Q&A with ‘Horseplay’ director Marco Berger

"Horseplay," directed by Marco Berger, opens June 2 at Film Noir in Brooklyn and June 13 on digital platforms.
“Horseplay,” directed by Marco Berger, opens June 2 at Film Noir in Brooklyn and June 13 on digital platforms.
Dark Star Pictures

Out gay Argentine writer/director Marco Berger’s latest film features a group of hot twentysomething guys who share a house together over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. All of the men are straight, save the closeted Poli (Franco de la Puente), who secretly has sex with the bisexual Andy (Agustín Machta). Throughout the film, the guys are participating in various games and dares, like “homo photos,” where two sleeping guys are photographed with one man’s hand on the other guy’s crotch, or two guys pose naked as if they were caught having sex. The men also mock oral sex with each other and have a contest to see who has the cutest ass. These homoerotic frat boy shenanigans are all tinged with homophobia, which is Berger’s point; there is considerable sexual tension and violence in this hothouse atmosphere, where the hunky cast all walk around in a little more than a bathing suit. (Berger often shoots crotches and asses, chests and bodies in closeup).

“Horseplay” may have a relaxed, hangout vibe, but Berger is making a shrewd commentary on these guys who like to be in control even when they are out of control. The filmmaker spoke with Gay City News about this new film.

Your film is depicting a toxic male culture. What were your reasons for exploring this theme in “Horseplay?”

In 2020, there was a murder in Villa Gesell, a beach in Argentina. A bunch of rugby boys bullied and killed another boy, Fernando Báez Sosa. It was really shocking. Then it was in the news that the [killers] had these videos from their phone showing them at home. They were normal people. Killers are often portrayed as monsters in films. I wanted to make a film with regular people where the violence grows little by little — then you realize it is a film about violence. At first, you think these could be people you know. I wanted to portray these upper-class boys without control. 

There are many homoerotic moments of the guys “fooling around” and being sexual while declaring that they are not gay. Can you discuss the behavior in the film? 

It’s called “Horseplay” because it is this kind of messing around. In addition to the upper class and violence, I wanted to talk about masculinity. The guys play games where they are naked, or they are putting a finger in someone’s ass, or touching their friend’s balls. I wanted to do that in [my previous feature] “Taekwondo,” but I wanted to make that film sweet. When I realized that I was going to make this film, I wanted to show this behavior. The homophobia and repression makes people violent. Part of the violence in the world is because of repression, and one thing people repress is sexuality. The bisexual thing — if you are with a guy once, you are supposed to be gay. You could be straight and have a relationship with a guy; I could have relationship with a girl. This game is portraying the tensions between homophobia and homoeroticism. 

There are some very complicated looks and touching in “Horseplay.” Guys lie together, kiss each other, and get naked, but they take it only so far before it is “gay.” Can you talk about what is allowed, and what is not acceptable? 

The line is when it is reality. As long as it’s a game, it’s OK. If I play at f***ing you, it’s OK. One kiss can be OK if everyone is playing. But if you tell a friend to give me a kiss without any context, it is very dangerous. This kind of game is homophobic. The line is very thin because most of these people are also very repressed. Some them are straight, and having fun, but some desire to touch a dick and are “joking.” 

Why would Poli, who is closeted, want to be in this group of homophobic guys?

He doesn’t want to be in this group. These guys have been his friends forever. This society, the upper-class boys, go to the same school since they were 6 and play sports together. He has been with all of them since he was a kid. He may not have friends outside this circle. He’s keeping this friendship and circle because he has nothing without this. 

How did you work with the cast on their roles? 

I am a drama teacher. I’m good with actors and making situations seem very natural. Some of the guys in “Horseplay” are very different from their characters in real life. I knew most of them. Some are my students. I worked with the actors and characters. We became friends a year before the shooting, coming together, playing games, having barbecues. I wanted them to get to know each other so when they shoot you think they are all friends. They had fun making the film and were having parties. They were friends for real by the time of shooting and they are all good actors.

The cast wear little more than bathing suits, and each, if not every character, gets naked at some point. Can you talk about casting the actors and getting them to participate in these scenes? 

I had the idea first, then I cast the actors, then I wrote script and then I shot it. I asked them: Who has a problem with showing your dick or ass? And what do you want or don’t want to do? Some prefer not to show their dick, some said, “I don’t care.” I told Jordán Romero, “You are going to be completely naked because everyone is going to make fun of you because you have a really big dick.” So, he knew he was going to be very exposed. The principal characters knew they were going to be naked, and they said, “I have no problem.” Poli was a little afraid, and I said to think about it, but it’s his choice.  In the end, he says, “I trust you.” You have to be clear with them. You can’t tell them you won’t be naked, and then get them naked.

You frame the action almost entirely in the house, pool, and surrounding area which is a crucible for the action. But while many things happen — several things are quite disturbing — there is very little focus on plot. Can you talk about that approach to telling this story?

Some of my films have a classic structure, like “Plan B” which is a rom-com. This film was a portrait, like “Taekwondo.” I want the viewer to feel lost and wonder where this is going. Nothing is actually happening. I wanted this portrait of violence to grow and grow—you don’t know why until the end. That was on purpose. You don’t understand anything until the end, then you understand everything. It’s a way to tell a story. I am showing this behavior and violence growing step by step. At first you are laughing, and having fun, then there is blood and violence, and you stop laughing. In the end, you realize it is a careful portrait of homophobia and violence.

“Horseplay” | Directed by Marco Berger | Opening June 2 at Film Noir in Brooklyn and June 13 on digital platforms | Distributed by Dark Star Pictures