The story of young gay men coming to terms with their sexuality has become a fairly common narrative in Hollywood and European cinema, but Raid Randall looks at Martin Deus’ My Best Friend, Argentina’s gay coming of age story.
Deep in the idyllic, suburban haven of Patagonia, Argentina, a lost teenage boy lives in a state of hormonal confusion, plagued by feelings of displacement that he can’t comprehend.
Lorenzo is quiet, geeky, and bookish. He’s picked last for the football team, doesn’t drink or do drugs, and has no close friends or girlfriend.
“Sometimes,” Lorenzo confesses, “even though I have people around me, I feel kind of lonely.”
“Pussy,” is the unsympathetic answer Lorenzo receives from Caíto, the boy who plunges into his world and sends it rippling.
Despite their vast differences in appearance, background and personality, Lorenzo and Caíto slowly rekindle an intimate friendship they once shared as children.
When mysterious circumstances push the boys into close quarters, this forgotten friendship quickly reforms, then deepens, becoming both unusual and frightening in its intensity. Although unspoken, the depth of their feelings for each other fills a reservoir beneath them, at times causing arguments and even physical fights, as both boys lack the ability to cope with attraction to another man, let alone their best friend.
When watching My Best Friend (2018), I was struck by the similarity in feel and narrative to another coming of age gay love story, this one taking place in the Netherlands. With its own prominently featured lake scene, as well as its analogous focus on family dynamic in the background of a developing sexuality, Boys / Jongens (2014) could be the Dutch predecessor of Deus’ film.
In both Boys and My Best Friend, one of the most prominent trials that the main characters face is how to interact with girls, given that they are still in denial about their true desires. Lorenzo in My Best Friend, despite his geekiness, catches the attention of a classmate Graciana. In the parallel universe of Boys, protagonist Sieger finds himself thrown together with Jessica.
Both Lorenzo and Sieger react to their new girlfriends with a similar sense of bewildered acceptance. Lorenzo goes as far as sleeping with Graciana, an act which afterwards is shown to have caused him obvious distress, and is not repeated.
Ultimately of course, these attempts at heterosexual relationships are unsustainable for either boy, and the girl quickly grows tired of a ‘boyfriend’ that inexplicably wants to spend more time with their male best friend than her.
The female characters in both films are mere tools for the boys to more firmly establish their own feelings. Only by trying to pursue an intersex relationship can they definitively know that they need something different.
In the past decade, there have been a plethora of films centering on young boys gradually and reluctantly coming to terms with their homosexuality. These films are usually lilting and scenic, with a meandering pace, allowing viewers to indulge in a dreamier slice of life, but one that is riddled with heartache and the trials of being ‘other’. These films seem to project the idea that ‘normalcy’ (or hetero-normalcy) and beauty cannot co-exist; for the protagonist to lean towards one, is to sacrifice the other.
One of the film’s most significant themes is trust. It becomes apparent almost as soon as Caíto moves in to Lorenzo’s family home that he is a troubled teenager. It is slowly revealed that his father is a drug addict, an issue which stems a number of other problems for Caíto, and eventually means he has to leave his house indefinitely. Whilst living at Lorenzo’s, he sneaks out to go drinking, takes drugs, urges Lorenzo to break rules, and is a constant source of worry for Lorenzo’s parents.
The adults first try to treat him as they do their other sons, but Caíto is older, and more obviously weathered by hardship their own children have been sheltered from. It becomes obvious that Caíto struggles to handle responsibility, and is more comfortable settling into the role he knows – the rebel.
Soon, Lorenzo is the only person he listens to, as Lorenzo is the only one who bothers to try and understand. “You don’t care about him,” Lorenzo insists to his mother, about Caíto. “You try really hard to like him. You’re nice to him. But he’s Carlos’s son.” In other words, according to Lorenzo’s mother, Caíto’s fate is sealed to turn into his drug-abusing dad.
Lorenzo becomes something that Caíto has never had: a true friend.
He is loyal and supportive, with a genuine interest in helping him. Due to the implication of his tumultuous upbringing, Caíto is initially hesitant to accept this friendship, but perhaps due to the two boys’ history, he gradually lets Lorenzo in. Lorenzo begins attempting to steer Caíto into safer waters: taking him home when he’s too drunk, getting him up for work in the morning, and teaching him how to behave.
For a while Caíto tries to mould himself into someone trustworthy, but it becomes evident that it is not a comfortable position for him. He wants to please Lorenzo, but he can’t help prodding at the edges of his trust to test its durability.
During one of the most climactic scenes, on a camping trip the two boys take alone, Caíto pushes the limits by doing something Lorenzo expressly told him not to do. In an act that will foreshadow later events in its symbolism, Caíto swims in the lake Lorenzo had previously warned him not to. He then ‘pranks’ Lorenzo by pretending to drown, prompting him to run in and save him.
Lorenzo: “You scared me, you asshole!”
Caíto: “It was a prank!”
Once apologies have been exchanged and they are passively but contentedly sitting by the campfire, buffeting on the edge of a weed-induced haze, Lorenzo urges Caíto to close his eyes. Caíto feigns reluctance, but follows instruction. Then, in the poignant and subtle act of moistening his lips, it is revealed to us that he expects Lorenzo to finally pierce through their close bond and kiss him. Instead, Lorenzo takes the safer route of a cheek kiss that could just about be interpreted as platonic, if Caíto were to object. Despite Lorenzo’s failure to cement their relationship as something more romantic, it is obvious that Caíto is aware of what might have been.
Because the deep bond they share teeters so precariously between friendship and romance, Caíto’s apparent attempt to steal money from Lorenzo’s mother is all the more heart breaking for Lorenzo to witness. Caíto knows – has always known – why Lorenzo feels an elevated sense of connection between them, and why he gives Caíto leeway where the rest of his family cannot.
Due to his own substance addiction born from his father, along with various other struggles made apparent in the course of the narrative, Caíto uses his power over Lorenzo – the trust they’ve built between them – and knowingly shatters it. Once Lorenzo has caught him in the act, Caíto knows for certain that what they had is irreparable, and that he must leave.
In the end, Lorenzo is left as lonely as he was at the beginning of the film, but in contrast to his former self, he now has a deeper understanding of who he is, the meaning behind his desires, and what it means to share a deep connection that is not purely sexual.
Caíto was never Lorenzo’s intended ‘first boyfriend’, but rather a means for him to develop as a person. Without the brief time he spent with Caíto, Lorenzo could not have grown past his own denial of his sexuality, and would not have known that crucially important first experience of real love.
At the end of the film, Lorenzo’s mother asks: “Are you feeling… something special for [Caito]?”
Lorenzo, embarrassed and caught off-guard, replies: “Please, I don’t want to talk about this now.” Implied but not spoken are the words: “but I’ll be ready to talk about it soon.”
Caíto may only be a brief episode in Lorenzo’s life, but his presence has been, and will remain, a defining one that will likely remain deeply ingrained in Lorenzo’s sense of self forever.
My Best Friend is now available on DVD from Amazon.