Delicate issues, unfulfilling execution: Omar Zúñiga Hidalgo’s San Cristóbal (English version)

*This review was produced during 2015 Berlinale Talent Press, a workshop held by Berlin Film Festival for young film critics from around the world. Click here to read the original print.

Omar Zúñiga Hidalgo’s Berlinale Shorts entry San Cristóbal (Chile) has a concise decoupage, showing a competence that’s more than welcome in short narrative film. Hidalgo’s directing is firm and consistent: there is no hesitance in what is shown. The camera in San Cristóbal, rather than observing from a distance, immerses itself in the scene. That approach favours the actors’ delicate performances. Antonio Altamirano and Samuel González, who play Lucas and Antonio, two guys who meet, fall in love, and have to face the threat of homophobia, are believable enough to elicit the audience’s sympathy to a general dilemma faced by gay men and lesbians. Yet I would rather see a film exploring the characters’ complexity apart from that aspect.

San Cristóbal illustrates the idea of oppression based on sexual orientation, but does not extend the characters’ lives to other dimensions. Lucas and Antonio seem to exist only to prove a predetermined point: As gay men, their right to love is not guaranteed. Though it’s important to acknowledge the issues involved, the film presents Lucas and Antonio as types rather than people. We don’t get a sense of their individual souls. San Cristóbal works only with opposite notions such as the city guy vs. the village guy, or the one who has freedom vs. the one locked in. Even the scenes of intimacy work only as a contrast to the violence about to happen. If the homosexuality issue were removed from the story, the characters would simply disappear.

An alternative example of how to both deal with the “gay dilemma” and expand the characters’ motivations beyond it is Blood Bellow the Skin (United States), another film from the Berlinale Shorts section. Through creative editing that mixes events in a bizarre form that doesn’t rely on cause and effect, Jennifer Reeder’s short does not provide the audience with easy explanations. The gay question is there, as well as aspects of growing up, friendship, parents, and beauty—an approach that completes the cinematic experience.

*Heitor Augusto is a film critic, researcher, lecturer and journalist based in São Paulo, Brazil. He can be reached at heitoraugustod@gmail.com or @ursodelata on Twitter.

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