Movie Review - Esteros

Esteros is a Spanish word for "estuaries." An estuary is like a marsh or a river delta. It's a water-filled area that's not very deep. An estuary in Argentina and a nearby farm form the setting for this film. It's a beautiful and very lush place and provides the perfect atmosphere for this very sensual movie.

Director Papu Curotto in his feature debut leans more on sensuality than narrative or even big emotion. He joins a list of LGBT films that do take their queue from being lush and tapping into the senses, particularly sight and touch as much as anything else. Curotto is from Argentina and there have been other filmmakers from Argentina like Marco Berger who also used water and the rural countryside as cinematic, sensual pleasures.

What differentiates Curotto's work is his use of characters so young. There aren't many films, foreign or otherwise, that have prepubescent boys exploring same-sex attraction. In March 2015, the TV series The Fosters had the youngest kiss between two gay characters on American television. It was between the characters Jude and Connor who were in 7th grade and both 13-years-old.

Billy Elliot (2000) had the 11-year-old, titular character kiss his same-sex friend toward the end of that movie, but the exploration of his sexuality wasn't the focus. The kiss was just a brief, cute moment. French filmmaker Céline Sciamma did Tomboy (2011) but that film was less about same-sex attraction and more about gender identity.

Cuatro lunas (2014) is from Mexico and featured boys under the age of 13 expressing same-sex attraction. Sergio Tovar Velarde bravely wades into seeing the two young boys engaged in a sex act. Nothing graphic is shown, but the depiction definitely pushes the line about children and sexuality. Movies will only do that when tackling the crime of pedophilia. Not many films will touch upon the idea of children enjoying that kind of physicality.

Curotto's film skirts that same line. It doesn't push as far as Velarde did. If anything, it's reminiscent of André Téchiné's Being 17 from France. For the most part, we never see the young boys engaging in a sex act. Instead the boys engage in horseplay or roughhousing. They do affectionate tussling. Then, almost out of a scene from Mischa Kamp's Boys from the Netherlands, the young males retreat to the aforementioned estuaries to splash and swim. There has always been something erotic about seeing wet bodies embraced, but it becomes perhaps apparent to the boys themselves of that inherent titillation.

The director certainly gets that inherent titillation. Yet, horseplay isn't enough. Curotto can't help but put the boys in bed together, naked aside from each's tighty-whitey. One of the boys is supposedly cold. Instead of putting more clothes on, the choice is for the two boys to cuddle closer skin-to-skin. Unlike Velarde's film, it's not even clear if the two boys understand what to do, or what could happen. All they know is the closeness, although it's implied that they touch each other's genitals while in bed.

The question becomes if encouraging such sexuality in these two young boys is healthy, but films about romance and quasi-sexual relationships between opposite-gender children isn't scoffed too much. My Girl (1991) was about a 11-year-old female who kisses a boy and crushes on her teacher. Let the Right One In (2008) has a 12-year-old girl kiss a boy after embracing him. There's genre thrills in that it's a vampire tale. Yet, Moonrise Kingdom (2012) has a 12-year-old boy and girl running off and dancing on the beach near the water in their underwear and kissing too.

Films depicting heterosexual children having romances, showing skin and even kissing and cuddling don't raise any eyebrows. Therefore, it shouldn't raise eyebrows here. Argentina legalized same-sex marriage in 2010. A court case paved the way in 2009. A poll showed the majority of the country favored those LGBT rights in 2007. Therefore, it can be assumed that these boys are being raised in an environment where it's safe for them to explore any same-sex attraction. This accepting nature is reflected in the mother of one of the boys. There is no homophobia aimed at them in this film.

In fact, there's no conflict here at all. It establishes what could be conflict and all the same tension as in Brokeback Mountain (2005). Instead of a mountain in Wyoming, it's an estuary in Argentina. Both symbolize the same, a retreat, if not all together private, but a place where the boys can be themselves, raw, free and sexual. A woman connected to one of them threatens that retreat perhaps being permanent, but that threat is never actualized here.

Whatever concern weighed the man in Brokeback Mountain also weighs one of the men here. Yet, no negative consequences come to pass, which is divergent from the 2015 short film on which this movie is based. Curotto directed that short as a precursor to this, but a significant gay-bashing in the short isn't carried over to this feature.

Ignacio Rogers stars as Matías, a biology student who works in research and knows a lot about animal and plant life. He has short hair, and he's very clean-cut. He has a girlfriend.

Esteban Masturini co-stars as Jerónimo, a man who's openly gay. He works doing special effects for movies, including makeup and animation. He has longer hair and a scruffy beard.

Both now live in the city, but when the two were younger, they spent the summers at the estuaries out in the rural area, near the farm of Jerónimo's family. It's where the romance begins but as adults in their mid or late twenties, Matías and Jerónimo are estranged. They haven't seen or spoken to one another in some time. They need to catch up because the two who were at once the same have become different, especially Matías, but the screenplay by Andi Nachon doesn't justify this difference in Matías. Why has Matías who clearly showed same-sex attraction as a child now afraid of it as an adult?

The movie reminded me of a Jeff London film. The premise is akin to Regarding Billy (2005) or Arizona Sky (2008). A burgeoning romance and deep intimacy between two boys is dashed when one moves away. Years later, as grown-ups, the two reunite and hope to rekindle whatever youthful passion they once felt. The possibility of that passion is what's most at play here and all the movie really delivers.

Three Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains intense sex scenes.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 26 mins.

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