A man on his deathbed recounts his youth as a firefighter in João Pedro Rodrigues’ striking queer feature.
Leave it to João Pedro Rodrigues, the horniest scamp in all of Portugal, to coax out the roiling currents of homoeroticism that have always raged beneath the surface of the firefighting profession.
It’s a pretty gay job: men with rippling, muscular physiques sleep next to one another in tiny beds, bare all in steam-filled locker rooms, and slide down thick, hard poles on their way to sweaty acts of valour. And in this queer musical fantasia spurting across sixty-seven economical minutes, these intrepid heroes are permitted to drop the subtext and give in to the borderline pornographic vibe of any given firehouse, here turned into a playland of high-minded pleasure without shame.
Rodrigues is no garden-variety smut-peddler, well aware that these unshy depictions of the male form will all be that much hotter with an intellectual foundation undergirding it. Porn, a term fairly applied to a film in no small way oriented around the spectacle of sexuality, thrives on the tension of difference, and there’s no dynamic richer than that between a spoiled little rich boy and the callous-handed worker itching to break him in.
After a flash-forward overture set on his deathbed in the year 2069 (nice), the brace-faced, curly-headed Alfredo (Mauro Costa) decides he wants to get a taste of the real world beyond the airless palace in which his nobly-descended family eats hilariously austere dinners. Motivated by a TV report about a spike in forest infernos, he joins up with the local firefighting force and falls in with the beefcake Afonso (André Cabral), with whom his sexual chemistry will quickly approach supernova levels.
While the flirtation and eventual carnal relationship between them leaves little to the imagination – we see everything short of ejaculate physically leaping out of the urethra, treated to plenty of before and after – it’s made even more scorching by the teased-out disparities of class and race. When Afonso and Alfredo consummate their attraction with a vigorous double handjob, they work each other into a froth with race-play dirty talk that follows up on the African sculptures looming over Alfredo’s family dinner table. (“Insurgent!” “Slave-driver!” Sploosh!)
Rodrigues’ erudite sense of humor is the distinguishing factor bringing to the Croisette what would otherwise be sold at adult bookstores. He delights in mixing the ostensible vulgarity of nudity with references and iconography of high culture; in one standout scene, jock-strapped and ass-naked firefighters razz their new recruit by acting out tableaux of classical artworks and quizzing him on the source of the homage.
Later on, they click through a slideshow of dicks and compare each one to a specific type of forest based on girth and pubic hair styling. Sex should be fun and just a tiny bit goofy, an intuitively understood real-life concept that nonetheless eludes filmmakers all over the globe.
The essence of Rodrigues’ hormone-brained genius is no different than that of Gene Kelly, hinging upon the ability to translate the everyday materials of the world around them into art that breaks out of and then through the humdrum. Just as Kelly’s painter in An American in Paris could turn something as quotidian as a morning routine into a rousing dance number, there’s nothing in Rodrigues’ arch dimension that doesn’t bristle with erotic potential.
Firefighters may pose for calendars specifically playing upon the sexual element of the occupation — these ones most certainly do — but it seems like Rodrigues could find the friskiness in anything, anywhere. Guided equally by his omnivorous mind and his insatiable nethers, he officiates a happy marriage of cerebral commentary and blind lust, putting the “anal” back in “analysis”.
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Published 25 May 2022
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