Igloo: Outfest Review

An atmospheric but underwhelming look at a difficult period in a twentysomething gay man’s life.

Young Chilean actor Diego Ruiz explores grief, sexuality and addiction in his directorial debut.

Working on a shoestring budget, Chilean actor Diego Ruiz infuses Igloo, his first directing effort, with mood and atmosphere that ultimately outweigh the story. The protagonist, a young gay man grappling with grief, brings his own particular fears and despondencies to universal experiences of loss — a breakup, the death of a parent. But despite Ruiz’s convincing performance in the central role, the film seldom feels singular enough to be compelling. A scrambled chronology doesn’t help, undermining rather than strengthening the narrative. The feature, which received its world premiere at Outfest in Los Angeles, opens on the director’s home turf in September.

Ruiz lends a soulful gaze — and, on the rare occasions it’s called for, ace comic timing — to the role of twentysomething illustrator Daniel Hahn, whose story jumps around within a five-year span. The two main periods of focus involve relationships with women that help to dispel Daniel’s pain.

A sad but pulled-together Daniel becomes sexually involved with Camila (Camila Hirane), an ad-agency colleague who pursues him. A few years earlier, a distraught, pill-popping Daniel embarks on an unofficial course of therapy with an agoraphobic neighbor, Paula (Alessandra Guerzoni). She’s a licensed doctor who can dispense the Valium that Daniel desperately needs, but the therapeutic nature of their sessions is anything but structured, and very much mutual.

This element of the movie, its most original, is drawn from a German play and was the starting point for the screenplay by Ruiz and Shawn Garry. In scenes with the anxious Paula, who’s persuasively played by Guerzoni, Daniel is a jittery wreck. The source of his distress is the death of his mother and the infidelity of his boyfriend (Alejandro Goic), a much older man who was his architecture professor.

Fractured chronology can be a potent thing, but this is a case where a clearer, more straightforward approach would have benefited the drama. The viewer’s need to piece together a timeline is distracting rather than involving. Another storytelling device that yields no revelations is the film’s voiceover narration: Sparingly used but mostly unnecessary, it imparts information that’s implicit in the action or could have been woven into it to stronger effect.

Daniel’s sexual fluidity is handled with an effective lack of fuss, as is his estrangement from his parents after coming out to them as gay. Given the daring and poignancy of these aspects of the story, it’s frustrating that an ordinary sense of self-absorption, complete with video-diary snippets, submerges so much of the proceedings. A street-ballet fantasy sequence stands out as an exceptionally eloquent expression of Daniel’s state of mind, and also as one of the few times the character’s artistic bent is fully integrated into the cinematic strategy.

Shooting mostly in interiors (the movie’s title refers to the self-enclosed spaces that can sometimes feel ideal), cinematographer Nicolas Ibieta captures a spectrum of emotions, from broody to hopeful, in often striking imagery. A brief glimpse of the streets of Santiago is as jolting as it is everyday, and a signal of the main character’s return to the world.

Venue: Outfest (International Dramatic Features)
Production companies: Storyboard Media, Creative Content
Cast: Diego Ruiz, Alessandra Guerzoni, Camila Hirane, Alejandro Goic
Director: Diego Ruiz
Writers: Diego Ruiz, Shawn Garry
Executive producers: Carlos Nunez, Gabriela Sandoval
Director of photography: Nicolas Ibieta
Production designer: Nicolas Oyarce
Music: Sebastian Vergara
Editor: Gustavo Silva
No MPAA rating, 72 minutes