“Bittersweet” could be the ultimate single-word “spoiler alert” for any screen romance, aside from the fact that it’s almost a given in the genre.
That’s true even in same-sex romances, as “The Blonde One” reminds us.
It’s an Argentine tale of smoldering looks and sexual discovery, not quite of the more confining and worn out “coming out” genre, but still a story of those first smoldering looks, “first contact” and all that comes after that.
Juan (Alfonso Barón) likes his girlfriend, likes his beer, loves watching futbol with his mates in his roomy two story flat in suburban Buenos Aires.
And he’s got a new roommate, a guy from down at the furniture building shop. It’s Gabriel, Juan tells his burly pal Leandro (Charly Velasco).
“Gabriel?” Leandro asks, in Spanish with English subtitles. “Which one?”
“Un rubio,” Juan says. “The blonde one.”
Gabo (Gaston Re) is an introvert, a bookish sort keeping to himself as he reads Ray Bradbury’s “The Illustrated Man.” He’s got a little girl in second grade in a nearby town, being raised by his doting mother.
The roommates and co-workers have an awkward rapport. There’s lots of silence in Juan’s place when they’re alone. He may give his roomie his most fetching grin, but he’s not even getting mixed signals from Gabo. No signals at all is more like it.
Neither grimaces when pals from work show up to watch soccer. Dopey, tactless Leandro is bad enough, talking over the action, yammering on about women when they’re watching a movie.
Older Mario (Fabio Zurita) hasn’t quite joined the 21st century. It’s “Better my son is a homosexual than my daughter a lesbian,” and other such slurs fill his anecdotes. “Weak fathers bring up queer sons.” The guy can’t keep his homophobia to himself.
And why should he? None of their circle of friends seem to suspect a thing of Juan and Gabo.
It’s just that Juan likes to parade around the place nude after sexing up his girlfriend, and Gabo steals a glimpse. And Juan notices Gabo stealing those glimpses.
That sets our affair in motion, a slow-starting, torrid-turning thing that goes the way such things go, through the heat of lots of sex all the way to the other end of the line.
There’s little that’s novel here, a few words of just what the limits they might put on what they have going on might be, here in the Capital of Latin Machismo.
I like the way writer-director Marco Berger (“Plan B,” “Taekwondo”) parks the two standoffish roomies in the frame, especially on the trams that take them home from work, or out to the bars. They’re so close their faces overlap, underlining that queer cinema cliche of a couple that doesn’t just start to look like each other, they’re attracted to somebody looks a bit like them, who has the same taste in facial hair and T-shirts.
The arguments are over the usual things — “Don’t make me explain myself like you’re my girlfriend!”
There’s little that’s light here, but I was still reminded of the early films of the Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, who began his career in the heady years after the repression of the Franco regime.
Like Almodóvar, Berger shows us lots of sex in a way that suggests the newly liberated. “I do it because I CAN.” If “The Blonde One” plays a trifle long, that could be due to the half dozen or so sex scenes, growing more explicit as the picture progresses.
They’re still repetitive even if you can understand why they’re here. They give the film a dated feel, covering ground we’ve seen covered too many times before.
The leads play everything close to the vest. There’s nothing flamboyant in their demeanor, just the odd moment when each registers a hint of hurt at something the other just said or did.
Still, the story’s minor twists don’t mask the feeling that we’ve seen this romance before, many times. Sometimes straight, sometimes gay, but generally in English.
MPAA Rating: unrated, sex, nudity, smoking, alcohol use
Cast: Gaston Re, Alfonso Barón, Charly Velasco, Fabio Zurita, Malena Irusta
Credits: Written and directed by Marco Berger. A TLA release.
Running time: 1:51