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In The Grayscale ***

by Ruben Rosario

Thoughtful gay drama explores the difficult shades of gray of somebody trying to overcome longstanding sexual repression. 

Is it worth $10? Yes 

It wasn't supposed to work out this way. An enviable career in architecture, a loving family and an attractive home in Santiago ought to spell happiness, fulfillment. Bruno, the attractive yet emotionally tongue-tied protagonist of the Chilean drama “In the Grayscale” (En la gama de los grises), is, at first glance, a success in life. So how come he's so miserable?

As this nuanced character study opens, Bruno (Francisco Celhay) is spending nights not with his wife Soledad (Daniela Ramírez) and their adorkable son Daniel (Matías Torres), but at his grandfather's workshop. Why does he feel compelled to take a time-out from marital and parental duties? “I need to be alone,” he tells Soledad, adding more awkward tension to the already strained marriage.



So what's the deal with this soft-spoken professional? Hold that thought, director Claudio Marcone, a TV vet making his feature debut, appears to be telling viewers. Germán (Marcial Tagle), a harried businessman under pressure to deliver results, suddenly hires the handsome, thirtysomething architect to create some kind of structure that represents the soul of Santiago and will fill citizens with awe. It's a daunting challenge, Bruno tells his employer, so he needs to secure the services of someone with knowledge of the city, see if that gets his creative juices flowing.

Enter the brash, outgoing Fer (Emilio Edwards), a historian who makes his living showing tourists around town. Fer fills up every room he steps in with life-of-the-party vivacity, which makes him an effective tour guide. Bruno, shy and reticent, is fascinated by this polar opposite. When both men wind up at a gay bar, Bruno tells him he's there because he agreed to meet some work colleagues. Fer's nobody's fool, and sees right through his excuse. How frustrating for someone like Fer, who grabs life by the horns and sees regards all matters of consequence in either/or terms, to come across such an indecisive closet case.


Okay, so the wallflower's charming and easy on the eyes. But this Bruno fellow's petrified. And besides, they've already established their relationship's strictly professional. Right? Working from a wise, carefully observed screenplay by Beppe Norero, Marcone allows the bond between his leads develop in organic fashion, so by the time Bruno takes the scary yet exciting step to have sex with another man, you buy it. What sets "In the Grayscale" apart from other male sexual identity narratives is the filmmakers' insistence to take their time to flesh out the characters' connection. This is a meeting of minds before it's a coupling of bodies. It doesn't jump into bed right away.

Oh, but when it does, "In the Grayscale" steams up the screen with a naturalistic frankness that recalls Andrew Haigh's "Weekend," though it's not as racy as that English film. Celhay and Edwards' body language feels lived in, and cinematographer Andrés Jordán rises to the challenge of making viewers feel Bruno and Fer's growing intimacy.

Like its title suggests, Marcone's film explores those difficult shades of gray of somebody trying to overcome their longstanding sexual repression. Celhay, who has the glinty-eyed intensity of the young Ricardo Darín, only cuddlier, adheres to a less-is-more strategy in his performance. He earns our empathy, precisely because Bruno doesn't always behave like a paragon of bravery and integrity. Equally commendable is the movie's refusal to let Soledad fade into the background. Much like Alma, the heartbroken housewife Michelle Williams played in “Brokeback Mountain,” eventually confronts Heath Ledger's Ennis about his affair, Soledad has her showdown with Bruno during a painful exchange that's simultaneously cathartic and uncomfortable to watch.

But Marcone's not out to generate showy fireworks. He has crafted an understated, richly layered portrait of a life in flux, one stubbornly unwilling to wrap everything up in a neat and tidy bow. In this era of “It Gets Better” and “Love Is Love,” we've become accustomed to rewarding those who live their truth openly, confident in their sexuality, haters be damned. But what about those who shy away from being out as they continue to figure things out? In the modest, admirably clear-eyed "In the Grayscale," both points of view are given their due. It doesn't take the easy way out, and it's all the stronger because of it.

"In the Grayscale" is now showing at the Tower Theater (www.towertheatermiami.com) and Cinema Paradiso Fort Lauderdale (www.fliff.com/Veezi_Lauderdale).

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