the open door of pleasure
by Douglas Messerli
Bruce Leddy (director) “A Football Thing,” Mad TV episode 905 / 2003
Adrià Llauró (screenwriter and director) Alirón / 2019
Martin Chichovski (screenwriter and director) I’m Not Gay / 2020
It has long been an open secret in the LGBTQ world that not only are a lot of self-defined straight boys and girls far more interested in exploring gay sex, but with the growing openness of gay sexuality are increasing eager to find out what same-sex relationships have to offer. While this might first seem a healthy societal transformation, there is also something vaguely distasteful and even slightly homophobic about the films that represent this, suggesting first of all that desiring gay sex is all just a matter of curiosity and the chance of discovering another friend who feels the same momentary interest, as if were a matter of simply adapting another viewpoint or akin to changing one’s wardrobe. For several young people being gay, moreover, becomes something that seems—in its expression of difference and in its continued parental and society resistance—like it was hip or simply a “necessary” experiment before settling down into a heterosexual relationship.
In some cases, however, it may also be the first stirrings of buried sexual desires which seem safter to explore with a good friend. I’ve already written about several works, most notably in my essay “How to Lose Your Best Friend” on four films—Dear Friend (2011), Anochecer (Nightfall) (2012), Prora (2012), Reel (2013), and Tomorrow (2014)—noting the difficulties and often the devastating consequences of treading upon the friendship with sexual desire.
Yet, in two later comedies, Spanish, Catalan language director Adrià Llauró’s Alirón (“Celebration” or “Hurray!” in English) (2019) and North Macedonian director Martin Chichovski’s I’m Not Gay (2020) it seems, given the fact that the two outwardly straight boys sharing TV shows, whose language and actions keep suggesting that they have something more on their minds than what they’re witnessing on the television set, might actually enjoy a quick sexual exchange of bodily fluids. And in both cases, unlike curious younger boys who do it just to release teenage sexual tension, these young men in both cases are old enough to know, after they’ve tried it, whether or not its something they may want to explore on a regular basis.
In Alirón Fran (Adrián Expósito) and Marc (Eudald Font) have come together on a couch to watch their favorite soccer team, an event they clearly hold as something nearly sacred. Marc arrives at Fran’s apartment, having forgotten to bring along a TV set, so they have to watch the match on Fran’s computer, which while he visits to the toilet, Marc begins to set up for the game. But upon opening it he sees an open site “Sex with Your Best Friend,” immediately feeling a bit uncomfortable, which he shows by moving over when the shirtless Fran returns to declare that every time he pees he gets a hard on.
A few seconds later, at an exciting moment in the game, Fran grabs hold his friend’s knee as he rises a bit from his seat. Marc suggests Fran might want to put his shirt on, suggesting “You’ll be more comfortable, right?” Fran, a bit confused by the request, nonetheless complies.
Finally, a bit more settled, Marc still feels quite uncomfortable being so close to his friend’s handsome body, particularly when Fran states that he’s been thinking if he could have sex with whoever he wanted or have dinner with Messi, he might choose the dinner with his “god.”*
Now hardly able to look at his friend’s face, Mac covers his eyes, looking away from the screen as he suddenly feels Fran’s fingers on his arms, evidently removing a bit of “fluff,” as Fran explains when Marc jumps at the sudden sensation. “I think I’d better leave,” he announces to his friend, who understandably argues that he’s just arrived.
“I don’t know, I just don’t feel good,” he answers as Fran attempts to hand him a beer, Marc already rising from the couch, forcing some of the beer to spill over Marc’s crotch. Fran jumps up to get a towel, returning as Marc opens himself up to the effort of Fran’s blotting up the liquid. Fran wonders what he’s waiting for; is he expecting him to clean it up.
Even more distressed, Marc puts his left leg over his right as Fran comments on a goal made by Messi. As Fran picks up a beer to swig it down, the sound of the fim suddenly lowers, as Marc turns to watch his sexy friend’s long slurp of beer, liquid dripping from his mouth.
