i don’t know tomorrow
by Douglas Messerli
Roberto Fiesco (writer and director) Trémulo (Trembling) a.k.a Carlos and Julio / 2015
In a Mexican barbershop—the kind which you see everywhere in the world posting symbols of its trade on its window while within hanging publicity photos of celebrities who may or may not have had their hair cut by the shop’s owner—a handsome young soldier, Julio (Axel Arenas), dressed in civilian clothes, is getting his hair cut. On the radio an announcer relates what the night’s celebrations will entail and where and when the parade the next day, Mexican Independence, will take place. Others somewhat patiently wait for the barber to finish. The barber Ricardo (Alfonso Bravo) lays down his scissors and calls out to a young boy, Carlos (Benny Emmanuel), 14-16 years of age, who has been washing the windows, to come in, remove the barber’s cape and brush any loose hair from the customer’s face and clothing. Carlos does so, his eyes meeting Julio’s in the mirror, the two intensely reflected in an intense stare for a few quick seconds.
Julio pays Ricardo and gives the boy a tip for his ministrations, which Carlos quickly deposits in a red tin box on a nearby shelf. Another customer enters just as the soldier gathers up his large duffel bag and returns to the street.
One might never imagine that such a seemingly public event might simultaneously represent such a delicate intimacy. Anyone who has been in love immediately can recognize that the gaze between the young soldier—not that many years older (I’d guess 19-21 years of age) than the boy—signifies what we colloquially describe as “love at first sight.” Yet what could possibly happen between this junior janitor of a barbershop and a man who just returned to the busy streets on the day in 2015 before a major holiday with the shop about to be closed until Friday?
As the sun goes down, we can begin to hear firecrackers in the distance, as Ricardo, the boy’s godfather, and his assistant plan to take in the festivities, encouraging Carlos to join them. The boy refuses as they warn him to lock up; there have been robberies in the neighborhood. As they leave, Carlos closes and locks the glass-sliding door, turning toward the camera, as he dances the keys in the palm of his hand with a huge smile on his face; it is as if he is suddenly now in charge of the shop, even though his only activity is to scrub the floor. But his innocent joy is still telling, and he will repeat it soon after several times which will help to make him the totally sympathetic figure he quickly becomes to the still-expectant movie-goers. If this is a short movie, noted director Roberto Fiesco (this was his seventh film to date) gives it the structural heft of a feature work, alternating between a series of quick images and more languorous scenes which help to evoke a deeper sense of story and character.
Our expectations are soon after met with a knock on the glass door, Julio inexplicably returned.
He signals that we wants a shave, with Carlos explaining that he “can’t open,” the shop is closed until Friday. Julio shouts back that he can’t wait until Friday, he has to march in the parade the next day and his military unit is leaving soon after. Might not the boy give him a shave?
Pondering the idea for a second or two,
Carlos opens up, the two introducing themselves to one another, and sharing brief
information about themselves while eating the food Julio has brought along for
a quick dinner, inviting the boy to share with him. At one moment, Carlos
With the soldier finally seated in the barber chair, Carlos slowly applies the shaving soap, slides the razor down the soldier’s cheeks, lips, and chin, gently massages the young man’s skin and rubs away any remaining hairs with a soft white brush with a movement that one might describe as something between a tickle and a whisper. So sensual is this shave that the soldier purses his mouth into round release of air almost as if he has just undergone an orgasm.
Rising from the chair, however, Julio accidently overturns the water bucket, and as Carlos attempts to mop up the water, he slips on the floor, the soldier joining him in a rough-housing wrestle which ends in sprays of water that soaks them both in their squeals of surprised pleasure. They have no choice, obviously, but to remove their shirts, wring them out and attempt to dry them with a hair dryer.
The two thin beauties, however, are in no hurry to redress as the radio begins to play Luis Enrique’s Yo no se mañana, a song that could not be more appropriate for the two who beautifully dance together to its lyrics:
Here we are all by ourselves.
What you see is what I am.
Don’t ask me for more than I am.
I don’t know if tomorrow,
I don’t know if tomorrow,
if we’ll be together,
if the world ends.
When the number begins, Julio invites Carlos: “Come.” For a moment Carlos turns away, expressing a tentative macho “Fuck.” But then he turns back again with that smile that I previously mentioned, as if to ask himself, “why not?” as the two of them, half-naked dance the romantic salsa with true style. The incredible thing about this so very private statement of their growing love is that, as are all their other acts, it is performed in a brightly-lit room surrounded by glass windows so that anyone might observe them. If it is highly sexual it is also so totally pure in its intent that no one need worry about being put in the position of voyeur. While we witness a man in the act of making love to a slightly younger boy, if there is any perversion in the act in exists only in the mind of the beholder.
Again, contracting time, the director now reveals the boy, still half dressed, lying on the waiting couch asleep. Julio lovingly removes his sneakers, but then inexplicably sweeps up the red tin box holding its few coins, puts it in his duffel bag and returns to the street for the second time in the movie.
Carlos awakens, confused a bit by Julio’s absence, but then once more flashes his radiant smile as if recalling the joy of the evening he has just experienced. When he turns back to his work he suddenly seeks that the red box is missing, and for a moment he appears truly disconcerted, perhaps also wondering why the soldier would have stolen something so paltry when he has already been rewarded the boy’s heart. Nonetheless, he seems untroubled as he returns to his moping duties.
Cliches have a way of coming true in such romantic tales, and the third time does seem to be the charm as the soldier raps against the glass once more, the boy, happy to see his new lower, quickly opening up for him. He hands a paper box to Carlos asking him to open it. Inside is a soldier, dressed a bit like Julio now is, when he shakes it recognizing it is also a kind of piggy bank, the tips Carlos has previously saved now hidden within the symbol of his new hero.
As the soldier goes to leave, he turns back to hug the boy, the boy, soon after, meeting the man’s lips with an intense kiss that is met with an equally loving kiss by the soldier. They kiss three times, hug again, and the soldier sadly marches off, his hand momentarily laid flat against the front glass window in one final signing of farewell.
Carlos, the smile now suddenly failing him, takes out the shaving cream, spreads it upon the peach fuzz of his cheeks and gently shaves himself, an act of an imaginary moment of the soon-to-be future when he may be of age to meet dream soldier as an equal.
As Armand White, writing in 2016 in Out nicely summarized my own feelings: “Why can’t American filmmakers produce a great gay love story? That question is prompted by ‘Tremulous/Tremulo,’ pretty much a perfect depiction of desire, eroticism and romantic occasion....” In the end, this work plays out a bit like a fairy tale-like dream that Carlos might never be able to fully explain to his Godfather and tonsorial assistant. All they will witness is the soldier-money holder and a slight change of behavior in their young charge.
Los Angeles, November 27, 2020
Reprinted from My Queer Cinema blog and World Cinema Review (November 2020).