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“If you’re gay,” says one of the characters of In the Grayscale, “then it’s black and white”. But that’s not the case for Bruno, the protagonist of a film which explores the impact, both on the self and on others, of not slotting into the standard categories. Sensitively scripted and played, sharp but schematic in the connections it makes between the individual and society, Claudio Marcone’s debut lacks the distinctiveness of say Desiree Akhavan’s recent Appropriate Behaviour, which tackles similar issues in a more upbeat, expansive way. But it nonetheless works where it matters most, at the level of character, with Grayscale likely to add color to LGBT-themed fests and sidebars.
Early scenes show architect Bruno (Francisco Celhay, best-known in Chile for his TV work) alone in his grandfather’s (Sergio Hernandez) workshop, where it soon becomes clear he’s not so much alone as stranded between two lives, one actual, one potential. The first is his “straight” marriage with his wife Soledad (Daniela Ramirez) from whom he’s taking a break, and son Daniel (Matias Torres). The other potential life turns up in the outgoing, cheeky-chappie form of Fernando (Emilio Edwards), a Santiago historian who is to be Bruno’s city guide as he sets about a commission to design a new architectural landmark for the city.
Bruno is hesitant about what kind of building to design and, now that he’s forced to decide, equally uncertain about which his “true” sexuality is. Some wonderfully nuanced, erotically charged cat and mouse exchanges over the film’s first half — Fernando in open pursuit, Bruno holding back — reach their inevitable conclusion at about halfway. Their first kiss is interestingly withheld from the screen, and is only debated in retrospect, a rare scripting sleight of hand in a film which is otherwise as unadorned and well-defined as its protagonists’ often half-naked bodies.
Two questions dominate from this point: will Bruno figure out which design to go with, and, more significantly, how far will he go down the road towards the black and white which defines Fernando’s comparatively uncomplicated sexuality?
The exchanges between Bruno and Fernando, which are the film’s emotional and dramatic cornerstones, are beautifully played from the outset, both actors delivering attractively naturalistic performances through dialogues supercharged with subtext. Other characters successfully round out the effects of Bruno’s indecision on those around him: Soledad, who true to her name is indeed lonely, but who will later get the film’s lengthiest monologue; his grandfather, surprisingly supportive and showing that it’s not enough to categorize such issues as merely generational, and his son, at the center of perhaps the film’s most dramatically vibrant scene. Otherwise, the treatment is low-key treatment throughout, the script wisely refusing to play up the histrionics implicit in such a tale of problematic self-identity
Initially, Bruno suggests that his architectural icon should be a phallic tower: later it becomes a transitional bridge. The symbolism may not be subtle, but it does efficiently show how Bruno’s inner conflict ties into larger concerns — particularly that of Chile as a mixed race nation, never quite at ease with itself.
Andres Jordan’s camerawork is often slightly wobbly hand-held, creating an insiderish, quasi-documentary air, while the exteriors use natural light and lend some scenes a lens-flare joyousness. Bruno alone, however, is sometimes framed as though to emphasize his isolation, while one scene is unashamedly voyeuristic in the way it fills the screen with parts of him sleeping — his torso, his hand. It is a rare concession to stylistic quirkiness in a film which is otherwise refreshingly unmediated — which does not mean unsubtle — and mannerism-free.
Production company: Tantan Films
Cast: Francisco Celhay, Emilio Edwards, Daniela Ramirez, Matias Torres, Sergio Hernandez, Marcial Tagle
Director: Claudio Marcone
Screenwriter: Beppe Norero
Producers: Luis Cifuentes, Claudio Marcone
Executive producers: Miguel Angel Muniz
Director of photography: Andres Jordan
Production designer: Daniela Lopez
Costume designer: Sebastian Torrico
Editor: Felipe Galvez
No rating, 96 minutes
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