Chile is one of the most socially conservative countries in South America. It first legalised divorce after a legal crusade against the Catholic Church in 2004, and LGBT civil partnerships only received official recognition last December. This is in contrast to neighbours Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, which fully recognised gay marriage (and not just civil unions) years ago.
You’ll Never Be Alone is the first movie by Chilean musician Álex Anwandter, a fictionalised account of a gay murder. The film is loosely based on the homophobic torture and murder of Daniel Zamudio in 2012, a case widely disseminated by the Chilean media, and a powerful reminder of the country’s ambiguous attitude towards homosexuals.
Pablo (Andrew Bargsted) is an effeminate gay teenager living with his avuncular and shy father Juan (Sergio Hernández). He often has sex with his neighbour Félix, his best friend is a young lesbian, and he seems very comfortable in his own skin. One day he is severely beaten by a group of homophobic thugs, of which Félix is part. He survives, but is left severely disfigured in hospital. The film title refers to what one of the thugs tells his victim Pablo: “we will never leave you alone”.
Juan often boasts that it is a hard-working Chileans like him that help to build a great country. To his disappointment, both the Chilean health and the justice system fail his son: the crime perpetrators are identified but never punished, and Juan has to pay himself for the face reconstruction surgeries of his son. He has worked in a mannequin factory (pictured above) for 25 years, but his boss also lets him down when he most needs him. Juan then resorts to desperate measures in order to obtain the large sum of money required for his son’s surgeries.
It appears that Chile’s health and justice system are just broken as the country’s socially conservative values. Juan’s tragic story is an expression of the country’s equivocal stance towards gays and lesbians, and it will play a significant role in the country’s recent history of LGBT rights.
The film opens with a powerful sequence of a Pablo dancing in women’s clothing in his own bedroom. Private dance is always liberating in cinema, and here it is symbolic of confined gay freedom. In contrast, the rest of the film is bleak and somber, with good performances combined with distant and timid camerawork.
Sadly the film is too short. This, combined with the dark and sinister atmosphere, obscures some of the performances and makes it difficult to engage with the characters, particularly Pablo. Perhaps the film’s photography is not entirely suitable for such a politically and emotionally charged theme.
Also, the movie relies too heavily on music (part of it composed by the director himself) and on the mannequin symbolism. The dummies are as passive to this horrific crime as most of the real humans in the story. Nevertheless, it remains a politically relevant and engrossing film.
You’ll Never Be Alone premiered in Europe in February 2016 as part of the Panorama Session of the 66th Berlin Film Festival. It won a special jury prize, and DMovies believes that it will be taken into the LGBT film circuit in most of Europe and beyond. Watch out for it!