Plan B -- Film Review



PARIS -- Stories of sexual confusion are so common in foreign art house cinema that an Argentinean comedy about a guy who seduces his ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend hardly sounds like it would quicken the pulse.

But "Plan B," writer-director Marco Berger's feature-length debut, coaxes the contrived premise into a mischievous, sexy, improbably touching examination of male friendship and desire.

The film plays at Outfest, Los Angeles' premier gay and lesbian film festival. Careful pacing and modest production values put this in limited-release territory as far as North American potential goes, but provocative material matched with two appealing actors and solid reviews could make "Plan B" a sleeper.

The film's setup is gimmicky: Scruffy twentysomething charmer Bruno (Manuel Vignau) is nursing a broken heart -- or is it wounded pride? -- after being dumped by his girlfriend Laura (Mercedes Quinteros) for sad-eyed pretty boy Pablo (Lucas Ferraro). Bruno hears through the grapevine that Pablo is bisexual, and that's when he decides to covertly seduce his new rival, hoping to wrest back the woman he feels was taken from him.

The logic behind Bruno's scheme is shaky at best, and early glimpses of the bohemian, surfer-esque character do nothing to suggest someone capable of such ambitious manipulation. Less promising still are opening scenes that feel flat and a washed-out digital aesthetic that gives attractive performers and Buenos Aires locales a drab, student-film look.

But "Plan B" sneaks up on you. It doesn't go out of its way to charm or score laughs, choosing rather to draw you gently into its characters' heads and hearts. Although the film initially looks to be another messy love triangle, it quickly becomes clear that Laura figures only peripherally into what interests Berger -- namely, the leaps of tenderness, defensive walls and existential anxieties through which men forge emotional connections as well as the fluidity of romantic feelings.

Bruno and Pablo spend lazy afternoons and late nights bonding over shared TV obsessions, flirting with girls at parties and having rambling, joint-passing conversations in which they use seemingly asinine subjects -- "If you were a toy, what toy would you be?" -- to tiptoe up to and around deeper feelings. These scenes amount to a convincing, finely shaded portrait of two people gradually and unexpectedly becoming attached to each other.

"Plan B" is stretched about 15 minutes too long, but as the line blurs between Bruno's feigned intentions and his real ones, the film generates a real erotic suspense. The ambiguous blend of back-slapping affection and teasing sexual tension that Berger and his two actors navigate is a delicate balancing act: Too much would have cheapened the story; not enough would have diluted it.

Although the narrative's broad outlines represent ground covered in films from "Dangerous Liaisons" to "Brokeback Mountain" to the more recent indie "Humpday," "Plan B" has an authentic ache at its center. We find ourselves surprised at how far we are willing to follow these characters in their clumsy attempts to figure out what they want and whether they have the courage to pursue it.

Berger makes purposeful use of light, space and his actors' bodies in scenes of bleary-eyed platonic morning-afters, when Bruno and Pablo wake up with their unclad limbs just barely touching. Action is limited to a few sparsely decorated settings -- small apartments, a locker room, a seaside lot -- which seems fitting for characters unconsciously closed in by still-evolving South American sexual mores.

One clumsy touch is the use of repeated shots of buildings accompanied by nerve-wracking ambient noise. Perhaps Berger means to evoke the seismic shifts rearranging the insides of his characters, but the device feels imported from another cinematic universe entirely.

Both leads give soulful performances. As Bruno's bravado dissolves into something more vulnerable and Pablo struggles to mask his restless longings with nonchalance, the actors make the stakes for this pair of lost souls feel very high indeed.

Venue: Outfest
Production: Oh My Gomez! Films, Brainjaus Producciones, Rendez-vous Pictures
Cast: Manuel Vignau, Lucas Ferraro, Mercedes Quinteros, Ana Lucia Antony, Damian Canduci, Carolina Stegmayer
Director-screenwriter: Marco Berger
Producer: Martin Cuinat
Director of photography: Tomas Perez Silva
Music: Pedro Irusta
Editor: Marco Berger
No rating, 103 minutes