Argentinean director Jose Celestino Campusano brings us a coming of age drama based in rural Argentina, with dark foreboding themes of abuse, control and community legitimation of both.
Ariel lives on his fathers farm stuck between the toxic masculinity of two opposing older men; his father who believes he can change Ariel into his image of a man and Omar, the local priest who abused Ariel throughout his childhood, and continues to attempt to emotionally control him.
Men of Hard Skin treats it’s subject matter in a detached normalised manner, creating a strong feeling of community acceptance in the abuse and sexual use of young people both male and female. At times this creates a deeply uncomfortable feeling for the viewer, where subjects of child abuse in the Catholic Church are overt within community culture. Local people accepting and rarely challenging the power and control of those in positions of apparent authority. While the church brushes to one side it’s demons in retreats that only act as encouragement of further abuse. There is a dark honesty in Omar (the local priest) as a weak man only held aloft by the community he represents and money he can share.
Ariel refuses to fit the image that his father imposes on him, with generational conflict sitting centre stage in Ariels expectance of his sexuality and place in a community full of secrets. Ariel takes charge of his own sexuality and the abuse experienced at the hands of Omar, building his resilience, while exploring the boundaries of his own sexual desires; Ariels vulnerability slowly diminishing as he finds his own strength and self worth.
Men of Hard Skin is a challenging film, never seeking to grandstand it’s messages, while portraying a deeper truth of abuse and exploitation; communities often collude in the actions of those deemed to have power.
A powerful and often uncomfortable exploration of coming of age in a rural community where collusion, masculinity and religion combine to create exploitation and abuse.