A provocative exploration of the relationship between two gay brothers, this Chilean film plays out in a way that’s both dreamlike and almost unnervingly naturalistic. It’s a lusty, intense psychological drama that begins as an all-night odyssey and ends up as a nasty thriller. This means that its messages are somewhat mixed, hinting that being gay is dangerous. Which makes the film bracingly provocative.
It opens on Christmas Eve in 1986 Santiago, where 15-year-old Borja (Cristobal Rodriguez Costabal) and his 18-year-old brother Vicente (real-life brother Santiago) are hanging out in the summer heat with their mother (Carmina Riego). She clearly dotes on Borja, while pushing Vicente to remember his familial responsibilities. Their conversation gets looser as they begin to drink cola de mono (literally “monkey’s tail”, a traditional alcoholic Chilean holiday drink). When Mum falls asleep, Vicente heads out to a park cruising for sex with men, while Borja breaks into his room and discovers his secret stash of gay porn. This gets him rather (ahem!) over-excited.
Things get increasingly heated from here, after Vicente returns home and the brothers realise they’re both gay. And perhaps their father was too. When the narrative skips ahead 13 years in the final act, it continues in a tone that combines sex and violence in challenging ways, ending with a gently comical nudge to remind us that the main topic is the trauma of Catholic guilt. Writer-director Alberto Fuguet is clearly tapping into his past (Borja wants to be a filmmaker), then expanding into imaginative flights of fancy.
This also makes it remarkably haunting, digging deeply into the thoughts and feelings of these brothers, who are both emotionally and physically naked. Cristobal has the more outrageous role, revelling in his body as he drunkenly discovers his brother’s secret. Meanwhile, Santiago’s journey is much darker, encountering both sex and violence in the park (“cola” is also a Chilean homophobic insult) while praying to God to be free of his gay longings.
There are a few moments that feel a little unrealistic, such as their mother’s extreme reaction on discovering her sons are gay (surely she had an inkling). And the final scenes, set later in New York, are a little gimmicky. But they’re also very effective, playing on feelings of paranoia and guilt while reminding the audience that the real world offers a path out of the nightmare.
Cola de Mono is available on VOD/DVD now