“YOU’LL NEVER BE ALONE”— Father and Son


Father and Son

Amos Lassen

Based on a true story, Pablo (Andrew Bargstead) is a gay teenager just finding his way in the world. He loves drag and sex, but doesn’t seem to have many other goals. His father, Juan (Sergio Hernández), can’t understand what is going on with his son. He’s always believed that in working hard and applying oneself, success will come and a responsible person will be the result.

After years of planning and trying, Juan hopes to invest in the company he’s been employed by for the past 25 years, and become a partner in the business and will finally be independent. But then Pablo is horrifically beaten in a homophobic attack and may not survive. Juan becomes caught in the bureaucracy of the healthcare system, which means that even with insurance, he’s expected to pay exorbitant sums for his son’s care. The police are indifferent about bringing the attackers to justice and Juan’s dreams for financial security are in jeopardy thus placing everything he has always believed into question.

Juan is a man who’s fully signed up to the dream of both what his life could be, and how his country is there to support him. However, he never expected to have a gay son, and after the attack everything he believed is true starts to fall apart.

The attack on Pablo is lengthy, brutal and  difficult to watch. Then, there are moments when the film deals with the bureaucracy of Chilean society and Juan’s optimism is gradually broken. However, pulling these things together is problematic making the film feel a little disjointed and this disrupts the pacing.

The beginning the movie is mostly about Pablo and his life of clubs, drag, sex (there are a couple of pretty hot sex scenes) and his friends. However, after the attack, we hardly ever see him again. The film does this, I presume, so we care about him and when he is beaten it has more power, but because it’s spent relatively little time introducing us to Juan, it feels like an abrupt shift when this suddenly becomes his story. This happens several times, as if the director has spent a lot of time thinking about what is important about the various sections of the movie, but not what can hold them all together.

 There is anger and emotion in this look at how the fallout of homophobia sells people an idea of life that may not be achievable. We get an interesting take on a Chilean LGBT story set in Santiago, where director Alex Anwandter was born. The film shows two different worlds colliding. Against the beautiful world which Pablo creates, the film’s outer world seems drab, and this seems to be an impression that is very skillfully crafted by the director. In contrast to Pablo’s bedroom, the film’s settings seem carefully chosen for their pale qualities and straight-forward layouts.

This overhanging theme of an almost perfect normality is reinforced by Pablo’s father deep investment in the world of a mannequin factory, where we he oversees others as they try to create a supposedly perfect body shape and skin tone. It is against this backdrop that we see Pablo furtively playing with one of his closeted neighbors Felix. It is intense playing. Sexuality almost always comes in snatched, fragmented flashbacks in the film, making it never fully clear if what we’re seeing is just the return of fond, silenced memories or actually an on-going act of supposed transgression. The look at the gay experience in Chile isn’t as clichéd as some of this might make it sound.

We don’t see a gay son shunned by overly Catholic parents — Pablo’s mother seems strangely absent throughout this film — and this is not just another movie about a man who comes out by being overly flamboyant. The relationship between Pablo and his father Juan is complex and seems to position himself somewhere between willful ignorance and genuine despair at not knowing how to relate to his son.

The film is about much more than just a family split across a hetero/homosexual divide. These two generations both represent very specific sides to Chilean society, with Pablo being a doubter who struggles with modern Chile, whilst Juan is one of the old guard who is part of the capitalist dream. This doesn’t stop them from loving each other though, and the message that their connection can exist across a sexual and generational divide is clear even if Juan’s nature does sometimes cause him to be seen as distant.

It is only when Pablo’s world collides with the machismo of  three other young boys in the neighborhood that issues really arise. These moments arrive with an unforgiving flourish of violence.

Anwandter was loosely inspired to make this film by a horrific attack that shocked much of South America in 2012. This terrible incident saw an openly gay Chilean man be assaulted by a group of neo-Nazis, and that is sadly not far from what we brutally see and hear in this film.

Sergio Hernández’s performance  after the awful attack shows real talent as he slowly transforms into a bumbling figure of rage who seems to be betrayed at every turn. He is let down legally, medically, romantically and professionally as he tries to do right by his son, and is left facing some terrible choices. It is only then in the final minutes of this film that we understand the true significance of this film’s title.

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