Review: A Male
by David Katz
- CANNES 2022: Colombian filmmaker Fabián Hernández’s debut queers the gangland coming-of-age film
Is Carlos (Dylan Felipe Ramírez Espitia), the young lead of Fabian Hernández’s debut feature, truly a male as the title puts it? ‘A male’ is less a direct descriptor here than a seal of approval, or the equivalent of an honours degree for excelling on Bogotá’s mean streets. And Carlos, an unhappy, restless resident of a youth shelter, is trembling on the precipice where childhood or boyhood turns into supposed manhood. Whereas many films about adolescents show fumbling or endearing attempts at maturity, Carlos just wants to curl up into a little ball and hide.
The answer, or explanation, as Hernández puts it with admirable subtlety, is that Carlos is realising his latent queerness, and his existence on the streets, and growing relationship with a local criminal, will throw his young life into disarray. A Male [+see also:
interview: Fabián Hernández
film profile], playing in the Directors’ Fortnight at the 75th Cannes Film Festival, shows some of the unsteady, underdeveloped marks of a first feature, but distinguishes itself with its original insight into its milieu, and beautiful imagery that conjures a kind of photogenic urban desolation. It’s completely apparent that the film comes from a very personal place for Hernández before one reads up on his own background and inspirations.
It’s not looking good for Carlos in the youth shelter he resides in, but we can sense an inner fortitude and pragmatism in spite of his other insecurities. He resides there because his mother is incarcerated, whilst his sister Nicole (Juanita Carrillo Ortiz) works ‘the streets’, as she puts it, as a sex worker. Education isn’t in the picture: his day hours are spent working at nearby demolition sites, which Sofia Oggioni’s scope photography renders like experimental rock sculptures. Freddy (Jhonathan Steven Rodríguez), an older colleague, takes a shine to Carlos - not with any particular malicious intent, but more-so to set him on the rite of passage towards street smarts and street cred that seems preordained for young people in his position. As the documentary-like addresses to camera by the other residents of the shelter put it - and they’d dream to be under someone like Freddy’s wing - “the streets have tentacles that pull you in.” And that they tolerate “no snitches, no weirdos, no faggots”.
With its sub-80-minute length, not including credits, A Male intentionally aims for a short story feel, and like many of the best of this literary type, it isn’t concerned with narrative so much as linked impressions and vignettes. Early in the film, a long stretch following Carlos as he spends a night out on Christmas Eve, immediately gives the sense Hernández is achieving something rich: there is no demand of rigid cause-and-effect, just a steady chain of occurrences, including an abortive attempt at heterosexual sex with a female prostitute, that indicate Carlos’ state of mind.
The final plot beat, where Carlos is entrusted by Freddy to murder someone, is less convincing, and doesn’t sufficiently provide the catharsis Hernández is aiming for. It’s intended as a decisive moment, by Freddy, for Carlos’ masculine coming-to-being, but this promising director knows arriving at one’s sexual identity is not so linear a process. And that it takes loving yourself, as much as anything.
A Male is a co-production of Colombia, France, Netherlands and Germany, staged by Medio de Contención Producciones, In Vivo Films, Fortuna Films and Black Forest Films Gmbh, and sold internationally by Dubai-based company Cercamon.
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