Hard Paint ***
Starring: Shico Menegat, Bruno Fernandes, Guega Peixoto
Directors: Filipe Matzembacher, Marcio Reolon
Earlier this year, Hard Paint had a (very) limited cinema release, but is now available both on DVD and On Demand. Set in southern Brazilian city Porto Allegra, we meet Pedro (Menegat), a reclusive young man who is being rehabilitated following an assault charge. He lives with his sister (Peixoto) and barely leaves the flat. He earns his money by performing online erotic shows, in which he smears himself with neon paint and becomes NeonBoy. However, he soon discovers there is another performer in his town who does exactly the same thing. In an attempt to quash the competition he meets with Leo (Fernandes) and the two of them surprisingly have quite the connection, ending up performing a show together online. But once their fans have seen their joint show, they no longer want to watch them solo and the pair decides to continue appearing together.
Anyone who has spent any time watching Cam4 will recognise the world we’re seeing here, where young nubile boys are writhing around on screen together, teasing their viewers in return for tips. The contrast between what happens on and off camera is stark, and this is where the film succeeds the most. Pedro’s daily life is mundane, grey and ordinary, but his online world is technicolour dayglow, captured with outstanding cinematography with this fantasy world lit by the blacklights all over his bedroom. But the excitement and the vibrancy of this world he created has become addictive and he frequently says “NeonBoy is all I have”. Awkward, withdrawn and mawkish in real life, he is a different person the moment his webcam switches on.
This is a movie about isolation, where despite living in a big city, Pedro is completely alone. In the short scenes we do see of him out of his flat, the inhabitants of the city seem violent and homophobic and following his arrest, it’s easy to see why he’s retreated into his own world. But with Leo and his sister both finding ways to leave the city behind, Pedro is entrenched in his seclusion, seduced by a world that isn’t real. As offers of support come from his online followers that we know are vapid and untrue, Pedro is taken in by them because he believes in this world far more than reality. He’s plunged down the rabbit hole and has no interest in resurfacing, even though everyone else is in on the joke.
While the contrast between these worlds is definitely the film’s strength, its biggest problem is just how dull the real world is. The scenes here are long and often dialogue-free, which extends the film a good forty minutes longer than it needs to be. As a result, it arduously drags its feet and we lose any empathy we have for a character who is abrasive and stubborn. Had Pedro been a little softer we’d find ourselves caring an awful lot more, but with a blank face and dead eyes, he seems like a robot connected to one single purpose. If you want a better South American film about loneliness, then I highly recommend Uruguayan film Leo’s Room (2009) instead.
OUT NOW ON DVD AND ON DEMAND, RELEASED BY MATCHBOX FILMS.