The Chilean same-sex romance “Los Fuertes” arrives On Demand tomorrow riding some impressive coattails. A month ago, it clinched an upset victory as the Florida Film Critics Circle’s Best Foreign Language Film, besting titles that odds-makers, in a world in which bettors wagered on regional film awards, would have favored to win, like the heavily marketed “Minari,” about a Korean family’s struggle to achieve the American Dream, and “The Painted Bird,” a bleak and brutal WWII-era survival saga.
What’s most striking about “Los Fuertes” is its contrast to the latter. The movie’s primary texture is quietude, and patience is its virtue. It is as leisurely paced as an ambling river, an enveloping character study with direction so unobtrusive it feels guided by an invisible hand. First-time filmmaker Omar Zuniga Hidalgo, in his debut feature, is the phantom behind the camera, cutting few corners and acting as a humble observer, as much as an instigator, of the action.
It’s a mood that fits Lucas (Samuel Gonzalez), whose life is on an extended pause. An architecture student from Santiago, he arrives in the coastal town of Niebla to enjoy an interregnum with his sister (Marcela Salinas) before moving to Montreal for a scholarship. Here, he meets Antonio (Antonio Altamirano), a sailor who works on a fishing trawler. They quickly hit it off, and fall in love, away from the prying eyes of the conservative community that surrounds them.
Hidalgo films the couple’s intimate scenes with a lived-in combination of lust and tenderness, and with moments of unvarnished purity I won’t soon forget: the nagging hiss of a tea kettle interrupting their first lovemaking session, a close-up of Lucas’ hand caressing a scar on Antonio’s midsection, the result of a removed appendix. The characters’ backstories evolve gradually, without forced exposition; we learn that Antonio’s father drilled a sense of shame into son about his sexuality, and that Lucas is not on speaking terms with his own parents over their homophobia. And in a town with a paucity of choices for same-sex singles, their coupling would seem almost miraculous if it wasn’t filmed with such everyday naturalism.
But “Los Fuertes” transcends a social-problem film about LGBTQ people forced into the shadows. The clearest cinematic precedents for “Los Fuertes” are the plotless relationship studies of Eric Rohmer—look at his 1996 “A Summer’s Tale,” about a young man’s brief seaside idyll—though Hidalgo’s approach is not nearly as talky. The comparison, and the emotional pull, comes from the forced finitude of the characters’ romance, and the bittersweet celebration of a fleeting connection.
Like in Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise,” another signpost on the road to “Los Fuertes,” there’s a sense of wanting to freeze time and let these lovers build a life together. Perhaps, like Linklater, Hidalgo will gift us with an unexpected sequel to “Los Fuertes” a decade from now, and show us a continued spark undimmed by time and space.
“Los Fuertes” opens Jan. 19 on VUDU, Vimeo, Google Play and more. For more info about how to stream it, click here.