Sexual Dependency (check www.cinematropical.com for showtimes in March)
Bolivian filmmaker Rodrigo Bellott throws us into a cross-cultural pantheon of a type of person most of us are familiar with: the Dick. That may even be too soft a word for the bullying, peer-pressuring, homophobic, and sexist gangs of white men (both the upper-class Latin American Ladino and the typical jock frat boy of the United States) who play central roles in Sexual Dependency. Cut into several titled episodes, this auteur piece of filmmaking also uses a split screen throughout. At first, this style seemed disorienting and annoying, especially when having to read subtitles at the same time. But surprisingly, the experiment soon becomes normalized, most probably because the majority of the split-screen time consists of different angles of the same scene, rather than multiple scenes occurring simultaneously (as was the case with Mike Figgis’s Timecode).
This is an ambitious film, and for that reason, it can seem a bit all over the yard. We move from a girl’s quinceanera in a poor Bolivian neighborhood to an African American woman talking about her womanhood in spoken-word-poetry style, and from a rich Ladino with a Superman tattoo examining his body in a mirror to a blond, gay football player in an underwear photo shoot who hasn’t come out of the closet. But the stories do tie together—metaphorically in some cases. Bellott’s Amores Perros-type conceit, where seemingly disassociated characters pass through each other’s scenes, works most of the time, most effectively when it contrasts different class-based behaviors.
In fact, some of the most effective scenes are the portrayals of the upper-class kids of Bolivian society (which very well could be the same self-entitled children of the elite of myriad countries all over the world). Their behavior, however hyperbolic it may be, is only amplified by the small world they live in and is a concentrated form of the privilege manifested by the youth of the American ruling class. Bellott doesn’t punish most of these characters as much as he shows how power—sexual, class based, interpersonal—is not only contextual but also does not lend itself easily to justice. The Bolivian girl of modest means ends up losing her virginity to a boasting, insistent prick she doesn’t know. The frail fifteen-year-old cousin visiting from Colombia ends up forced into a seedy bordello. And the king of the world rich Ladino (the one with the Superman tattoo who is excited about studying in America) ends up in a messy third-tier college dorm, where, in a surprise twist, he is sexually abused by the Hegemonic White American Male. In a way, his story colliding with the gay football player’s at the end of Sexual Dependency spells out one of the film’s many lessons: Power and hypocrisy often go hand in hand, and the combination, especially in the hands of Dicks, can make everyone very sick.