TW: child sexual abuse
Marco Berger, the queer Argentine filmmaking auteur, made his directorial debut with two short films – Una última voluntad (2007) and El reloj/The Watch (2008). In the latter, the two main characters, Pablo and Javier, find themselves in each other’s company only when the wrist-watch worn by Pablo malfunctions. They both have girlfriends yet during the fifteen minutes or so of the film when they are together, they start showing signs of intimacy towards each other. It could have developed into something more substantial if it was not for the watch which miraculously starts running again. It is the signal that they cannot be with each other anymore. In an act of frustration, Pablo crushes the watch with a piece of stone, most probably in the hope that it will bring Javier back to him. Berger subtly comments on society at large who frowns upon a homosexual relationship – that Pablo and Javier are not supposed to meet each other on ‘normal time’. The watch plays a significant role in his recent film, El Cazador/Young Hunter (2020) too.
Since 2008, Berger has evolved as a filmmaker. However, certain things are constant in his story-telling. There is no explicit discrimination against the queer leads of his films for the sake of creating tension or drama. The non-queer characters are mostly detached, non-judgmental or are open to sexual experimentation themselves. Berger loves to dig deep into the sexual psyche of his characters and let silence and gaze take over the din of words. You can almost feel the characters sweating, panting or feeling horny.
In Young Hunter, all those signature Berger elements are present, and more. It is his most daring film yet, in terms of the subject matter at hand. He steps out of his comfort zone of intimate conversations indoors to venture into the world of sexual exploitation and the dark web. The title ‘Young Hunter’ can be looked at from two points of view. The first, obvious, interpretation involves the young 15 year old Ezequiel who is restless in his pursuit of a gay sexual partner. With his parents out of town, he literally assumes the role of a ‘young hunter’ who never misses an opportunity to give out explicit signals regarding his sexual intention. His potential target includes a classmate and the boys hanging out at the skate park in his neighbourhood. The earnestness with which Ezequiel pursues his goal forms some of the best moments of the film.
However, when there is a sexually precocious teenager involved, can trouble be too far behind? This is where the second interpretation of the title comes in. Here, the term ‘Young Hunter’ takes a dark turn. Young Ezequiel finally scores a victory in his pursuit. He meets Mono, a sweet talking and older-to-him guy, at the skate park and hits it off instantly. They share moments of intimacy together and Ezequiel’s life turns upside down. Mono is not who he seems to be. He gets Ezequiel embroiled in a sexploitation scheme involving the dark web – in a scheme designed by a much older guy named Chino. Ezquiel now reluctantly steps down from his position of the hunter to being the hunted. His young mind struggles to cope with the pressure and he becomes a pawn in the hands of his exploiters. Without getting into much detail, the story involves secret recordings of minor boys having sex, for consumers of the dark web. Ezequiel is forced to become ‘the hunter’ again, but he is no longer innocent. Now he is in the lookout for a victim who will undergo the same misfortune as him.
The vicious cycle would have continued leading to more young lives being caught in the web of sexual exploitation if it was not for ‘the watch’ that we talked about in the beginning. The watch comes in as deus ex machina to salvage the situation of our young protagonist. It awakens his moral compass and gives him the courage to speak to his father about the predicament he is in. Here, the watch becomes a universal cinematic symbol of the victory of good over evil.
Marco Berger, who usually works with a familiar crowd of actors, opts for a different set of actors in Young Hunter – some debutantes and some who have already acted in queer themed films earlier. Juan Barberini of End of the Century (2019) fame plays the evil mastermind, Chino. Lautaro Rodríguez, known for the sweet coming-of-age film My Best Friend (2018), plays Chino’s accomplice, Mono, who leads Ezequiel onto the path of danger. The main protagonist Ezequiel is played by first time actor, Juan Pablo Cestaro. And it must be said that he is a natural in front of the camera. Much of the credit also goes to Berger who has been known to extract visceral performances from his actors. Given the risqué subject matter at hand, it’s all the more imperative to concentrate on the cerebral aspect of the young characters – as to what makes them do things that are apparently undesirable. Without a shred of doubt, the film succeeds on that front. Marco Berger has been eulogised for showcasing his actors in an intimate and erotically suggestive manner, and he sticks to his signature style here too, despite the sensitive issue in focus. He treats his teenage leads as healthy sexual beings charting their own courses in a world full of sheep and wolves. For not even a moment does the screenplay get vulgar or venture into the peeping-tom territory. We are, rather, made to feel as conscientious and responsible audiences watching and rooting for the young protagonist to overcome the mess that he has gotten himself into.
Young Hunter is currently streaming on GagaOOLala, Asia’s premier OTT platform, catering exclusively to LGBTQ+ audiences.