There’s a certain beauty to the film Esteros, which partially comes from the fact that it’s shot against the backdrop of the Argentinian countryside. Director Papu Curotto clearly loves the country he is filming in and opens his lens to the beauty of the nation from the cityscape to the rural areas that serve as the backdrop to this film.
To be sure, the elevator pitch of Esteros might remind one of an American film called Chuck & Buck (2000), in which two grown men who had a sexual liaison or two decades ago reunite and may or may not rekindle their pubescent romance. While Esteros does share that basic premise, this Argentinian film manages to be more mature and complete than its American counterpart.
Years prior, young Matias (Joaquín Parada) and Jerónimo (Blas Finardi Niz) spent many a night in each other’s arms as they reached their sexual awakening. While Matias (or “Matu” as he is affectionately called as an adult played by Ignacio Rogers) has grown up to share a relationship with Brzilian Rochi (Renata Calmon), the adult “Jero” (as portrayed by Esteban Masturini) has reached adulthood as a proud gay man. A chance encounter between the two just before Carnival leads to a reunification between the two young men and a potential rekindling of their romance.
A trip to Santiago del Estero del Ibera (the wetlands of Argentina) seals the deal and reawakens the feeling long thought forgotten within Matias. While Rogers maintains a mature and serious detachment from these feelings, Masturni demonstrates a reserved longing from their first meeting to the last moment before the credits roll.
All the while the Argentinian landscape unspools around them. From the lakes to the cattle county to the walled neighborhoods to the sunset-friendly fields. All the while the overtly and ostensibly innocent Rochi (Calmon) stands by as her relationship and her world changes around her.
There are no moral absolutes in Esteros, nor any judgment offered by director Papu Curotto or writer Andi Nachon. Events simply unspool organically as they might in real life. There’s no lesson to learn or moral to the story aside from “love conquers all”.
Nothing else about Esteros can be applied to any cliché. There’s no simple formula or easy resolution here. Instead there’s a complex and believable drama that could go any which way.
Such is Curotto’s skill. One never knows what masks the characters might wear. In fact, a major plot point revolves around the appreciation of the film Night of the Living Dead and the willingness to make oneself up as a zombie for Carnival. Is this simply another mask these characters wear? or is this a confession of the fact that masks must be worn in this society?
Either way, the film works as a drama, as a romance and as, in fact, a biopic of Santiago itself as it comes of age and stands before the camera as a character in its own right. If nothing else, Esteros is a solid romance and shows how acceptance and love can win against isolationism and prejudice.
In Argentinian Spanish (containing all of the local slang to delight of uninitiated viewers) with English subtitles, Esteros is a beautiful film bordering on epic that drinks in the scenery around its story and appreciates the romance inside the heart and outside of the camera eye. There’s a certain chemistry and innocence to Esteros that appreciates the beauty of a country as much as the power of a romantic ballad of a lifelong storyline.
Curotto has the skill to balance both worlds. The idyllic world of the delicious world in which the story is filmed, and the utopian concept that love conquers all regardless of the history or orientation. When society puts its foot down, love says yes.
This is the mystery and the magic of Esteros