Tension has become a trademark in Marco Berger’s work. You’re aware going into one of his films that the will-they won’t-they suspense will drive the narrative. The spaces in his films brim with silence, allowing the restless expressions in his characters’ faces do the talking. The point is not to make it seem like words are irrelevant—on the contrary, it is when his characters come clean that you realize the power of just talking. It is fitting then that The Blonde One, Berger’s latest film, was conceived with a mute lead in mind. While at the end they were forced to scratch that idea, Gabriel, the titular blonde (Taekwondo’s Gaston Re), clings to quietness throughout the story, even being referred to as “the mute” by his friends.
We meet Gabriel as he’s moving in to his co-worker Juan’s (Alfonso Barón) flat so he can be close to his place of work. Juan looks infatuated with the man from the moment he arrives, glancing at him for a bit too long and standing a bit too close to him at every chance he gets. While Gabriel is apprehensive at first, as he has a girlfriend and a daughter living with his parents, he’s ultimately responsive to Juan’s insinuations. The sexual tension builds until the end of the first act when a proposal to go out and buy beer quickly escalates—Juan finally acts on his desires and Gabriel reciprocates leniently. The implication here might be that we’re observing the dawn of a new love, but as Juan kicks Gabriel out of his room after having sex, we learn that’s not the case.
Gabriel’s relationship with his girlfriend deteriorates as he and Juan continue this arrangement, and they break up not long after. On the other hand, Juan’s ex-girlfriend returns to his life around the same time, much to Gabriel’s discomfort. Gabriel tries but fails to hide his insecurities in the odd agreement they have and Juan provides no support as he explains himself with “I am who I am and I’m not gonna change it”. As often seen in Berger’s films, he doesn’t shy away from critiquing toxic masculinity. Beer, football and casual homophobia are present in the form of Juan’s friends, and as he explicitly says, he can’t ruin everything he has just to be with Gabriel—he doesn’t want to be stared at or pointed at. This is the best thing they can hope for. Still, Gabriel stays, but the toll it takes on him is written on his face.
During these disconcerting times, Gabriel’s visits to his daughter twice a week remain a source of light in his life (and relief to the audience from the drama). He beams with tenderness as he helps her with schoolwork or listens to her stories about her grandparents. It also sparks one of the most satisfying and emotional endings in recent memory, as kids are shown to be more understanding than adults.
The Blonde One might not convert Berger skeptics, but it’ll reward fervent admirers with its sensual, heartfelt exploration on societal expectations for men in Argentina. It proudly earns a place among the best gay cinema has to offer.