“When you’re gay, it’s real easy: If the person you like is gay, there are good chances, obviously. But if the person you like isn’t gay, well … accept that it won’t happen and that’s it – no stress,” Fernando tells his new boyfriend, Bruno, about picking a potential partner. “The stressful part is falling in love with someone who’s somewhere in the wide range of grays.”
Bruno then admits to Fernando: “I don’t know where I fall in the ‘wide range of grays.’”
They’re discussing bisexuality, the frequently overlooked “B” in the acronym “LGBT.” Exploring this often misunderstood sexual orientation is In the Grayscale, an award-winning new drama from Chile that’s been released on DVD and V.O.D. Originally titled En la Gama de los Grises, it is presented in Spanish with English subtitles.
Boasting a maturity and sophistication rare in films of any genre, this powerful romantic drama puts a decidedly different — more subtly-shaded — spin on many people’s views of modern sexuality.
“We all grow up buying into this rigid romantic tale where the characters are always a man and a woman,” concedes Bruno. “I don’t know if I can escape that mindset.”
First-time feature director Claudio Marcone demonstrates a surprisingly practiced touch, revealing often-startling depth to this absorbing story of unexpected self-discovery by focusing on his characters’ emotional gradations through the different phases of their relationship.
Working from Rodrigo Norero’s daring and intelligent screenplay, Marcone composes numerous shots with an eye toward greater symbolic value and parallel meanings. A prime illustration of this is when a heartsick and emotionally wounded Fernando races from his would-be lover as Bruno desperately pursues him, even though neither may ever really “catch” the other.
“Someday you’ll have to choose,” Fernando, in near-misery, tells him. “Choose, Bruno — you have the privilege of choosing!”
Equally forceful in its metaphoric meaning is Bruno’s desire to rebuild Santiago’s Cal Y Canto bridge, once considered the masterpiece of Spanish colonial architecture. Bridges unite two contrasting sides – something our hero is frantically trying to do within himself. Perhaps most satisfying, though, is how Marcone ultimately leaves all the crucial decisions up to the audience.
Set in the bustling capital, Santiago, the film stars two of Chile’s hottest TV heartthrobs. Fresh-faced and handsome Francisco Celhay is Bruno, a successful-but-bored married architect with a loving wife, Soledad, and an 8-year-old son. As the action opens, the couple is undergoing a trial separation that has the young architect living over his grandfather’s woodworking shop “to be alone and think,” as he puts it. Undoubtedly, Bruno still loves his family, but he longs for something – he just isn’t sure (at the outset anyway) what.
Tasked with crafting a huge design project that will put his faltering construction firm back on the map, Bruno’s employer suggests he meet with Fernando Contreras — a hip, 20-something historian and tour guide who can show him around the teeming multicultural metropolis of Santiago in order to spur his creativity.
“He’s young, but he knows Santiago inside and out,” Bruno’s boss advises him. “He’s street-smart and world-wise. … I told him you’d get in touch.”
Sexy Emilio Edwards is the wise-cracking, charming and cute Fernando (or “Fer” for short), with whom Bruno feels an immediate charge of sexual chemistry as they bicycle around this vibrant city.
“I like your sense of humor,” Bruno, his new sightseeing client, compliments Fernando shortly after their initial introduction.
“That’s all?” he replies, suspecting there might be more to their growing friendship.
Their subsequent love scene is intensely sensual and unhurried, and finally gives Bruno the courage to enter into a passionate romance with this hunky, openly gay young man, causing both, in time, to realize how diverse and complex sexual orientation can be. In recalling his early sexual escapades, Bruno describes genuinely liking and succeeding with the opposite sex, but still wondering whether there was more, until one day he went searching for a gay club to find out. But he never made it there, meeting Soledad, whom he would eventually marry, instead.
“But you never questioned anything – just like that?” Fer asks in astonishment.
“What could I question?” Bruno replies. “For me, being with women was also an option.”
There’s an invigorating honesty and candor to the scene that enlivens both Celhay’s and Edward’s performances; yet if anything, the filmmakers occasionally risk understating the many complex feelings that their protagonist is enduring, making him appear a bit self-centered or at least oblivious to the high-stakes consequences that his actions are having on those he loves and who love him.
“If you want, we can play stereotypes and simplifications,” Fernando rebukes him at last. “But you know what? Love is not a game for me. Homosexuality is something I carry deep inside — not some stupid, erotic game!”
Daniela Ramirez gives an unforgettable performance even though she has just a few quality scenes as Bruno’s wife, Soledad.
“We’re … still … married,” she reminds him wistfully at one point, “but you’re leaving little by little.”
Her relationship with her husband is refreshingly real and three-dimensional, something that can be rare for LGBT films, where the partner who is left is way too commonly either unquestioningly supportive or outrageously vindictive — if they even matter at all.
“You don’t need to defend yourself — I’m not attacking you,” she assures him straightforwardly upon hearing about his new liaison. “I just need to understand if it’s true or if you’re confused – but I deserve to know who the hell you are!”
Her later scene when the two have come together again for a family camping trip is remarkable and emotionally super-charged.
Poignant and profound, the film addresses bisexuality effectively, which is unusual. The thought-provoking issues that In the Grayscale examines so soundly and entertainingly make it worth any inconvenience in reading the subtitles.
In the Grayscale is now available on V.O.D. across all major digital platforms, and the DVD is available via Wolfe Video and from most major retailers. For more information, check out: http://www.wolfevideo.com.