With his latest film, "Hawaii," Argentinian filmmaker Marco Berger ("Plan B," "Sexual Tension: Volatile") revisits the realm of male passion, as two men -- childhood friends who haven’t see one another in years -- gradually connect and dance uncertainly around each other.
Martín (Mateo Chiarino) returns to his old neighborhood after a long absence, only to find that his aunt has departed and sold her house. He has nowhere to go: Since the death of his mother, when he was 13, Martín has been living in Uruguay with another relative. But with her death, he has no place to go until the end of the summer months, when he’s got a job lined up in Buenos Aires.
Martín lives rough for a while, sleeping in the bushes and hiring out for odd jobs to bring in a little cash. When he approaches Eugenio (Manuel Vignau), who tends a house for his aunt and uncle, the two recognize one another from when they were kids. Eugenio offers Martín steady employment for a couple of months and, when he realizes the extent of Martín’s desperation, a place to stay.
But Eugenio’s kindness carries the possibility of complication. He’s gay, and worried about drawing Martín into a romance with no future -- or, worse, some sort of "gay for pay" scenario. But Eugenio’s feelings only get stronger with each passing day; will their connection lead to something real? Or is he only setting himself up to have his illusions shattered?
Berger’s approach here, as in earlier films, is to allow the film to flex, breathe, and amble. The guys swim, nap side by side in the sun, share meals, and have borderline erotic experiences (sleeping together in a drunken heap at one point). Each seems to be uncertain of the other: Is Martín gay? Are Eugenio’s motives less pure than they might be, and what’s with the way he’ll suddenly jump up, in the middle of a conversation, and get onto his computer?
Chiarino plays Martín with a certain stripe of innocence that’s appealing, but seems a little too good to be true. Vignau’s depiction of Eugenio is of someone with borderline Asperger’s -- he seldom manages a smile, and he often seems wound way too tight, but on the other hand, he notes subtle clues about Martín that allow him to figure out the starkness of his new friend’s circumstances, and he finds ways of looking after Martín that seem engineered to allow Martín to retain his masculine pride. When Eugenio does crack a smile, however, it’s directly because of Martín; for all his uncertainty, it’s obvious that his feelings for Martín are genuine, if understated.
In this, and other ways, Berger imbues "Hawaii" with a certain realism, even as its central metaphor seems altogether too much like a fable. The balance Berger strikes is one of sweetness and youthful optimism.
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