MIFF review: Hard Paint

A sublime erotic dance from disconnection to despair and beyond. Hard Paint traces a permanent mark.

How can we ever be alone when the world is at our fingertips, pinched through a laptop screen? Who are we once we slip into our online selves? And what is the consequence when touch is no longer required for sex, more so than ever before in the days of analogue phones?

This modern ennui we find ourselves in, and the endurance of loneliness in our digitally connected times, is at the throbbing heart of writer/directors Filipe Matzembacher and Marco Reolon’s Teddy award-winning, melancholic erotic Hard Paint (Tinta Bruta).

Set amidst the hard scrabble of Porto Alegre, a working class city full of copycat concrete towers slowly sinking into the mud, Pedro (Shico Menegat), a youthful, introverted soul, awaits a court date for an assault that haunts his deeply expressive eyes.

Living a reclusive life in a run down apartment, older, adoring sister Luiza (Guega Peixoto) is his only real bond. Escaping into another realm of online chat rooms, where the confidence he lacks in reality comes ablaze in a haze of fluorescent paint, ‘NeonBoy’ scrapes a meagre existence performing sexually arousing dances to demanding, mostly anonymous men with short tempers and one-handed attention spans.

When even Luisa moves on, leaving him to his uncertain future, the blow is exacerbated by the news she imparts. There is another boy online encroaching on his territory and already tenuous finances, wearing paint like a war cry.

Following her advice to the letter to get outside for five minutes every day – meticulously measured on a timer, as if every second a penance – he reaches out to curly bottle blonde aspiring dancer Leo (Bruno Fernandes). Ostensibly warning ‘Boy25’ off his patch, the viscerally static charge between them is magnetised, and soon they’re stuck performing together.

Slowly, in a perfectly measured film that drips with anticipation pierced by strobing flashes of tussling eroticism – set to Felipe Puperi’s pulsing score and attending, electro-charged tracks and shadows set alight by Glauco Firpos dazzling cinematography – Leo’s gentle embrace draws Pedro tentatively into the real world of tactile human nature. All the while menacingly silouheted faces peer down from their blazing apartment windows on high, as if some sort of celestial judges.

The spectre of homophobic violence ever present, Pedro’s attempted escape hinges on whether a brutal mistake can be overcome, and the tentative link to Leo protected. Again, family support, this time from an all-too similar grandmother (Sandra Dani), is finite.

Drawing on fleeting but intense cinematic sparks like Andrew Haigh’s Weekend, or the night-long Parisian voyage of Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau’s Théo & Hugo, with a dash of disconnection from Eliza Hittman’s in Beach Rats, this hypnotic movie holds tight in the liminal space between fortressed hearts and naked souls. Menegat and Peixoto are an unforgettable pairing, perfectly judging this pitch for freedom from limbo.

As Matzembacher and Reolon lower us ever-deeper into Pedro’s well of unmooring despair, the respite of skin-on-painted-skin pulls us upwards, bit by bit, until, at last, we’re left with something sublime, subtle as a knife cutting deep into that soft and tender spot where love lives.

Stephen A Russell @SARussellwords