The most remarkable aspect of Axel Petersén and Måns Månsson’s The Real Estate (discussed in yesterday’s diary) is the heroine. Léonore Ekstrand plays a 68-year-old, which is the actress’s age in real life. It isn’t just that she is unafraid to play her age. She’s unafraid to look her age. In a scene in a cab, she’s lit from below. You see every fold on her face, every wrinkle. In a scene at the gym, her body stands in glorious defiance of the younger bodies around her, and in a sex scene, she straddles the man, fully, frontally nude. An exchange from the first Bridget Jones movie came to mind, when the heroine gets out of bed with a sheet around her because she doesn’t want her boyfriend to see her “wobbly bits.” He replies, “I happen to have a very high regard for your wobbly bits.” European actresses are brave that way. They accept their bodies, wobbly bits and all.
The nudity in Mónica Lairana’s La cama (The Bed) is equally unapologetic, equally unconcerned about camouflaging very normal-looking bodies with careful lighting or carefully arranged bedsheets. The story chronicles the last day of togetherness of a fifty- or sixty-something couple about to be separated, Mabel (Sandra Sandrini) and Jorge (Alejo Mango). The opening scene has them trying to have sex, and Jorge cannot perform. The camera stays still throughout the film, like an invisible observer (as opposed to a participant in the goings-on, tracking or zooming in), and what we see is what two naked people (who are used to being naked around one another, having been married for decades) would be like if they did not know they were being watched/recorded by a camera. At least, that’s the impression we’re left with, thanks to two of the most un-self-conscious actors I have seen.
The nudity, thus, turns unremarkable. After five minutes, we stop noticing that this man and woman (the only two people in the film) aren’t wearing any clothes, and whether they’re having sex or in the shower, it becomes just another mundane activity — like Mabel pouring out cat food, like Mabel and Jorge moving furniture and cataloguing things (his vs hers), like Jorge helping Mabel with the zipper of her dress, like Mabel bandaging Jorge’s twisted ankle, like Jorge spraying air freshener after using the toilet. In other words, like many films at this year’s Berlinale, La cama is more interesting as a concept. It’s easier (and infinitely more interesting) to talk about it than actually sit through it.
Watching the film, I wondered if this is how some audiences felt while viewing Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975). Of course, those were slower times, and people were presumably more inclined to slog their way through conceptually fascinating, snail-paced art-house fare, but there’s another reason I bring up that film. The “plot,” about a sex worker who kills her client with a pair of scissors, promises excitement, tension — but the deliberate pace urges us to concentrate on the micro details of her life. (The cooking. The cleaning. The idle chatter.) Here, too, the plot synopsis and the deeply romantic Romain Rolland quote that opens the film (Everyone, deep down within, carries a small cemetery of those he has loved) suggest the dying embers of a once-great passion. What we get, instead, is an anti-romance that tells us that, after a while, it’s usually more about the small details than the grand gesture. Instead of a scene with roses, the director gives us one with air freshener.
A very different kind of nudity — a more exhibitionistic kind — is on display in Tinta Bruta (Hard Paint), directed by Marcio Reolon and Filipe Matzembacher. Pedro (Shico Menegat) is a young, gay chat-room performer, who goes by the name NeonBoy. He smears glow-in-the-dark paint on his body and performs an erotic dance for viewers who go by handles like MarriedVoyeur. The film plays like a coming-of-age story. Pedro does not go out much. No, that would be an understatement. His sister, Luiza (Guega Peixoto), before taking up a job in another city, extracts a promise that Pedro will step out of the apartment for at least five minutes a day. The paint becomes a metaphor. It helps the painfully introverted Pedro think he’s more colourful than he is.
Things begin to change when Pedro meets the fun-loving Leo (Bruno Fernandes), who draws him out of his shell. Tinta Bruta has a way of showing things and then filling you in. We see Pedro at a court hearing. We learn the reason much later. We see a woman celebrating. We learn who she is much later. Is this delayed gratification, perhaps, a device to keep us hooked in a somewhat predictable narrative trajectory? A more streamlined approach may have given us a greater emotional stake in Pedro’s transformation. Still, Shico Menegat paints a moving portrait of a man who realises that he can’t be spending his life hanging out in the virtual world. It’s a splendid thought for today’s times.