The Blonde One is perhaps a generous translation of this film’s title. The original Spanish “Un rubio” is in fact very telling. Juan utters these words to refer to part-time lover Gabriel; it is an indefinite article for an indefinite relationship: to him, Gabriel is simply “a blonde”, another body to use and explore. From the start, what they have together appears strictly casual ー and yet, as time goes on, could there perhaps be more?
The Blonde One (2019, Marco Berger) focuses on the relationship between Gabriel and Juan. The film starts when Gabriel moves into Juan’s flat, one of many in a dull, grey Buenos Aires apartment block. At first, the timid Gabriel ignores Juan’s subtle (and not so subtle) advances, but a sexual relationship develops as the film continues.
In a typical Marco Berger style of minimalism and verisimilitude, setting and cinematography are distinctly muted: we barely leave the apartment and the banal, ashy browns of its dated interior decor. Background sounds ー trains passing, sirens in the distance ー seem enhanced when they appear over silence, and sparse use of music means that its presence is always noted. Thus, a fierce combination of minimal background noise, lack of dialogue and mundane set design put the focus instead on bodies, on faces, on characters; limited movement within shots becomes that much more powerful.
And the focus is not just on any bodies, but on those of Gabriel and Juan. For example, Julia, Juan’s on-and-off again girlfriend, is often either placed out of shot or not in focus or both, making her as insignificant to us as an audience as she is to the two boys; in a comment on gay men’s narcissism, they are as obsessed with each other as they are with themselves. Coming from Berger, the film’s gay male director, producer, writer, director of photography and editor (the film was made with a small team and the end credits are rather short), this comment feels authentic, not forced. Here we have seen but the first example of Berger’s stylistic flourish, with many more to come; indeed, each shot feels exact, precise, carefully calibrated.
At three points in the film we see Gabriel and Juan taking the train together.
They work together, so this makes sense, and, typically of busy city life, the trains are crowded and they stand close together. Here, Berger angles the shot to show just their faces, framed and occasionally masked by the anonymous body parts of other travellers. These train snapshots always come directly before or after scenes of sex or sexual suggestion ー admittedly not too hard a thing to achieve in this film since there are so many ー heightening the tension and chemistry between the boys. The movement of the train jerks them back and forth, and so here as well does the closeness of their bodies to each other ebb and flow like tides.
As mentioned, Berger’s commitment to minimalism allows us to notice details.
In this shot, Gabriel is reading with his daughter, Ornella, who is living with Gabriel’s parents. Empty chairs remain out of focus in the foreground, reminding us of the duo’s isolation from others and dependence on each other: Ornella’s mother is not around, and she is an only child who desperately wants more time with her father.
A few minutes later, back in Juan’s apartment, the camera focuses on an empty chair in the foreground, prioritising the distance between Juan and Gabriel. We have seen by this point that, despite sexual closeness, Juan wants to keep their emotional relationship distant. Here, that is painfully apparent.
The composition of sex is also something to be noted.
In this shot, a doorway frames the post-sex silhouettes of Juan and Gabriel. With so much detail obscured, a romanticised tableau remains. The reality of their relationship, as we learn, is quite different.
The Portrayal of Sex
Marco Berger is a master of erotic build-up. Though we eventually do see everything but explicit sex, the suggestion of sex is just as powerful. Camera shots tease us, lingering on Gabriel’s and Juan’s mid-sections just long enough to be noticeable. In one shot showing us Gabriel point of view, Juan’s naked body (after having had sex with Julia) is framed by a door left ajar, tempting the eye with limited access. Later on, Gabriel has just come out of the shower, and Juan brazenly watches him get dressed: as he drops his towel, the camera focuses instead on the back of Juan’s head in the foreground, denying us a detailed view of Gabriel’s nude body and thereby enhancing the eroticism of the moment. Juan leaves as soon as Gabriel dresses; here, he is clearly signalling his intentions. Once Gabriel is clothed once more, the camera refocuses.
Top Tip: There’s a lot of nudity here. Like, a lot. So be prepared.
Eye contact between Gabriel and Juan is used extensively in the first thirty minutes of the film, before the two have had sex. Yet, it is telling that Juan looks decidedly away from Gabriel as the latter initiates their first sexual encounter: mirroring the shots of the two on the train, their faces and bodies are extremely close, but their gazes ー especially Juan’s ー divert.
In this sequence, we see the two having sex, naked bodies together, only briefly ー for no more than a few seconds. A day or two later, we see them in bed together again. And then again. There are so many of these scenes over the course of the film that I lost count, but they never last very long.
In making sex scenes both quick and numerous, Berger accurately depicts the fleetingness of this relationship: they are either together, skin on skin, or apart and wary of being too close each other; you see, Juan is not out to his friends and other flatmates, many of whom outwardly present anything from homogenised machoism to outward homophobia.
Manifestations of Fragile Masculinity
Juan’s male friends who visit the apartment all subscribe to a stereotypical macho ideal ー a kind of Latin American equivalent to the British “lad” culture. They are casually homophobic, misogynistic and transphobic in conversation as they openly discuss cheating on their wives and girlfriends. Here, of course, Juan’s own aversion to monogamy is revealed too.
Britney Line Time: “You got me going, you’re oh-so charming / But I can’t do it, you womanizer”
Nicknames that may seem insensitive when translated are used with apparent affection: in The Blonde One, the boys call one of the characters “gordo” or “gordito” ー literally “fat” or “fatty”. This is a common nickname in Argentina, just like “chino/a” (literally “Chinese”) for someone with narrow eyes. Whether seen or recognised as offensive or not, this nicknaming illustrates the lack of tact which Juan and his friends use around each other. Altogether, this is clearly not the space for a gay male relationship to blossom.
It is clear from their first encounter that Juan and Gabriel want different things: Gabriel is still in Juan’s bed when he returns from cleaning himself up in the bathroom, and Juan gestures for him to leave. Disappointed but obedient, Gabriel gets up and leaves without complaint.
Biggest Gay Mood: kicking your partner out the room after sex
In yet another manifestation of Berger’s minimalism, neither utter a word ー though, of course, we know exactly what is going on. In a conflict all too familiar in the gay community, Juan seems able to separate sex and romance (or even just basic decency, let’s be honest) whereas Gabriel does not. We are reminded, again, of the Spanish title, “un rubio”: Gabriel is not quite “the blonde one”, but simply and vaguely “a blonde”.
Lack of meaningful dialogue from an almost exclusively male cast may also be a comment on men’s inability to process emotions. Juan and Gabriel barely talk, even about having sex, and it is not until towards the end of the film that they really begin to say anything significant to each other and build up any level of emotional intimacy. Lines develop as the script progresses, becoming more complex as the connection deepens. The carnal and romantic visual desire transforms into the spoken. I’ll leave it to you to discover if, by then, it is already too late.
Ultimately, it is Marco Berger’s unique aesthetic that stands out in The Blonde One. Those who flock to the film for its highly eroticised sex scenes will appreciate their frequency, but may feel let down by how quickly each one passes by. However, approaching the film from an emotional standpoint leaves the viewer with a sense of weight, pain and longing that persist long after the sex is over.
The Blonde One is available to stream through Amazon channel Dekkoo (new customers get a 7-day free trial).