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Between Love and a Hard Place

by Kevin Vaughn

“She said she’s never coming back,” Bruno (Manuel Vignau) says casually to his best friend while sharing empanadas and mate. For most men, this concise, undebatable six-word realization is the end, plain and simple, the intent of her words couldn´t cut straighter to the heart. Not for Bruno, a twenty-something Porteño, who reacts to his ex girlfriends bluntly delivered verdict with an arrogant smile. Bruno is of a special breed, when it comes to women, he can´t bear to be on the victims side of a relationship cut short. His effort to win back his girlfriend is more a matter of masculine pride rather than a means to mend a broken heart.

Behind his juvenile untamed locks and a charismatic smile he conceals an arrogant, self-centered core. He continues seeing Laura on a casual sex basis, all the while gathering information about her new boyfriend, Pablo (Lucas Ferraro), a boyishly handsome but timid photographer. Laura´s stand is confirmed when Bruno sees the new couple in a park, in the middle of a loving embrace, gently kissing and laughing. His quiet attempts to bring her back turns into a cold and calculated revenge when he begins to construct a ridiculous and obsessive plan to seduce the innocent Pablo, who has admittedly experimented with another man before.

Between Love and a Hard Place

The true intentions of the plan becomes an open question. The original idea is presented like a joke, but there arises a definable difference between his sexual aggressiveness towards Pablo and his contrastable lack thereof towards Laura. He joins the same gym, makes his presence known, invites himself over to Pablo´s house. The two share a few days by the Rio smoking joints, buy each other gifts, and, on a dare (concocted by Bruno) share a series of kisses.

Although Bruno is a grade-A egoist, ¨Plan B¨ is more than just his story of revenge. It is a funny and insightful movie for first-time director Marco Berger, who has screened his work to wide acclaim domestically at this year´s BAFICI and abroad at the Rome and London Film Festivals. Vignau is charismatic and fun to watch – Berger treats Bruno with compassion, we see less a mastermind behind a cruel joke and more a young man in a confusing period in his life. Ferarro plays Pablo with a wonderful sensitivity without ever truly revealing everything, there is an appropriate sense of guardedness, he won´t be dooped as easily as Bruno plans. In an ingeniously written scene at the end of the film, in which Pablo calls Bruno´s bluff, Vignau and Ferarro express such incredible depth without saying a single line of dialogue, creating the film´s best scene.

Between Love and a Hard Place

 It´s a risky first film, breaking into the world of cinema with a film about two men questioning their sexuality. But Berger handles the subject matter delicately. Maybe the most remarkable thing about his film is his absolute lack of interest in creating something that conforms to the rhythm of a genre picture.

At first glance ¨Plan B¨ appears to be a quite simple project, almost effortlessly made. Upon further contemplation we see that its heart is in details that a genre film would consider minor distancing his film from any stylistic classification. Like Berger´s drifting camera that often cuts on a long-shot of a recently emptied room or a lone Buenos Aires skyscraper at the height of sunset. He is so confident in his characters that he allows them to wander and get lost in their youthful philosophies, his dialogue is written not to advance a plot structure but to capture a series of intimate moments.

To call it a ¨gay picture¨ or even label it under the umbrella of a romantic-comedy would mean we weren´t really watching the film, just lazily following each arising plot point. Making a ´gay film´ was never the intention for the openly homosexual Berger, who explained after a screening of his movie at San Telmo´s Cine MonAmour that he saw his project more as one about two people falling in love, a statement about sexuality never had anything to do with it. Although an obvious theme of the film is sexual identity, the film doesn´t spend its time meditating on the complexities of being homosexual in the modern world, much less under the pretexts of the extremely masculine Argentine society.

Between Love and a Hard Place

Berger´s interest is in developing a strong believable bond between two human beings. Bruno and Pablo falling for one another unfolds so naturally that Berger ironically makes a strong film for the gay community without the intention of doing so. Gay films often make the mistake of over romanticizing or dramatizing the relationship, the best example being ¨Brokeback Mountain¨, we are always conscious in a gay film that the protagonist is gay before conceptualizing them first as a human being. By portraying Bruno and Pablo, for lack of a better word, as two normal men in the process of falling in love, he makes a very powerful statement about the misconceptions of what it means to be gay or straight.

If vulnerable to any genre the most likely candidate would be the buddy film. There is an implicit sexual chemistry in movies about male best friends, an unspoken strange bisexuality, Berger just decides to tap into it. There is a scene towards the middle of the movie, Bruno and Pablo are sitting along the rio smoking joints, philosophizing about the meaning of Peter Pan, that could easily be supplanted into the Venice Beach apartment of Sydney in ¨I Love You, Man¨.

Between Love and a Hard Place

And in portraying two men so candidly, Berger turns what could potentially be Brokeback territory into a keen exploration of friendship, identity crisis and love in a uniquely original comedy of courtship.

Plan B has still not received wide release in Argentina, but will be playing a short limited release at the MALBA during the month of July. Every Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 6pm.

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