Two mouths hungrily kiss. The camera pulls back to reveal it’s two young men, Rui (Nuno Gil) and Pedro (João Carreira). They’ve just celebrate their fist anniversary and exchanged rings: they’re madly in love. Their favourite film is Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Blake Edwards, 1961) and their song is ‘Moon River’:
Oh, dream maker, you heart breaker
Wherever you’re goin’, I’m goin’ your way
Two drifters, off to see the world
There’s such a lot of world to see
But it’s not to be. As Pedro leaves to go home, his car crashes and he’s thrown through the windshield. The scene where Rui finds him made me purr. It’s a complete Sirkian moment but with a swooney romanticism Sirk himself was incapable of: Rui cradles Pedro, now a corpse, in his arms. The rings they’ve exchanged glisten in the darkness. At the very moment Rui embraces Pedro, it begins to pour with rain, a totally expressive rendering, just like the beginning of Written on the Wind (1956); and the citation is not accidental: A poster of Sirk’s Tarnished Angels is prominently pictured in Rui’s bedroom.
The other protagonist of Two Drifters is Odete. We’re introduced to her roller-skating through a supermarket looking very much like Shelley Duvall in an early Altman movie. The song playing is Joni Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides Now’. When she gets home Odete, tells her boyfriend she wants to have a baby. He just wants to fuck. She lashes back at him. They part, and she’ll spend the rest of the movie, like Rui, engulfed in grief, seeing the other side of Clouds:
But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way
Rui and Odete will meet at the Pedro’s funeral. She will first try to pretend she’s carrying Pedro’s baby, then begin to shape herself into Pedro himself. Rui and Odete will end up together. But not as you think. And with Pedro looking on.
I’m an admirer of Rodrigues’ O Fantasma, which I think a great masterpiece. Two Drifters is almost as good: a very beautiful dramatisation of love, loss, grief and mourning — very moving, very queer. It makes me sad that so many of us spend so much time spouting our disappointment in Marvel or Tarantino instead of devoting more time to the depth and beauty of films like this one. I shall be seeing it again.
We’re still with MUBI and grateful for the opportunity to see O Fantasma, directed by João Pedro Rodrigues: a film José had heard of and been encouraged to see by various friends, but hadn’t quite come his way until now. He thought the film was only a few years old and could now kick himself for having waited twenty years to see it. José thinks it a masterpiece, Mike doesn’t; though the film being clearly aimed at a gay male audience might help account for it, and it speaks to José deeply.
Following Sergio (Ricardo Meneses), a very handsome young garbageman in Lisbon, perpetually horny and on the hunt for sex, O Fantasma is feverish sex dream of a film, a reverie, that evokes the feeling of horniness, of being up for sex but having no one with whom to find release with. What starts as a hunt that eventually turns the hunter into the hunted. We discuss how the character of Sergio seems to have no filter and no fear. He lives in a homophobic culture fraught with danger but is free. The sexual situations seem to take on the form of a dare and, even in the most potentially dangerous encounters, Sergio’s glance seems to say “I’m not afraid of you and it could get sexual if you want it to”. We discuss how the film’s story is structured differently to a conventional narrative: there is a conveyance of a certain kind of sexual dreamscape. The various episodes might not cohere in terms of plot but do come together in the film’s conveyance of atmosphere and feeling.
We note how for an earlier generation this would have been an X-rated film due not only to its subject matter but to its explicitness. We also remark upon the film’s real queer gaze that is also a gay male gaze; something worth distinguishing. We compare the film to the New French Extremity films of the era but also note that where they possessed had a harsh kind of crudeness, O Fantasma is very stylised. José finds the film unusual and beautiful, with extraordinary images that are really potent and poetic.
Sergio feels his desires in a culture in which he’s allowed none of them. Yet this is a film that celebrates a full spectrum of desires, the freedom to desire and to act on one’s desires. O Fantasma is a film that will confirm every homophobe’s worst views of gay men – and that partly its strength. It’s a film that is made in and asserts freedom. Sergio’s gaze is radiant, subversive, and defiant.
If you’re a gay man interested in film, this is unmissable.
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