“Is this paint the kind that shines in the dark? Do you have someone who makes you happy? Someone who makes you shine like paint?”
While an unflinching look at the plight of LGBTQ Brazilians up to this day, Hard Paint (or Tinta Bruta, 2018) is a sweepingly tender portrayal of gay love. Directed by Brazilian writer-director pair Filipe Matzembacher and Marcio Reolon, the film astutely illuminates the realities of poverty, sex work, and gay loneliness amidst the backdrop of rising homophobic violence against Brazilian LGBTQ people.
It is known that Brazil’s President has openly declared his hatred for LGBTQ people, a violent statement which places LGBTQ Brazilians in a extremely precarious and dangerous situation. Within this context, the production of Hard Paint is a politically significant one. The film’s unwavering focus on the everyday, concrete lives of working-class Brazilian gay men insistently refuses silence, and demands that their lives be vibrantly lit up like the neon colours Pedro paints on his body.
Hard Paint traces the life of Pedro (Shico Menegat), a young gay man awaiting the results of his trial, in which he was arrested for defending himself against homophobic bullies. The city he lives in, Porto Alegre, is gradually decaying: Everyone, including his sister, is moving away to seek financial security. They love Pedro, but simply cannot stay in a city where erosion seems to be the norm. To pay the piling rent, Pedro works as a cam sex performer. In a sparse room with the lights turned off, he dances in front of anonymous clients while simultaneously painting his body using bright neon colours.
Since most of the film is bathed in hues of grey, black, and white, Pedro’s unabashedly colourful performances, while occasional, demands our attention. More than that, they take on a liberating significance: In addition to being an economic necessity, Pedro’s performances are also an intrinsic part of who he is, and may very well be one of the only ways by which he can express his sexuality.
Nevertheless, the film also incisively reminds us that sexual liberation does not exist in apolitical vacuum. By focalising our perspective of Pedro’s performance through the lens of a low-quality webcam, the film positions us as a crudely invasive voyeur, and hence provokes us to critically consider the ways through which culture polices gay bodies. How we watch, and perceive gay people is always already intermeshed with the trappings of political surveillance and hegemonic definitions of gender and sexuality. Pedro’s performance, while crucial to a celebratory expression of sexuality in an otherwise repressive environment, is ultimately subjected to social regulation as well. It is no coincidence that the camera also lingers on the momentary glances strangers give Pedro, engendering these mundane one-off looks with a suffocating and repressive quality.
However, Hard Paint does not merely focus on these challenges. Instead, in sharp contrast to the repressiveness of Pedro’s environment, the tenderness of gay love shines in this film. It is gay love which liberates Pedro, and it is gay love which alleviates the political and moral decay of the society he lives in. Pedro discovers that another man, Leo (Bruno Fernandes), has been imitating his performances. He invites Leo to his place, where they both agree to work as a duo or not at all. Right off the bat, we see a palpable chemistry between these two men. While Pedro is shy and anxious, Leo is confident and assertive, a professional dancer on a scholarship who plans to pursue his dreams abroad. Already the fatalism of a doomed love lurks in the background. But isn’t gay love always tinged with the fear that whatever little progress we have made, may be gone the next day? Just as the film heightens the sense of scrutiny Pedro feels, their romance also feels imprisoned within the crude confines of heteronormative society.
Yet, it is this fatalism which differentiates gay love from a heterosexual one. In Hard Paint, the history of violence endured by LGBTQ people makes way for a love that is empathetic, kind, and vulnerable. It is a love which understands violence, and because of that, chooses compassion. Leo defends Pedro against homophobic cruelty, and tells him: I wish I could be there that night to wipe the blood off [your] face. It is an act which shows that we love at our own peril, and we love against the grain, which makes our love light up in the dark, just like the neon paint on Pedro’s body.