'Rotting in the Sun' - a hedonistic, nihilistic gay comedy

  • by Kyle Amato
  • Tuesday September 26, 2023
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Sebastián Silva and Jordan Firstman in 'Rotting in the Sun'
Sebastián Silva and Jordan Firstman in 'Rotting in the Sun'

Chilean director Sebastián Silva has made a career out of the unpredictable and the absurd with films like "The Maid," "Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus," and "Nasty Baby." For his latest film, Silva turns the camera on himself, crafting a portrait of an unfulfilled artist trapped in a world of narcissism without end.

While "Rotting in the Sun" has some fun moments, extremely homosexual situations, and a great performance from Silva's frequent collaborator Catalina Saavedra, the film is overlong and obvious where it should be fleet and snappy. Gay hedonism and the nihilism it can cause are worth investigating, but much of the film feels like underscoring the same point over and over.

Sebastián Silva is depressed. He's creatively unfulfilled, his apartment is a mess, he's being forced to sell his painting to pay his debts, and he won't stop doing ketamine and googling ways to kill himself.

In a last ditch attempt to snap out of it, Silva leaves Mexico City behind and heads to a nude gay beach. Before he can even attempt to relax, he almost drowns trying to save a man from a rip tide. The man turns out to be Instagram 'comedian' Jordan Firstman, who sees this shared near-death experience as a way to get Silva to collaborate on his concept for a TV show he refers to as "You Are Me." Silva agrees, mostly to score more ketamine, and the men have a night of debauchery.

Of course, Firstman is extremely annoying, so Silva packs up and heads home. A couple days later, Firstman makes his way to Silva's apartment but the director is nowhere to be found, though his belongings are scattered everywhere. The only person who may know the truth is Silva's housekeeper Vero (Catalina Saavedra), and she's not talking.

The most frustrating part of "Rotting in the Sun" is that Silva's intentions are coming through, but the film keeps getting bogged down in Firstman's charisma-free lead performance. The midsection focusing on Saavedra is exciting and compelling because she is a great actress, effortlessly selling the character's paranoia.

When Firstman re-enters the picture, he can't keep up. He compensates by contributing to the film's explicit nudity, but even that becomes rote after a few sex parties and beach blowjobs.

The back half suffers because the audience knows what happened, but Firstman and the rest of the characters take forever to catch up. Every moment spent watching Firstman struggle with Google Translate takes away from the actual humor of the situation.

Despite my distaste for Firstman and the film's languid pacing, I am glad something like "Rotting in the Sun" can exist. I am exhausted by the coming out narrative many gay films are forced to have, and I'll take anything that just has gayness as its ineffable core. Gay stories exist beyond the relationship to the straight world, and Silva understands that much.

'Rotting in the Sun' streams on Mubi www.mubi.com

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