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  • Writer's pictureBen Turner

Taekwondo ****

Starring: Gabriel Epstein,Lucas Papa, Nicolás Barsoff, Francisco Bertin, Arturo Frutos, Andrés Gavaldá, Juan Manuel Martino, Darío Miño, Gaston Re

Director: Marco Berger, Martín Farina

On the surface, Taekwondo looks like a big gay sausage-fest. From it’s opening shot, not once is there a character fully dressed on screen, with the camera obsessed with capturing as much flesh as possible in this Argentinian ensemble drama. But actually, beneath all the (copious amounts of) homoeroticism, this is actually quite a sweet little film about finding love in the most unusual of places. Just in this case, that place is a lads’ villa holiday.

Fernando (Papa) has invited all his friends to spend the summer in his parents’ villa. Though most of his friends have known each other for years, for some reason he has invited Germán (Epstein), an acquaintance he knows through their taekwondo classes together. Germán has never disclosed his homosexuality to Fernando, and has come along because he harbours a secret crush on him, thinking that maybe he feels the same way. But when he arrives to a laddish bloke-fest of drinking, banter and sport, he begins to question his suspicions. But as time goes on, Fernando engineers situations more and more so the two can be alone together.

Though the story does revolve around this pair, Taekwondo is very much about its large cast of characters. With each of the nine given ample screen-time, they are allowed room to develop into complex interesting men. Of course there are stereotypes in play here (the one who’s doggedly faithful to his girlfriend; the one who’s harbouring deep-seated homophobia; the one who will sleep with anything that moves), but the group dynamic develops very quickly, establishing itself as an entity in itself, feeling like a tribe that, together, is more than just a sum of its parts. But while the characters are all distinctly human, together they are like a pack of animals. And, much of the time, the camera adeptly captures their animalism.

The film frequently utilises what can only be described as “crotch-cam”. As if lingering shots on their scantily clad bodies were not enough, they regularly cut away to a shot of a character’s crotch as the dialogue continues unflinching across it. On the one hand, the characters are palpably objectified, with the camera drinking every moment of nudity it can from its actors. On the other, it feels almost anthropological, examining young men in their natural habitat. This is masculinity in its purest form; men relaxed and at ease. Sometimes sweet, sometimes aggressive; debating, ridiculing, larking, frolicking… The friendships depicted here are bromance-y, supportive and comfortable. If this group was wholly heterosexual then the way they behave with one another could be easily construed as homoerotic, but because there really is a same-sex love story happening in their midst, suddenly everything else seems just a little less… gay. Their touching seems much less charged with any kind of chemistry when depicted alongside the actual chemistry of its two leads.

Speaking of which, the chemistry between Fernando and Germán is electric. It’s easy to see from the outset why Germán has his suspicions about his sports-partner, because it becomes increasingly more and more obvious that he wants to spend every moment he can with him. But neither feels able to broach the topic with each other. Though we learn a good twenty minutes into the film about Germán’s sexuality, it never feels like he is actively hiding it, which casts him as both likeable and relatable. Because though this isn’t an actively homophobic environment, it’s also not one that would readily welcome gay people into its ranks. And as a result, Fernando’s sexuality is shrouded in complete ambiguity – as is, in fact, another character’s too.

Plot-wise, this is one of those films where not a lot really happens, but the inordinate quantities of sexual tensions in the will-they/won’t-they relationship-tease is enough to make it feel a lot pacier than it actually is. And while I defy any gay man to be left cold by the way its men are depicted, it also raises harks back to that issue of the school sports’ changing room. Yes, you’re surrounded by relaxed and undressed athletic men, but how can you dare enjoy what you’re seeing when, if you do and were noticed doing so, your exposure would make that situation cease to exist? As a viewer, you are able to watch unabashed, but for Germán it is the complete opposite. So while you might think that you’d do anything to be in his shoes, would you really?

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