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Rotting in the Sun

Filthy-queer-radical metafictional dramedy about suicidal Chilean filmmaker living in Mexico is hilarious, sexy, gruesome and tense in equal measures - on VoD on Monday, October 2nd

This is a film that should have no trailer. Or a trailer that registers audience reactions to the movie rather than the movie itself, just as Alfred Hitchcock did with Psycho (1960). And no synopsis. That’s because Rotting in the Sun takes a major turn roughly a third into the story. The main protagonist disappears, flipping the story upside down, and shifting the focus to a hitherto secondary character. Just like Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane. I’ll try to tell you as much as I can (and tempt you to watch the movie) without spoiling the experience for you.

Young and handsome director Chilean director plays a moody and potentially suicidal version of himself. He lives in a large and messy studio in Mexico City, the walls decorated with large paintings, and morbid drawings of all sorts. He is fascinated with death, often pondering about ingesting a deadly sedative called Pentobarbital, that’s only to be found in Mexico. He consistently escapes from reality by taking copious amounts of ketamine, comfortably sheltering himself inside his tiny k-hole. His fridge has little more than a few bottles of poppers. A whippet called Chima is his most trusted companion, but he often vents his anger and frustration upon the poor canine (particularly when the animal eats poo during their street walks). Devoted cleaner Vero (Catalina Saavedra) attempts to keep to keep the flat clean, which turns out to be a Sisyphean task.

Sebastian travels to a notorious gay hotspot in search of some excitement. Zicatela is a drug-fuelled, hedonistic, anything-goes type of beach. Beautiful young men masturbate while facing the sea, or fuck each behind the rocks, barely concealed the action from the larger crowds. The subjective point-of-view suggests that our protagonist is impressed by the diversity of penises on display, filmed from virtually every angle conceivable. Close-ups reveal that the male genitalia comes in all different shapes and sizes. However Sebastian never has sex with the men. In. fact, he does not even take his clothes off.

Our quiet and sullen protagonist nearly drowns while attempting to save a fellow beach-goer. He opens up his eyes only to see a full circle of dicks surrounding him, in one of the film’s most hilarious scenes. A dream come true to many people. The drowning man for whom Sebastian almost sacrificed his own life turns out to be the narcissistic, happy-go-lucky American filmmaker and online influencer Jason Firstman (who has nearly a million followers on Instagram). He becomes obsessed with his saviour, and the serendipity of the freak near-accident. He is adamant that the two man are destined to work together, and to fuck abundantly in the process. Sebastian is far less enthusiastic, shunning his constant advances. He does eventually agree to stay in touch with Jason, and the two men continue to communicate after they both return home.

The film title doesn’t just refer to the filthy faggots grilling their bodies in the sun while also fornicating in public at broad daylight. There is also a second meaning that I cannot reveal without ruining the story for you.

Jason travels to Mexico City in order to meet Sebastian, but the eccentric artist disappeared without leaving a trace before the American celebrity arrived. Has he ghosted Jason, has he committed suicide, or has he simply embarked on a binge of some sort? At first, Jason isn’t too concerned. He waits patiently for Sebastian to return, in the comfort of his own flat. He invites strangers to multiple orgies. Randy gay men such as I are guaranteed to enjoy seeing superhot Jason Firstman naked, hard and even sucking cock, both on the beach and inside Sebastian’s flat (which he begins to treat as his own house). Vero is largely unimpressed with his lifestyle, but carries on with her cleaning duties nevertheless. Poo-loving Chima develops an acquired taste for freshly used dildos. Human faeces, what a delicious new treat!

But the fun doesn’t last forever. Red flags are raised when Jason finds Sebastian’s wallet and phone still inside the flat, which mysteriously disappear shortly after. He begins to suspect that something horrific may indeed have happened, and that the increasingly agitated Vero has something to do with his disappearance. He asks Sebastian’s brother to fly in from Chile in order to help him locate the missing man. The communication with the cleaner is very strained because Jason does not speak Spanish and instead has to rely on an interpreting mobile app instead. Vero gives short, ambiguous and contradictory answers. Confronted with unabashed male promiscuity, class differences and language barriers, it is hardly surprising that she does not wish to engage with Jason. Saavedra is the real show-stealer, deftly blending humanity with desperation to pitch-perfect results.

The final two thirds of the film are extremely tense, as if a ticking bomb was about to explode at any minute. You will be on the edge of your seat until the very last minute of the film, which is wrapped up by Bonnie Raitt’s ultra-camp Total Eclipse of the Heart combined with images of Sebastian’s work: penises, drug references and the fear of death – recurring topics in the life of a creative gay man of his age. The song offers viewers a hard-earned moment of relief. The cherry on the cake of a dirtylicious movie bursting with flavours of all sorts. This is a movie that touched my heart (as well as other parts of my anatomy).

This isn’t the only recent queer Mexican drama that uses real Instagram personalities playing themselves in a metafictional story. Pornomelancolia (Manuel Abramovic, 2022) does precisely the same – to vastly inferior results. The topic of a mysterious gay disappearance following a visit to a sex beach may also recall Stranger by the Lake (Alain Guiraudie, 2013). The French thriller is effective in its own merit, however it lacks the inventiveness, the humour and the rawness of this Chilean-Mexican production. This is a film set to immediately join the canon of the dirtiest LGBT movies ever made.

Rotting in the Sun just showed at the 40th edition of the Munich Film Festival. Watching such a subversive gay drama dealing with drug addiction and self-destructiveness in the town of Rainer Werner Fassbinder made the experience ever more memorable. This is precisely where the German director filmed Fox and his Friends nearly 50 years ago (in 1973), in which the gay protagonist succumbs to a benzodiazepine. Valium killed the character and also the German director. Rivotril is briefly featured in Rotting in the Sun. Let’s hope Chilean filmmaker Silva does not have the same fate as his Bavarian counterpart.

Sebastian Silva’s new film premiered earlier this year in Sundance. It is out in cinemas on Friday, September 15th. On various VoD platforms on Monday, October 2nd.

By Victor Fraga - 25-06-2023

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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