“Cuando lo veia mudito o pensativo me he dado cuenta que era mucho fragil de lo que el estaba dispuesto a admitir”
(“When I saw him silent or pensive, I realized he was much frailer than he was willing to admit”)
In an attempt to a) celebrate more non-US films, b) celebrate Pride, & c) champion great, accessible filmmaking in any language, I wanted to write up a brief post on Roberto Pérez Toledo’s Los Amigos Raros (Queer Friends is the title I’d give it but I’m eager to see whether Pérez Toledo plans to release an English subtitles track and what he would title the film himself). This micro-budget film is part of the #littlesecretfilm (“don’t call it a”) movement, which is, as they state in their manifesto,
“not a new cinematic movement, school or brand. It’s a non-commercial film production model, based on the establishment of boundaries, risk, improvisation and the influence of chance, confronted to the long and painful processes of writing, preproduction, funding, shooting and editing involved in the creation of cinematographic feature film. A defense of [the] Internet as a medium to distribute films. An act of love for the cinema, on behalf of a small team of professionals yearning [to] tell stories, experiment, [and] enjoy the act of creation.”
This explains Pérez Toledo’s film’s structure and seemingly simple premise: a group of friends work through their grief of having lost a mutual friend by reminiscing of their time with him, trying to make sense of why this young promising filmmaking student had suddenly taken his life. Using the documentary format, we are offered confessionals from all nine friends intercut with various memories of intimate moments they’d shared with Sam. This deceptively simple conceit allows Pérez Toledo and his cast to mine the troubling re-assessment that such a sudden tragedy requires; every memory gets refracted given what we know will eventually happen so that the confessionals work both as ways of making sense of Sam’s suicide even as they are premised on the very project Sam kept dreaming up. This meta-fictional aspect of the film (which time and again we are told was an inkling of an idea of Sam’s) adds a certain darkness to the proceedings and makes this a type of emotional thriller where the lines between documentary filmmaking, memory, and reality begin to blur.
The final moments, which work precisely to both question and reframe everything we have seen thus far should be enough to get you to watch (if you speak Spanish that is), but it is the lived-in, naturalistic performances of these charismatic ensemble that really sells the bittersweet tale of Sam whose queer friendships the film tries intentionally in vain to articulate. All we are left with are furtive flirtations, pregnant pauses, stolen smiles and Sam’s inscrutable face looking us straight and yet telling us very little:
Oh, yeah. I forgot to add that the film is just as interested in formally exploring what it means to record and document as it is about the various ways friendships and relationships are fraught with intimacy issues that extend far beyond any clear-cut concepts of gay, straight, boyfriend, confidant, lover or one-night stand. These really are “queer friendships” through and through. Indeed, Sam’s sexual fluidity — both in his choice of lovers but in his ability to go from impossibly devoted lover the night before to dismissive asshole the next morning — becomes the fulcrum of the film itself, where each of his friends is faced with the ever haunting questions of what it really was that he sought after and how each may have failed him after all.
It really is an amazing #secretlittlefilm, especially when you learn it was shot (in accordance with the #secretlittlefilm guidelines) in less than 24 hours with little in the way of a script. I highly recommend it and lose yourself in the various entanglements of these ten characters and in the house of cards of a film Pérez Toledo has assembled which is as seductive, charming, smart, and icily mysterious as its central cypher of a protagonist.
What are you waiting for? Catch it now on YouTube: