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SAN SEBASTIAN 2022 Competition

Review: Pornomelancolía

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- Manuel Abramovich presents an audacious film where fiction and reality come together to shine a light on issues rarely explored in contemporary auteur cinema

Review: Pornomelancolía
Lalo Santos in Pornomelancolía

The San Sebastian International Film Festival is no stranger to polemics, and this year’s edition of the festival managed to spark heated debate before it had even opened. One of the movies responsible for this furore was Pornomelancolía [+see also:
trailer
interview: Manuel Abramovich
film profile
]
. A candidate for the Golden Shell, this film by Argentine director Manuel Abramovich sits halfway between fiction and documentary and opens up an unusual window onto the porn world, in the company of adult film actor Lalo Santos. The announcement of the film’s selection in competition was followed by a long thread on Santos’ Twitter account, in which he expressed his regret at having taken part in the film, having felt violated and unprotected by the team in charge during the shooting process. Given the high levels of physical and psychological exposure which were expected from the protagonist, it’s hard to sit down to this movie without prejudice or objection.

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The theme explored by the film is clear from the opening scene. We see Lalo in the middle of a city full of people, immobile and apparently lost, to the point he breaks down and cries unconsolably while those around him don’t bat an eyelid. The isolation and disconnection of human beings in the 21st century and in a context of technological hyperconnectivity is a fundamental issue which Abramovich sets out before us. We soon see that this lack of real contact contrasts sharply with the protagonist’s frenetic virtual life, as he spends the larger part of his time sharing sexually explicit images of himself on his social media accounts. And he does so very successfully: huge numbers of men interact with his content and send him messages expressing their admiration and their desire to have sex with him.

The camera follows Lalo constantly: he leads a solitary life, his mobile is a constant presence, and he doesn’t seem entirely convinced by his few real-world interactions. The film doesn’t skimp on images of Lalo’s sport-sculpted body and his enormous penis, which are displayed without hesitation. As the protagonist professionalises his activities, taking part in a pornographic film with other men (women hardly appear in the film), reflections on sex, its representation within the public sphere and the taboos continue to be associated with one of the most natural human activities become increasingly elegant and profound.

An especially moving and disconcerting scene is the one where Lalo and his film-shoot friends speak openly and honestly about intimacy within their families. In the background, a blurry image of a man performing fellatio on another makes palpable the contrast between the different levels of what we consider to be intimacy. Abramovich opens a stimulating and sensitive window onto the porn world, revealing the way in which many people live their own sexuality through virtual tools. And he does so thanks to the total dedication of Lalo Santos, who leaves no stone unturned when it comes to his body or his soul.

That’s why it’s so frustrating and disheartening to know that the shooting process was traumatic for its protagonist, and that further down the line, Santos still doesn’t feel he can be proud of this courageous work which is fully deserving of praise.

Pornomelancolía is produced by Argentina’s Gema Films, Brazil’s Desvia Filmes, France’s Dublin Films and Mexico’s Martfilms. International sales are entrusted to Luxbox [+see also:
trailer
interview: Manuel Abramovich
film profile
]
.

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(Translated from Spanish)

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