Queer as Teens
With the airing of the Showtime version of Queer as Folk and the stateside release of Nico and Dani, candid sexual scenes and explicit representations of gay sexuality involving minors are coming into their own.
Although Nico and Dani, made in Spain, is lacking in acting, cinematography, and overall production value, it makes up for much of its shortcomings with its sensitive consideration of sexuality, adoration, friendship, and late adolescence. Like Larry Clark’s Kids, Nico and Dani tests the American boundaries for sexual content involving minors, extending the test to include gay sex. Although the explicitness of the sex scenes between Nico (Jordi Vilches) and Dani (Fernando Ramallo), two Spanish boys discovering and experiencing sex for the first time, is not quite so unbridled as it might be in a piece by Canadian independent filmmaker Bruce LaBruce (No Skin Off My Ass and Hustler White), it might nonetheless shock U.S. audiences with its only partially concealed mutual masturbation, anal and oral intercourse, and the ever-so taboo kissing scene.
Nico and Dani is probably what Dawson’s Creek would be if it was directed by Almodovar. As demonstrated by the history of films by Fellini, Bergman, and Godard, European movies that make it to American theaters are usually considered “artistic,” in technique (cinematography, acting, and writing) or in their deep, complex, figurative meanings. Nico and Dani is not an “artsy” foreign movie. The camera fails to capture any majestic shots of the Spanish suburbs or beaches where the action takes place; its visual quality resembles that of television, as does its plot. Due to its bland and banal visual (and audio) imagery, the film struggles to communicate its ideas through means other than the plot and dialogue.
The acting, at times, appears terribly forced, in particular during two faux scuffle/wrestling scene on a train platform, when the young performers’ physical motions look similar to that of an instructional karate video. The style and format of the film also mimic those of an American teenage drama, with few exceptions. The soundtrack’s instrumental pieces—bluesy guitar-and-harmonica music hybridized with unimaginative, period-less rock and roll—fade in and out to mark the beginnings and ends of the film’s short scenes. (In fact, the soundtrack sounds as if the musicians never saw the film and were not even mildly interested in the plot: it would have been more appropriate as background music for a NASCAR commercial). These scenes are further introduced with a short line or exchange of dialogue that appears as text on the screen, and foreshadows and summarizes what’s coming up. In between scenes, the screen goes blank, as if setting up for a commercial break that never comes.
For all its shortcomings, what separates Nico and Dani from the usual Hollywood schlock about teenage love, is its positive portrayal of homosexual adolescents and homosexual sex. In no way are these boys depicted as abnormal, outcast, or freakish. Their behavior is accepted and even condoned by their peers and the adults around them. A brief sexual encounter between Dani and a middle-aged friend of his father, Julian (Chisco Amado), is portrayed uncritically. The viewer is not led to believe that the relationship is inapropriate, or that Julian is a child molester or incorrigible seducer. Nico and Dani is able to present a positive message concerning homosexuality by not offering a heavy-handed or subtextual meaning. It suggests instead that homosexuality is natural and normal, and can be beautiful.
This is a gay Loser, American Pie, or Sixteen Candles, whose equivalent has yet to be produced in Hollywood. To this end, the film incorporates many of the cliches of mainstream teenage films, like the opening scene in which the parents are leaving for vacation, as in Risky Business. And yet, the movie does not appear to be created specifically for teenage audiences. It transcends that category by daring to look at complex and controversial issues.
Not only does the film encourage viewers to accept the normality of homosexuality, it also presents a convincing—and rare—depiction of bisexuality. As Marjorie Garber suggests in her recent book, Bisexuality, this sexual orientation is most often forgotten and rejected, by both heterosexuals and homosexuals. Nico clearly appears to enjoy sexual relations with both males and females, and seems torn between his interest in numerous women, especially Elena (Marieta Oroco), and Dani. Similar to his handling of the boys’ homosexuality, director Cesc Gay presents an affirmative depiction of bisexuality, by offering Nico as an adolescent happily and successfully exploring sexuality with both Dani and Elena.
Since homosexuality and bisexuality are never called into question by the film, acceptance of them might appear to be a prerequisite for appreciating Nico and Dani. But the film doesn’t attempt to persuade the audience to accept various sexual orientations in didactic or overt ways. And because of this subtlety, Nico and Dani might encourage viewers to see all sexuality from a different perspective.