And now Fran fears he cut himself with the edge of the can, wondering if he’s bleeding. Marc quickly says, “No,” but Fran perceives he’s not even looking in his direction. Pushing his face toward Marc, Fran suggests he look into his mouth to see if it’s been cut, and without seemingly any hesitation, Marc leans in to kiss it, shocking Fran, who clearly wants to know what’s going on: “What are you doing moron?”
Jumping up, Marc shouts out “For fuck sake Fran! I can’t deal anymore with this fucking tension. I mean, we can do it and get it over with [my correction of the subtitles].”
When Fran says he hasn’t a clue what Marc is talking about, his friend explains that he’s seen the introductory page on the computer. But Fran explains it’s his sister’s computer, not his.
Marc sits back down clearly ashamed and, perhaps, somewhat disappointed.
Still watching the game religiously, Fran suggests that a player was offside. “That’s not offside. I don’t know what the fuck it is,” Marc replies
They continue watching for a few more moments, Fran offering up the words, “We’ll see what we do during the break, okay?”
Marc responding, “But no pressure, eh.”
It’s a skit, but also a score not only near the “funny bone” but to the heart of unspoken male friend desires.
The team just scored, says one of them. No, I mean the other part, continues his friend. “You mean when I put my tongue into your mouth?” “Yea.” That was just a “football thing” they insist, but wondering “Are we gay?” “Were you excited?” asks the first. “No. No. Yes. A little bit” answers the second. “Does that make me gay?”
“No,” responds the first, “a little bit.” But finally they decide that they’re just “two guys who got excited and made out.” They’re still unsure, but return momentarily to their game. But with another exciting moment they again bump chests, and this time move into a deep embrace and kissing session, finally so excited that one raises the other off the floor, the second jumping him as in a leap of sex.
“What do we do?” asks the second.
“I don’t know. I’m new.” He sits. “I’m a new gay.”
“Should we go to a gay bar?
“I don’t know. Can you go when you’re new?”
“Should we light some scented candles?”
Finally they once again decide they’re not gay, but more like cheerleaders (suggested in the title of Llauró’s work), short skirts and bouncin’ hooters. That’s what we’re all about.”
They begin to imitate the cheerleaders shaking their “booty,” but soon, again standing, find that they shake their hips and butts back into a deep hug and even mock-fuck for few seconds before breaking away. “I don’t know what’s going on here,” laments the first guy, “but just ‘cause a couple guys who kiss and dance a little, and grope each other, and one of them whispers to the other, ‘I know you’re a man but I’m going to treat you like a lady’...doesn’t make them gay.”
He finally decides he’s got to get over to his girlfriends, asking the other “You’re not going to be weird about this, are you?” The second agrees. But a moment later, after another touchdown, the two stand and begin their routine, intensely resisting their desires to repeat their previous actions, finally one of them planting a quick kiss on his friend’s lips as he leaves.
Obviously, despite our hearty laughs, none of these figures truly convince us that they might actually be gay. They are simply too quick in their acceptance of the situation, and we recognize in that fact, that whatever happens “after” their first hints of same-sex attraction it will surely be temporary. A person actually convinced of their own sexual difference is unlikely to attempt so painlessly to assimilate the facts they have just perceived about themselves. LGBTQ people suffer not simply because of the idea of their queerness but because of the permanence of it. Once one recognizes that one is truly queer there is no going back, no easy postponement of the situation. And there are generally few outward signs of what the LGBTQ person experiences within before they actually come to terms with that inner emotional transformation.
The utter confusion of Chichovski’s characters, their denial and simultaneous imaginings of sexual possibilities more fully represents the surreal-like position of LGBTQ individuals coming to terms with their desires.
Like the four other figures we’ve just seen, this director’s two central male characters (Vanja Trojachanec and Hristo Cholakov) sit on a couch throughout the work, watching TV, in this case beginning with what appears to be a kind of Macedonian soap opera in which a young handsome man is declaring his love to a girl.
