Monday 17 October 2016

London Film Festival 2016: Taekwondo by Marco Berger & Martín Farina

Marco Berger has a been a little hit and miss with his output, achieving acclaim with Plan B (2009) the and particularly the dream-like, Hitchockian Absent (2011). However his previous film Hawaii (2015) was rather forgettable . He is back with Taekwondo, which he co-directed with Martín Farina.

In Taekwondo, Fernando (Lucas Papa) invites a new acquaintance from his Taekwondo's class, Germán (Gabriel Epstein) to a lad's holidays in a villa with all his male friends he has known for years. Germán is gay and he is careful to keep it hidden from all the boisterous and laddish guests, while wondering about Fernando's true intentions because of the mixed signals he is receiving from him.

In Taekwondo, the two directors skilfully evoke the inherent homo-eroticism in groups of contemporary young straight guys, and anybody who has ever seen a bunch of lads on a night out or on holiday will recognise this: the constant yet fleeting body contact, with much back slapping and patting, the ease at which they spend time with each other in various state of undress, the garish clothes (at one point, a straight character relates how, having ended up in a gay club, he wore the gay-est clothes!) and it is interesting how universal this seems to be (the film is set in Argentina) as this could well describe a group of young English men.

Yet straight men will be straight men though, and under the apparent relaxed vibe lie some complex codes of machismo, with the constant banter about pulling women, the gay fear jokes, the name calling, the competitive manliness... Those scenes are often amusing, albeit a little repetitive after a while, reminding us of that other recent machist fest Chevalier (2015).

Marco Berger has already shown a distinctive visual flair and real talent for filming men bodies in his previous films, and his touch is present here, in complete overdrive! There is barely a scene that does not feature various male body parts in close up or somewhere in the shot, and his fetish for a particular body part is rather amusing, managing to outdo Quentin Tarantino, which is no mean feat (pun intended).

It is a shame then than the "will they/won't they" central narrative arc is not fully accomplished. There are the lingering glances, the smiling and staring lasting far longer than they should... but there is no real tension or progression in their relationship until a rather predictable ending, and the two leads are rather one note. Ironically, while most of the supporting characters are not particularly well developed, the most interesting one is a friend of Fernando who begins to suspect what is going on and is left confronting his own fears and desires.

Review by Laurent de Alberti

Taekwondo. Argentina 2016. Directed by Marco Berger & Martín Farina. Starring Lucas Papa, Gabriel Epstein...

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