the characters’ long, meaningful glances that brim with unspoken desire. The filmmaker’s work often presents the relationship between two men caught in an intimate — and sexual — dynamic.

“The Blonde One,” his most recent release in the States, available on DVD and via streaming platforms, is a poignant, erotic, and quietly powerful drama in this vein.

Juan (Alfonso Barón) is renting out his spare room to his colleague Gabriel (Gaston Re). The men hang out watching TV, drinking beer, and smoking. Friends come over from time to time and do the same. The tableau of life presented here is quotidian. Still, there is an undercurrent of homoeroticism percolating between the two men. When Juan places his hand in Gabriel’s lap for support in one scene, Berger’s camera freights it with sexual suggestion.

Alfonso Barón as spied by his roommate in “The Blonde One.”TLA Releasing

One night, Gabriel spies Juan naked through his doorway. Was this a deliberate provocation on Juan’s part or just the happenstance of living together? Berger builds the sexual tension between the two men deliciously as they often stare at each other or stand intimately close on the train. The men do not talk much. They have a brief conversation about girlfriends. Gabriel pays weekend visits to his young daughter Ornella (Malena Irusta), who lives with her grandparents. But the unspoken attraction between these two men is palpable. And the way Gabriel looks at Juan, it is clear he is romantically intrigued by his roommate.

In Berger’s previous features, “Plan B,” “Absent,” “Hawaii,” and “Taekwondo,” it took almost the entire film to unfold before one of the men makes the first move on the guy he desires. “The Blonde One” cuts to the chase early, with Gabriel acting on an impulse to stroke Juan’s cock through his sweatpants as they stand side by side in a doorway. It is an extremely erotic moment that leads to a scene of passion.

But is Juan simply bored, horny, and bi-curious? Or is he expressing his deeply-buried same-sex feelings? Berger keeps viewers on tenterhooks as Juan sends Gabriel mixed messages — starting with sending him back to his own room after sex. As Gabriel becomes ever more confused, he fills their post-coitus encounters with stony silence. Still, Gabriel’s puppy-dog eyes indicate how fast he is falling in love with his roommate.

Berger is very exacting as a filmmaker in depicting this bromance. It is not just how he films the men together, creating sensuality through their cozy body language. He shrewdly shifts focus to blur out Gabriel self-consciously disrobing in front of Juan, and he pivots to Gabriel’s face when Juan leaves the room to have sex with his girlfriend Natalia (Melissa Falter). He also deliberately objectifies the men’s naked bodies with an almost voyeuristic eye, lingering on their buff, hairy chests, pert asses, and casual full-frontal nudity to entice viewers, making them actively join in the lust.

“The Blonde One” tells its story almost entirely through Gabriel’s experiences — he is “the blonde one.” This approach serves the film well. Gabriel conspires to spend a weekend alone with Juan, only to become jealous when two of Juan’s friends visit and Juan stay out overnight. This episode prompts Juan to assert, “Don’t make me explain myself like you’re my girlfriend,” leading Gabriel to silently wonder if Juan isn’t really just his fuck buddy?

Berger tips his hand as to who has the power in the relationship, but that does not minimize the film’s pleasures. A scene in which Gabriel caresses Juan’s naked body in bed is lovely, even if the frank discussion the men are having is quietly devastating.

Alfonso Barón makes Juan super-seductive, and the actor deliberately keeps his character’s emotions in check; he does not to reveal much more than his sexy body. Barón’s downplaying, however, magnifies Gaston Re’s moving performance. Re conveys so much of Gabriel’s pent-up feelings through the simplest of expressions. The scenes of him staring longingly at Juan or at his daughter Ornella suggest a love that consumes him. Re’s mostly internal performance is hypnotic because viewers come to understand his every thought as Gabriel processes his inchoate emotions.

Marco Berger masterfully captures the heightened sexual tension between two men in a film that is both exquisite and excruciating.

THE BLONDE ONE | Directed by Marco Berger | TLA Releasing | In Spanish with English subtitles | Available on DVD and via streaming |