A porn star struggles with loneliness in Manuel Abramovich’s sensitive feature debut


Source: San Sebastián International Film Festival


Dir: Manuel Abramovich. Argentina/France/Brazil/Mexico. 2022. 98mins

Look behind the contemporary trappings of Argentinian Manuel Abramovich’s feature debut—with its snappy portmanteau title, its focus on tech and social media and its subject, online porn—and you’ll find a film with old fashioned values, whose titular melancholy derives from their very loss. Picking up themes explored in Abramovich’s 2019 Silver Berlin Bear awarding-winning short Blue Boy, this study of a guy trying to make it in the gay porn industry may be stating the obvious but it does so intriguingly, with sensitivity, wit and thoughtfulness. Though it deals with issues that affect us all, both the subject matter and treatment are likely to limit Pornomelancholia’s exposure to streaming platforms and fest sidebars, where it deserves to make a big impact.

Visually, Pornomelancolia is a world away from the grungy, hand-held look that such subject matter is often afforded

The pre-title sequence is among the film’s strongest: Lalo (Lalo Santos), a good-looking guy in a busy city street, unexpectedly breaks down in tears – and there you have the crux of Pornomelancolia in sixty seconds. Lalo works in a factory in Oaxaca, where to fit in he has to pretend to be a married man and a machista, but moonlights by uploading hardcore images of himself to Twitter, his validation coming as he scrolls through the comments and likes. It’s a world that his fellow workers know nothing about, and would be horrified if they did: though of course, one aspect of gay porn is precisely in its celebration of machismo.

Short of money, the shy, quietly spoken Lalo takes hesitant steps as an actor in a remarkable-looking gay porn film – one whose budget is not the only decent-sized thing about it – which is comically but appropriately based on the Mexican revolution and features Lalo and his moustache as Zapata. The shoot, which occupies most of the film’s duration, is fascinating as a behind-the-scenes take on how these things are set up. It’s pretty explicit fare at times, though Abramovich thoughtfully employs the judicious use of camera angles to spare the non-aficionado any unwanted details.

There is much comedy, with the fantastically enthusiastic director with artistic aspirations barking out directions, one actor reflecting on how speaking English (saying “Oh God”, for example) can further your career, and a great gag about Luis Buñuel. As we advance from one scene of the film to another, so much for the porno part of the title. But it’s in the melancholy part that the key to Pornomelancolia is found, in the between scene conversations between a gang of sombrero-wearing guys who share not only required professional qualities, but also multiple insecurities.

Their chats are where the film’s themes are explored, and include AIDS, masculine insecurity, the broken backgrounds from which these men have emerged, worries about the future, and fundamentally, the lack of love to be found in a world in which bodies are commodities. In short, they reveal the men behind the members. It’s of special significance that Lalo phones his mother repeatedly to talk, in somewhat vague terms admittedly, about how well he’s doing in his job, but never actually speaks to her: all he can do is record voice messages. Lalo’s phone never rings.

Visually, Pornomelancolia is a world away from the grungy, hand-held look that such subject matter is often afforded. It’s a celebration of porn too, as a way of eking out a living for many, and of the technology that makes its possible, with much time given over to big-screen images of the small-screen communications taking place across the social platforms. Abramovich has a great eye for the striking tableau, too: witness one scene with the gang of actors sleeping, physically exhausted, on the grass of the ranch where their film is being shot, like so many broken cowboys.

That said, a ‘like’ is not a friend—a message which Abramovich apparently feels is not obvious enough not to need restating (this could be a generational thing). To use an appropriate idiom, it’s probably stretching it to say that Pornomelancolia is directly about the decline of Mexican culture (and not only Mexican culture) to a late capitalist parody of its former self, a mere performance being played out on film sets around the globe; a poor substitute for lives actually being lived. But that idea is there, hovering in the background: this, Abramovich seems to be saying, is what the revolution has come to. 

Production companies: Gema Films, Desvia Films, Dublin Films, Martfilms

International sales: Luxbox Films fiorella@luxboxfilms.com

Producers: Gema Juarez Allen, Rachel Daisy Ellis, David Hurst, Martha Orozco

Screenplay: Manuel Abramovich, Fernando Krapp, Pio Longo

Cinematography: Manuel Abramovich

Production design: Dudu Quintanilha

Editing: Juan Soto, Ana Remon

Main cast: Lalo Santos