Friday, September 10, 2021

Etienne Kallos | Doorman

have a nice day

by Douglas Messerli

Etienne Kallos and Diana Fithian (screenplay, based on a story by Diana Fithian), Etienne Kallos,  director) Doorman / 2006

Etienne Kallos’ 2006 short movie Doorman is a beautifully filmed, darkly subtle tale of sexual power and a personal coming terms with sexuality.

      Diego (Jamil Mena) is the doorman of an older New York apartment building, who is in every way clearly proud of his job and conscientious about his responsibilities. We see him clean off the desk with spray and towels, sweeping up dirty areas in the hall and storage space, and we recognize when, in the first scene, he puts on his uniform it is with a sense of pride and respect of those he works under and for.

      Early in the film he demands one of the tenants sign in her guest, and buzzes in a handsome young man, evidently one of the tenants who either been away for a long period of time or is a newer tenant who has stored a number of items which he now needs to bring back into his small apartment, and in order to do that he must accompanied each time by the doorman who takes him by elevator to the storage unit from which he retrieves the boxes.

      The younger man, Garret (Stephen Sheffer) is attractive in a disheveled, slightly gawkish manner, while the brooding dark Diego is equally beautiful, darkly alluring, and hunky, seemingly  slightly removed, partly because it is apparent that he is not certain of his sexuality. He obviously lives alone but seeks companionship. And the tension between the two is apparent with each rise and fall of the large storeroom elevator.

    At one point, the boy finally moves from the back of the elevator forward to its operator and puts his hand on his ass. Diego immediately pulls away, shocked by the encounter, but also clearly unsure how to react to it. The kid quickly pulls back, apologizing but after some pause, the doorman assures him “it’s all right,” that he will not react with anger or violence to what is truly an assault.

      But we also feel that the Diego longs for just such contact, particularly when late at night he stands near the door looking out into the dark, empty streets, totally alone in his night job.


      As he removes his uniform, we observe him staring at his own image into the mirror, obviously contemplating the contradictory feelings he is suffering. 

      But after we see him knocking on the boy’s door, the kid, Garret, coming to the open the door while still brushing his teeth, observing the doorman there but continuing to brush as if demanding that he wait before what is clearly intended to be a sexual encounter. The kid returns to the bathroom, slowly finishing his activity before returning to the room, approaching Diego, and attempting to kiss him. Diego turns away, Garrett moving in back of him almost to assure that he will not again make a direct frontal approach. He pulls Diego’s coat jacket off, kisses his neck, and begins to slide his hand under his pants by his ass; but again the doorman pulls away turning and taking control of the sexual situation. The next shot is the two of them together in bed, with Diego gently stroking the boy’s face. Clearly he has taken control of the situation and feels satisfied by the sexual act.

      In the next scene he returns to the basement where, presumably the janitors’ and guards’ facilities are located, and takes a hot soapy shower, washing away any sweat or other bodily fluids before he redresses and returns to his job. It is the ambiguity of his responses that gives this film such an intensity. Hardly a word otherwise is spoken.

      Once more we see him washing down the small front counter, smiling at a passing tenant and handing her the mail. It is his domain.

       But again we see him at the boy’s door, this time with a key. When he enters the boy immediately undresses and the two embrace falling to the bed. He wants to fuck Garret, but the boy refuses; yet presumably they have sex, the camera showing them asleep. Yet suddenly Garret rises and moves into the small kitchen, sitting on the floor facing away from the door.

        The doorman gently asks him if he’s okay, and slowly reenters the bedroom. Again they kiss, but this time the boy pulls away, a second or two later pulling him back into an embrace and kiss, but yet again pushing him off, a series of actions he repeats several times, demanding finally that Diego hit him. The doorman answers that he cannot, but when Garrett shouts “hit me you faggot,” Diego does for a second reacting violent, slapping him as the two again embrace. It is evident that that Garret is involved in the illicit relationship out of some slightly sadomasochist desire, a sense of role playing involving Diego’s role and position in relationship to the boy’s own life, a situation that completely confuses the simply desirous doorman.

        Diego is now truly troubled about the situation and even more frightened for what he has done to the boy, terrified that it may lead to his losing his job.

        Still, he cannot resist the boy and arrives yet again with a gift of wine in hand, perceiving this time that the door is lightly open. He enters to see Garret and two other sitting on the bed, perhaps sharing drugs, Garret greeting him with a bit of confusion, crying out “What’s up.” Stunned by the situation, Diego is speechless as one of the other boys asks, “So you’re Garret’s friend? Are you a student?” He turns quickly and leaves.

        Again we see him at the front desk, spraying and washing down the small marble desk counter. And we realize he has now been put in his place, that the obviously privileged college boy—probably a student at Columbia University whose parents have paid the cost of small New York apartment for their son—has truly dismissed him like the servant he is. 

        Garret enters from the street, pauses for a moment at the desk, and moves on without a word, dismissing Diego’s very existence.  

       When Diego soon after encounters the boy in the storage room at night, he moves forward kisses him, and slugs him, turning back to embrace and kiss him, and finally, turn away, pull down his pants and demand he “take it, take it.” The boy fucks him, obviously given the groans, Diego’s first time. He turns back and takes a long look at the kid as if apprising him. He pulls up his pants, and responds: “You have a nice day, sir.” He moves away, enters the elevator, disengaging himself from the boy’s allure forever. He has re-established their relationship, removing any of sense of a shared love he once imagined between the two of them. But in that act, he also regained his own sense of worth. The boy is not worthy of his love or adoration.

      In a little under 18 minutes, this film has created a profoundly complex character and explored aspects of gay sexuality in a manner that few short gay films are willing to even attempt, let alone succeed as Doorman has. 

Los Angeles, September 10, 2021

Reprinted from World Cinema Review (September 2021).

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