Lalo Santos is a 34-year-old lonely and despondent factory worker. He has an active porn career on Twitter, with more than 130,000 keen followers, but he doesn’t seem to monetise much from his labour. So he to takes part in a porn flick, where he is cast to play Emiliano Zapata, a leading guerrilla leader during the Mexican Revolution (one of those characters with a big Mexican hat and a large gun). The young hunk plays the lead, and has to engage in sex with a wide plethora of men of a similar age and looks. He performs his duties as required, despite lacking passion and enthusiasm for the project.
Blending fiction with documentary, Pornomelancholia sets out to paint the porn business as bleak and dispassionate. Lalo does act upon cue (“lower your pants”, “give us a bastard look”, “do as if you were gonna drill that slut”, and so on). The film wishes to make it abundantly clear that there is nothing liberating about a porn feature. While the atmosphere is mostly relaxed, there is no real intimacy and bond between the cast and crew. A syringe loaded with a while gel is used in order to simulate a powerful ejaculation. An interesting and somewhat audacious (if not entirely original) film task. The outcome could be riveting, uncomfortable and even funny. Unfortunately Pornomelancholia has none of these qualities. This Mexican film is as tedious and bleak as the film inside the film. For a more affecting film about the futility of the porn industry, watch Bertrand Bonello’s The Pornographer (2001).
One of the problems is the lack of real sex (only a few erections are displayed). This is a poor choice for a film about pornography. Lalo’s enormous moustache is the most indecent element of the film. But far more crucially, the penetration scenes are clearly staged, rendering the film unrealistic and unimaginative. The fact that Lalo is a real “sex influencer” with a real Twitter account should make the film a little more palpable (pun intended). We see Lalo’s interaction with his followers on Twitter exactly as it happens, mostly with our protagonist lying in bed while looking and typing into his phone. It doesn’t work. The outcome is just boring. Pornomelancholia never reaches its climax. It could as well be called Pornomonotonia.
There are some significant achievements. Credit must go to the way the film handles the topic of HIV in the porn industry. The virus is now dismissed because most people are either undetectable or on PrEP (a prophylaxis treatment that prevents those who are negative from becoming infected with the virus). This is a dangerous and irresponsible perception. HIV has not ceased to impact the lives of gay men. The revelation that Lalio himself is HIV positive lends extra credence to the movie, and helps to explain why he finds his life mostly sad and pointless. The stigma attached to HIV continues to affect gay men as much (or perhaps even more) than the actual virus.
This audacious project could have a lot more flair and vigour is we were allowed to penetrate more deeply (once again, pun intended) into the life of Lalio, but instead we only see his downtrodden figure throughout the movie without understand the more complex psychology and events that drove him to such place. The Brazilian movie Hard Paint (Marcio Reolon and Filipe Matzembacher, 2018) provides a far more vivid picture of a young man trying to reconcile his real life with his online persona.
One thing is certain: Lalo has made a far more significant amount of money from making Pornomelancholia than he has at any point in his career. Plus his number of followers is guaranteed to soar. It had already nearly doubled (reaching almost 220,000) by the time this review was written.
Pornomelancholia premiered in the Official Selection of the 70th San Sebastian International Film Festival/ Donostia Zinemaldia (2022). The UK premiere takes place at Fringe! Queer on September 18th, 2023.