Slipping under the radar in a summer full of children’s popcorn films, is a melancholic Brazilian gem. Exploring both internal and societal isolation in Brazils LGBTQ community. Winning best LGBTQ picture at the 2018 Berlinale Film Festival, Hard Paint has finally gained a limited cinematic release, providing a fascinating exploration of gay identity in a country of political and social extremes. Directors Filipe Matzembacher and Marcio Reolon (Seashore) take us on a journey of self discovery, isolation and online persona’s, set against the backdrop of the city of Porto Alegre. While playing with the challenges of online and offline identity in a city where isolation and secret rendezvous are entangled with homophobia and fear of expression.
Pedro (Shico Menegat) is a lonely gay young man, his life turbulently thrown off course after assaulting a boy in college who oppressed and bullied him. Unemployed and judged by the community surrounding him, Pedro earns money through erotic online performances. Covering his body in fluorescent paint, while dancing in front of his webcam for the pleasure of a hidden community, who’s only expression of sexual orientation comes through an online world. Pedro himself is a Jekyll and Hyde figure of online bravery, erotism and colour and offline anxiety, isolation and fear. His online career the only thing keeping his head above water as he awaits trial for his actions. His alter ego of ‘Neon Boy’ providing a vent of self expression in claustrophobic city of judgement and limited opportunities.
When Pedro discovers that another online amateur is using his trade mark neon paint, providing his hard earned followers with a choice of performer, he arranges to meet the mystery online man. Leo (Bruno Fernandes) is a dance student striving for future success outside of Porto Alegre. Like Pedro, Leo uses the financial gain of the webcam, supplementing his student life through the erotic desire of faceless men. However, for Leo this is built around his plans for a dance career that can aid his future escape, while for Pedro any chance of escape is tied to his past actions.
In a blaze of neon paint and erotic dancing, Pedro and Leo agree to perform together, splitting the financial gain. A decision that leads to deeper feelings that take Pedro and Leo beyond the webcam, their emotions and sexuality becoming entangled in a journey of self expression, confidence and support. That ultimately leads to internal and external change for both young men.
Filipe Matzembacher and Marcio Reolon deliver an unapologetically erotic film, combining grainy webcam footage, with the vivid reality of inner city life. Porto Alegre’s buildings acting as cage for both young men, the online world the only feasible exit in a claustrophobic community of secrets and lies. The neon paint a rebellious symbol of the internal desire to express their emotions, identity and sexuality, while desperately searching for the emergency escape; Leo through dance and Pedro through self acceptance and esteem.
There are no easy answers inherent in the journey both young men take, and for Pedro this is further highlighted by the oncoming trial and repercussions he may face. For some, Hard Paint may lack the answers they feel they deserve at its conclusion. However, as portrait of the internal and external turmoil of self identity and escape, Hard Paint delivers a fascinating and hypnotic exploration of sexuality, desire and belonging.