One of the boys, joining the second with popcorn, asks his friend why he has a frown on his face since he had asked to see this movie. Evidently, the girl looks like Stanka, a girl he must once have been dating who is now with another boy. When the friend says he misses her, his friend argues “Don’t be gay,” evidently associating any strong emotional feeling with homosexuality.
Soon after, the same boy checks his cell phone only to toss it away. “What’s happened,” his friend asks, to which the other replies “Nothing.”
But clearly he’s distressed. And after some denial he admits he’s broken up with Clara, presumably his girlfriend.
“I’m sorry,” says the clearly more sensitive boy, “Do you want a hug?”
And so begins a series of denials and strange requests. The friend emphatically says he does not want a hug, the other immediately trying to even deny he asked. But the other repeats his statement: “I don’t want a hug, bro.”
When the first denies he’s said anything further, the boy again repeats “I told you I don’t want a hug,” his multiple protests saying far more than the original kind offer.
“Okay, bro, understood, I don’t want to hug you either.”
If one might have thought that might put an end to this meaningless chatter, we quickly begin to comprehend what is happening within the rejected boy, who continues “Why do you want to hug me so bad?”
Once more the friendlier boy repeats that he doesn’t want to hug him.
The other looks at him now almost as if he were hurt by the last denial, while his friend wonders why he’s looking at him in that manner.
And when the boy again says “I don’t want you to hug me,” we recognize in the absurdity of his statement since he apparently desperately desires to be hugged and loved.
The one who desires no hug screams out a sort of howl and quickly grabs the control to turn the TV set off, the other thanking him.
But the conversation continues in almost Harold Pinter-like language, with the first boy asking him why he is being thanked.
“Because you turned it off, bro?”
“Should I put it back on again?”
“No, no, better not.”
“Can I at least play the kissing scene?” He looks at his friend, realizing the absurdity of his request. “Alright, alright.”
The friendlier soul suggests he “Put on something cool.”
The other asks, “Like gay porn?”
And suddenly we realize that we are in an illogical world where these two keep denying everything they most desire. Friendly hugs are nothing if you’re already regularly watching gay sex.
The other laughs at the ridiculousness of the suggestion, but finally after a short pause adds, “No, I mean I don’t want to watch it, but if you do...”
“Never mind,” he counters.
“All right. All right,” his friend agrees, but is almost instantly interrupted by the boy who wants no hug quickly spilling out the words from his mouth: “Can I suck your dick?”
For a few moments they argue over what the other said, the second denying what the other seemed to have heard but doesn’t dare to repeat, when suddenly the friendlier one asks “Should I get undresssed?”
“Chill out bro, I’m not gay.”
These last lines are spoken almost simultaneously, clipped, as if almost ritualistic tokens of spoken desire and assurances that no desire real lies behind his request.
A game is being played out that pushes them both into positions of acceptance and denial in the very same breath.
Finally the difficult one turns to the other, calling his by his name, David, and expressing what appears to be their true situation: “It’s like we both want the same thing. We both had girlfriends, this and that...but in the end we always end up together, me and you. It’s like the universe wants to tell us something.”
His friend continues in antiphon: “It’s like the universe is trying to tell us that we’re gay!”
At that very moment, another boy enters the room, perhaps having overheard their conversation since he lets out a cry of embarrassment for having come in in the middle of something.
They immediately fall back on their stock deflection: “It’s not what it looks like. We are not gay, totally not gay. We’re straight!” These are very strange words indeed, since they are not doing anything that might “look” like something except two males sitting together talking on a couch.
“Guys, guys, don’t say anything, don’t worry. I’m gay too. Would you like to have a threesome?”
The boys on the couch agree to it immediately: “Alright, we can do that, yeah. Let’s do it,” as they quickly begin to undress.
Obviously, all it takes for these two boys to come to terms with their own sexuality is someone open enough to take them through the door of pleasure.
Los Angeles, July 14, 2021
Reprinted from My Queer Cinema blog and World Cinema Review (July 2021).